Also at a work session Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners:
• Directed planning staff to prepare changes that would allow third party inspections for building permits and options for aesthetic requirements on small monument signs, which Commissioner Todd Levent described as "mini-billboards."
• Approved a plan for the engineering department to pave roads in the Berringer Point subdivision of north Forsyth at an estimated cost of $36,000. The county seeks to recoup the costs from RBC Bank, based on a letter of credit from an acquired bank that worked with the developer.
• Amended the county landscape watering ordinance to reflect state law, as well as adding a provision allowing the county to issue penalties for violations of the waste provision, which would include instances such as an irrigation system running more than 10 minutes in the rain.
• Appointed Nicole Morgan to a five-year term on the Department of Family & Children Services Board.
• Agreed to modifications for the civil service board rules as requested by the panel. Changes include time frames for hearing appeals, allowable continuances and a policy for settlements.
Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.
— Alyssa LaRenzie
Forsyth County commissioners expressed interest Tuesday in a plan to attack tax fraud.
The proposal, aired during a work session, could net the county up to $2.5 million in three years.
The money would come from taxes owed by residents claiming more than the one homestead exemption allowed, said Royce Lain of Affiliated Computer Services Inc.
The Fairfax, Va.-based company offered to launch a nationwide search of records to determine which Forsyth County homeowners may be taking advantage of the exemption, Lain said.
From there, the service would narrow the results and present cases to the board of assessors.
That panel would then review them and determine who should be billed for a wrongfully claimed homestead.
Lain emphasized the county would able to use discretion on which residents to seek payment from, perhaps excusing someone who didn’t cancel a homestead exemption after a spouse died.
"The people that are obviously frauding the county are the ones you want to go after," he said.
On average, about 5 percent of those receiving a homestead exemption are found to be committing fraud, Lain said.
In Forsyth County, about 42,000 people receive a homestead exemption, so ACS estimated they would find about 2,000 wrongly claiming the tax break.
For each instance the service finds that the board of assessors agrees to pursue, the company would receive a 30 percent cut of the collections.
County government and Forsyth County Schools would divvy up the payments according to their property tax rate from the years collected.
The county has typically billed for the past three years, but up to seven years is legally allowable, said Mary Kirkpatrick, chief tax appraiser.
If commissioners agree to a contract with the service, Kirkpatrick said, the first step would be to establish the process and policies for the investigation.
The commission voted 5-0 to authorize staff to draft a contract for review at a future work session.
"I’d like to see what is brought back," Commissioner Patrick Bell said.
Commissioners did express concern about lawsuits that could arise from accusing people of fraud.
"But certainly you can’t not go after people who owe you money who are possibly filing two homestead exemptions because you think you may have a couple challenges," Commissioner Todd Levent said.
Kirkpatrick said the county has yet to be sued over the issue of someone claiming double homestead exemptions.
"Most of these people, once you tell them, they pay the bill," she said.
The tax assessor’s office has found some residents filing two homesteads, Kirkpatrick said, but the service provided by ACS has a national database and computer software the county lacks.