• 93°

County not paying for meeting bill

Attorneys representing the Escambia County Tax Assessor’s Office in the suit with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians will not be paid for a presentation at a local civic club, commissioners agreed Monday.

For months, talks of the lawsuit and subsequent funding of legal fees needed to impose ad valorem tax on Tribe property has been a source of talks among commission members and the county tax assessor’s office. Monday’s commission meeting was no different when commissioners asked about a bill from Bachus, Brom & Taylor LLC for an appearance at a Brewton Rotary meeting in September.

The appearance came on the heels of heated discussions over how a $500,000 donation by PCI for pet road projects.

“I don’t mind paying what is owed, at all, but I had a little heartburn because there a few charges on the bill that I’m not sure what it’s about,” Commissioner Brandon Smith said about the $1,985 in submitted charges for the appearance.

Other commissioners agreed; however, Chairman David Stokes, who presented the program at the Rotary meeting, said the appearance was done as a favor.

“I had no clue they would put charges on the bill,” Stokes said.

Once the charge was pointed out, it was removed by the firm, County Administrator Tony Sanks said.

“It’s my concern that someone in that firm intended to charge us for that trip,” Commissioner Larry White said. “With the approval of the new budget, I asked that we be copied on all legal charges for the case. When the bill came, I was stunned. I’m pleased that the bill has been revised.”

Commissioner Raymond Wiggins said, “If county hadn’t caught it, they would’ve gotten paid for it. We’re strapped. We can’t afford to waste money like that.”

Commissioners then unanimously approved the budget amendment to properly record nearly $15,000 in legal fees to the last fiscal year.

To date, the county has spent some $77,000 to defend the tax assessor’s office in the suit. Of that figure, $57,000 came from the reappraisal budget, while the county general fund contributed the remaining $20,000.

For months, talks of the lawsuit and subsequent funding of legal fees needed to impose ad valorem tax on Tribe property has been a source of talks among commission members and the county tax assessor’s office.

Commissioners also agreed they would use the $500,000 for road projects in the county; however, they voted to compile a list of projects before submitting the list to the Tribe.