Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tax payments plans deemed open records

The Attorney General's Office ruled on Oct. 31 against the Marshall County Attorney’s failure to disclose records relating to delinquent property tax payment agreement plans.

Marshall County Attorney Jeffrey G. Edwards denied a citizen’s request to view the records based on the fact that these tax payment plans contain confidential information about the taxpayer and the agreements were not fully discharged and therefore preliminary.

The county attorney said he relied upon exemptions in the Open Records that protect preliminary drafts and public records made confidential by the General Assembly, citing the privacy of tax returns.

The attorney general's office disagreed with Mr. Edward’s application of the law to tax payment agreement plans. The opinion, which has the force of law unless appealed to circuit court, explained that “these prohibitions do not extend to any matter properly entered upon any assessment record, or in any way made a matter of public record .... and therefore, the payment plans do not afford protection under these statues nor can they be considered preliminary drafts.

Given that delinquent property taxes become a public record when the county clerk records a lien for the amount owed and publishes a notice of all delinquencies in the newspaper, the attorney general's opinion explained that delinquent taxpayers therefore do not have a reasonable expectation of confidentiality in the information contained in the payment agreement.

Additionally, the county attorney’s authority to make these payment agreements is a matter of public interest; the public has a right to monitor the operation of the government, which clearly encompasses the county attorney’s collection duties.

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