Live Oak —
The Live Oak City Council directed City Clerk John Gill at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday night to draft an ordinance that would classify delinquent business tax receipts as a code enforcement matter. Once changes are made, the city clerk would have the authority to send all delinquent matters to a magistrate for a solution.
Gill said the clerk’s office is responsible for the collection of business tax receipts, formerly known as an occupational license, each year and is also responsible for drafting a list of delinquent customers. The list is then turned over to the code enforcement officer and to the chief of police for them to encourage the people to pay their dues.
“What we have are chronic offenders who don’t want to pay, and there’s just so much that the chief of police can do to force them to pay,” Gill said. “The code of ordinance doesn’t go far enough to remedy this. I bring it to council and ask for guidance on how you would like to move forward with this.”
Gill suggested changing the wording to the code of ordinance and possibly send this matter to a magistrate and let that person decide on how to handle these delinquent accounts.
“The code as it’s written, does it provide a penalty?” council president Adam Prins asked.
Live Oak Police Chief Buddy Williams said he spoke with Third Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister on possible penalties for delinquent customers.
“I don’t feel real comfortable going into a place of business and say you’ve got to pay your tax, and if you don’t pay your tax, we’re going to issue a warrant,” Williams said. “In fact, I’m not quite certain that it would be legal by today’s standards.”
Williams asked Siegmeister if they run into this situation, would that be where he would send an affidavit through for failure to comply with this ordinance.
“He said he gladly, and I’m quoting his words, he gladly will prosecute any ordinance that the city has set forth and not charge us anything, regardless of what he can do, but he will not prosecute for a person not paying their business tax,” Williams said. “He said there’s no such thing, quote again, ‘as a debtors prison’, and he felt like it should be handled through city means through other regulatory means or sent through a magistrate-type situation.”
Williams said the offender could be placed in jail for up to 60 days, however, Siegmeister asked the city to pursue other penalties.
“The way that I read the ordinance is, you can’t charge more than 25 percent of the proposed business tax and there can be a fine. It does say a fine up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail,” Williams said. “But that is something Mr. Siegmeister said he would like to pursue an alternative route; that he would not prosecute as far as it went as business regulation.”
Prins then asked City Attorney Erny Sellers how the board should move forward. Sellers then asked how much was owed to the city by the chronic offender.
“$506.25,” Prins responded.
“I’ve never recommended that anybody file a lawsuit for $500. The filing fees and the legal fees, it’s dollars chasing pennies,” Sellers said. “I’ve never known of any state attorneys or any prosecutor that would enforce these types of laws. Some cities do code enforcement type, and just put a lien on the property if the person has property. But if they don’t have any property or if it’s Homestead, your lien is not going to attach to it.”
“Again, you’re spending a lot of money chasing dollars. You can run up a couple thousand dollars on somebody that is fighting you hard,” Sellers said. “If I was going to do it, I would pursue it as a code enforcement matter, or amending your code.”
Live Oak Code Enforcement Officer Lynn Touchton said, “If I were to open a case immediately, the notice of a violation and the notice of a hearing, it would be approximately 45 to 120 days before it could go before the magistrate because Chapter 162, you have to allow so much time for each notice.”
Touchton said in the past, she, Live Oak Building Official Roy Rogers and Williams have gone to businesses and personally notified them of their delinquent account.
“Normally everybody does comply,” Touchton said.
Gill said sending the matter to a magistrate is not the direction the current ordinance allows his office to pursue.
“It doesn’t state that (the magistrate) is an avenue that I can take in the code of ordinance,” Gill said.
The council consensually agreed for Gill to draft an amendment to the code of ordinance that would reflect delinquent business tax receipts as a code enforcement matter, that would direct the process to a magistrate.