COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County's tax commissioner says he needed the experience of a former county attorney to help him fulfill campaign promises to collect past due property taxes and give homeowners tax relief.
Tax Commissioner Marcus Jordan said in a statement he hired the Covington law firm of Tommy Craig to help him find a way to increase the homestead exemption from property taxes on Newton County residences and collect $11 million in taxes owed but uncollected from prior years.
However, some county residents on social media and some longtime county government observers, as well as, privately, at least one county commissioner, questioned the move because of the firm’s past dealings with the county government.
Jordan said because Craig’s law firm “is local and has 38 years of experience representing the Newton County Tax Commissioner’s Office, I asked them to help develop a plan of action for keeping my promises.”
Tax commissioner is among four state constitutional officers in Newton County who can operate their offices without direct county government supervision in areas like hiring.
Jordan served as chief appraiser for the Newton County Board of Tax Assessors before his Nov. 3 election as tax commissioner.
He said when he campaigned for election in 2020 he “promised the voters I would seek to increase the homestead exemption from property taxes now paid by Newton County homeowners; and I would work hard to collect past due taxes.”
“When property owners do not pay their property taxes, it increases the tax liability billed to other property owners," Jordan said. "These taxes are owed to Newton County, the Board of Education and our municipalities.”
A homestead exemption allows a homeowner to lower a residence’s assessed value and the property taxes owed.
Jordan provided The Covington News an invoice he approved for payment to Craig’s firm “for helping me and my transition team.”
The law firm charged the tax commissioner’s office $4,075 — $250 an hour — for 16 hours of work between Jan. 5 and Feb. 24, according to the invoice.
However, Jordan did not say in his statement if his office was able to secure any of the back taxes owed or increase the exemption because of the Craig law firm’s help. He did not reply to an emailed request for additional information by today, March 12.
Craig served as county attorney for 40 years before the Board of Commissioners fired him in 2015 because of questions surrounding the Bear Creek Reservoir project the county abandoned after millions of dollars spent on development over parts of three decades.
The county parted ways with Craig’s firm in part because of problems with Craig not securing required federal permits for the planned reservoir.
A 2016 financial audit by David Sawyer of the Alpharetta accounting firm Frazier & Deeter stated that Craig earned $2 million from the effort to build the Bear Creek Reservoir in south Newton County despite the land not being used for the project.
The audit charged that Craig “recklessly wasted county (and) taxpayer funds” that resulted in the county spending $25 million over 20 years on “the now-failed, defunct Bear Creek Reservoir project.”
The county subsequently hired Cumming-based law firm Jarrard & Davis as the government’s attorney.
District Attorney Randy McGinley recently said he planned to investigate whether any criminal charges were warranted concerning the report’s findings.
Here is Jordan's statement:
"When I campaigned for Newton County Tax Commissioner, I promised the voters I would seek to increase the Homestead Exemption from property taxes now paid by Newton County homeowners; and I would work hard to collect past due taxes. When property owners do not pay their property taxes, it increases the tax liability billed to other property owners.
"After entering office, I put together an experienced team to help me develop a plan of action for carrying out my promises to seek a larger Homestead Exemption, and to collect what I discovered to be over $11,000,000 dollars in taxes owed, but uncollected, from prior years. These taxes are owed to Newton County, the Board of Education, and our municipalities.
"Because the Craig law firm is local and has 38 years of experience representing the Newton County Tax Commissioner's Office, I asked them to help develop a plan of action for keeping my promises. I recently received an invoice from them for helping me and my transition team."
Newton County Tax Commissioner
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect total of property taxes owed.