The county commissioners on Wednesday voted 2-1 to forgive the penalties and fees associated with the non-payment of taxes on a well-known Bicknell business.
The commissioners say Rod Mullins, the owner of Mullins Supply, 7362 Russell Drive, has a buyer for the property, but the sale can't close until some old business with the commissioners is tidied up.
Many years ago, as the property was tied up in bankruptcy proceedings, according to commission president Kellie Streeter, and Mullins fell behind on the taxes associated with the Mullins Supply property.
The full extent of what was owed went unknown for years — that is until Mullins looked to sell the property earlier this year.
The commissioners and their legal counsel have for months been searching for the proper documents to show exactly how much is owed by Mullins in unpaid taxes, but they now finally have a handle on it.
Andrew Porter, the commissioners legal counsel, said just under $79,000 is owed by Mullins in both real and personal property taxes.
There's another $18,500 in penalties and fees, which is what both Mullins and the buyer are asking the commissioners to consider waiving so the sale can go through.
Porter said the commissioners have a legal obligation to collect all of the back taxes owed, but it was up to them whether to waive the fees associated with the non-payment.
Commissioner Trent Hinkle called the whole process “a mess.”
“This has been an ongoing process for months,” he said. “There was a bankruptcy involved, the (county) records were unclear. It was really a nightmare to work through and find these actual numbers.
“It took six months, or even longer, to dig through all this.”
Streeter, too, wanted to clarify that Mullins is “current” on his taxes. The amount owed is from several years ago.
And to say it was all confusing, she said, was an understatement at best.
Now that it's cleared up — and an offer to buy the property is on the table — she was inclined to waive the fees and put the whole ordeal behind them.
“And if we don't, we'll have another building (in Bicknell) sitting empty indefinitely,” she said.
Mullins owns a separate facility on Pine Bluff Road, Streeter said, and he's been liquidating his hardware shop on Russell Drive for months.
The buyer, whom she identified as Richard Pea, wants to purchase the property to expand his current pressure washing business, Fast Blast Pressure Washing. And he's interested in reopening the hardware store so Bicknell isn't without one.
Waiving the fees and allowing the sale to go forward, Streeter pointed out, would allow for the “continuation of services that would benefit the community.”
And Hinkle agreed.
To be able to come to this point and get the taxes owed to the county is a great thing,” he said. “And on top of that, to have a business continue to exist, and hopefully even grow, is a bonus in my opinion.”
Commissioner Tim Ellerman, however, was against the measure as he thought it sent a bad message to county taxpayers.
“We've been going through this for a long time,” he said. “We've invested quite a few thousand (dollars) tracking this with our legal people.”
He eluded to a former offer made to Mullins to settle up the back taxes and fees — as well as the fees associated with the county's use of a collection agency — for $106,000, an offer Ellerman said Mullins refused.
Mullins was not present at Wednesday's meeting to speak to the settlement offer.
Ellerman said he “took objection” to taking anything less than the full amount owed.
“We all pay our taxes,” he said. “I've paid penalties before. I've even borrowed money to pay taxes.
“I don't want to send a message to the public that is, 'Listen, if you want to drag it out and pay it later then you can come back and settle, get rid of the penalties and so forth.' If you owe taxes and penalties, you should pay them.”
Streeter and Hinkle didn't disagree, but their desire to see the back taxes paid — and a Bicknell business reopen and possibly expand — outweighed their concerns.
“I think, in this situation, this is about the best we can do,” Streeter said.
The commissioners voted 2-1, with Ellerman voting no, to waive the penalties and fees and allow Mullins to sell the property to Pea.