"Danville schools are in the business of educating children, we are not in the business of collecting taxes," Crowley said. "I'm concerned that, initially, we will not be able to collect at the same rate as the sheriff, and that's a risk I didn't want to take."
Rowland added, "I recommended that we stay with the sheriff's consistency of collection. Every percentage point it goes down is $40,000, and we don't know all of the other variables involved yet."
Rowland and Crowley both said, however, that now that the decision has been made, the district will make it work to its benefit. Danville will begin sending out its own tax bills as soon as next month.
"The sheriff's badge carries some weight, but we believe the community is a compliant community. They care about their schools, their streets, their city," Rowland said. "These are tight budgetary times. Every nickel and dime is important. We'll work real hard to see if we can't exceed the sheriff's performance. We're committed to this district, and we'll make it work. We won't let it fail."
Revenue loss comes at tough time for Sheriff
Last year, Hardin's office collected nearly $4 million in taxes for Danville schools, with Hardin charging 2 percent of the total for his efforts and earning $79,715. That's money the sheriff planned on, but won't have in his budget next year. The loss comes at a tough time for Hardin, who finally convinced Fiscal Court last month to hire two new deputies at a cost to the county of about $60,000 a year, plus $40,000 for two new cruisers.
"I see where they're coming from. Everybody's hurting for money," Hardin said. "But it's a big hit. Gas prices keep going up, up, up for my cruisers and everything else. I'll just have to go back to Fiscal Court. If they don't support me, I'll have to start with the layoffs, the two new deputies and maybe more."
Becker said the district asked Hardin to cut his collection fee in half, to $40,000 a year, but the sheriff didn't respond or try to negotiate a different rate. Hardin said he couldn't reduce his collection fee to Danville without offering the same deal to Boyle County schools, which would mean he would lose about $80,000 a year either way.
"I just couldn't win this one," he said.
Hardin's office charged Boyle County the same 2 percent rate and was paid $73,100 to collect about $3.7 million in taxes last year. Hardin said he met with Boyle Superintendent Steve Burkich this morning to discuss upping Boyle's collection rate this year to make up for some of the lost revenue, but decided it would not be fair to do it so late in the budgeting process. A new rate may be negotiated for next year, Hardin said.
Becker said it will cost Danville schools about $25,000 this year to buy tax collection software, train employees to use it, and other one-time startup costs. After that, the system will spend between $5,000 and $7,000 a year, mostly on postage to collect taxes, he said.
Taxpayers have to get used to seeing two tax bills
Immediately recouping all the money collected by Hardin will be difficult because it will take some time for Danville taxpayers to get used to seeing two tax bills, Becker and others said. But after an adjustment period, the school system should do just as well as the sheriff in bringing in tax money, he said.
"LeeRoy does not send deputies out to collect taxes. We have the same tools at our disposal as he does," Becker said.
Those who are delinquent will have their names published in the newspaper, and if that fails, liens will be attached to their property, Becker said. Eventually, the school system will get its money, and may even earn more because it will be able to collect interest on the taxes it collects and penalties on delinquent cases that wind up in court, he said.
The Danville board tried a similar move in 1988, when it took tax collection duties away from the sheriff's office and gave them to the City of Danville.
That lasted only four years before the school system switched back to the sheriff because the city's collection rate did not measure up, dropping to a low of 92 percent.
"The city didn't have the technology or the manpower to make it work then," Becker said. "We have it now, and we have the will."