Commissioners take no action on tax matter
The fourth time wasn’t the charm for a Vidor businessman.
Gary Biehslich, owner of GT Auto in Vidor, requested the waiving of penalty, interest, and attorney’s fee associated with his property for the fourth straight week at the regular meeting of the Orange County Commissioners Court. The court took no action on the item because Denise Gremillion, assistant county attorney, advised the court they had no legal authority to waive this. Jody Crump, Precinct 4 commissioner, abstained from the vote.
Commissioners either wanted to gather more information on the matter or a county attorney wasn’t available for the reason it took four weeks for a decision to be made.
In a letter to the commissioners court, Biehslich wrote GT Auto owns a rent house and two garage buildings, all on adjoining property to Burger King’s administrative building. All were purchased at different times.
As a result of a tentative offer to purchase GT Auto, he decided to make sure all possible items that could hinder any sale were addressed.
There was a building identified as built in 1972 on the Orange County tax statement that was incorrect. Bieshslich wrote Chief Appraiser Mike Cedars of the OCAD to look into the matter on Nov. 21, 2014. He then wrote the OCAD on Dec. 3, 2014. He received a tax statement for taxes dating back to 1998, the date he purchased the Burger King property for a total of $782.91 plus penalty and interest and attorney fees totaling $801.46.
He wrote the issue regarding this small piece of property has to do with the drive through window that he would had acquired originally. The oversight was corrected prior to submitting the property’s legal description to the title company and OCAD.
Biehshlich said the tax code requires the property owners to notify the district within 181 days after receiving the bill.
He concluded his letter stating the responsible government districts did not properly follow procedures and claim that no one has the authority to correct the error.
“Everyone I talked to in both districts tell me they understand and sympathize with my problem,” he wrote.
Prior to the vote, Biehslich told the commissioners they are the governing tax unit boy of the county. He also read a legal opinion by then Attorney General John Cornyn of January 2001 ruled commissioners court had the power to waive fees, penalties and interest.
Gremillion said the Legislature has since rewritten the law and commissioners court doe not grant waiving of fees, penalties and interest.
She added the law reads an error by the tax office does not exempt a taxpayer from paying on time.
John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, the court needed to take no action because they have no authority over the matter. Likewise, David Dubose, Precinct 1 commissioner, said the court cannot grant waiving the matter because both Gremillion and special attorney for the county, Steve Byrd, said it couldn’t be done.
Crump asked what course of remedy did Biehslich have and where could he go and to whom could he speak with for a legal remedy.
Banken answered he can go to courts of law.
Biehslich told the court they know this is wrong because he was “abused” by a governmental worker and the commissioners do not care about property taxpayers.
Barry Burton, Precinct 2 commissioner, said he understands Biehslich’s frustration.
Bieshslich said he will now go to taxpayer organizations with the issue and all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if necessary.
“There’s no justice,” he said. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the issue.”
Biehslich also asked if the payment could be suspended until he found a venue to bring his case. County Judge Brint Carlton said the court could not do so because it wasn’t posted on the agenda.
During citizens comments, Sonny Stevenson, a fellow Vidor businessman, suggested the new adjustment and appeals board being formed could speak with the attorneys about Biehslich’s matter. He was also curious if the board would have the authority to act upon the issue.
“We need to find some new ways to handle some issues,” he said.
Stevenson was followed by David W. Smith, a Mauriceville businessman. He said he found it odd the Legislature wouldn’t allow commissioners courts to either approve or deny the issue.
He asked if a resident refused to pay their taxes, would the court have the authority to pursue it or would they leave the matter alone.
In other county business, the commissioners decided the following for three vacant department heads in transportation, maintenance and personnel:
Transportation employee Valli Lott was promoted to head the department with a six-month probationary period. Crump opposed the motion because he wanted a pool of applicants to vet from. He added he wasn’t voting against Lott, but the process.
Kirk Guidry, longtime assistant director, was promoted with a six-month probationary period. There were three other applicants.
Commissioners approved interviewing the top five applicants for personnel director. There were 18 applicants for the position.
The vote was three to two with Banken and Dubose opposed to interviewing the applicants.
Three were appointed to the adjustment and appeals board.
Banken appointed Henry Ainsworth of Bridge City, Crump appointed Norman Blackman and Burton appointed Stephen Gault.
There are five positions on the board. Carlton and Dubose didn’t have any appointees and said they would have some by next week’s meeting.