The audits, conducted on behalf of the county tax assessor, are required under state law, said department head Dana Shellhorse. Since 2008, the state appraisal procedures have required counties to conduct such audits.
“So it’s not just a Bartow County thing, it’s a statewide thing,” Shellhorse said. “So most county personal property departments are doing audits. I can’t answer if all 159 of them are, but I know that the large majority do these audits because it is mandated in our personal property manuals.”
The Bartow County Tax Assessor has an annual budget of $25,000 to conduct its audits. Shellhorse said the number of audits varied each year, with 14 audits occurring in 2010 and 21 in 2011. While audits have been conducted in 2012, some are unfinished and final numbers were unavailable.
Although the audits can contribute additional funds to the county’s budget, Shellhorse resisted the idea it was a steady or predictable stream of revenue.
“Once the audits are done, whether they generate revenue or not just depends on the completed audit. We do also issue refunds if that is a necessary part of completing the audit.”
In 2011, she added, the county discovered $83,000 in additional billing, but approximately $77,000 of that amount was returned as refunds to various businesses. After those refunds, the remaining $5,800 went into the county’s budget, as revenues.
However, in 2010, the county received $145,000 in revenues after discovering $168,000 in additional billing and sending out $23,000 in refunds.
There is no specific list of businesses that will be audited each year, Shellhorse said. Businesses are selected at random with the intent to keep the audits fair and balanced.
“If there is a red flag on something we can request, from the board of assessors, that they do an audit on that particular account. But it also states in our procedures manual that those are to be random. So they’re just a random pull each year. Of course, we have to stay within our budget, but there’s no specific account that gets [audited],” she said.
Traylor has worked with the tax assessor since 2008, when the audits began. Shellhorse said the company works to keep business owners informed at every step of the audit through letters and phone calls. Her office also is available to business owners to answer any questions to keep the audit process “as painless as possible.”
“But Traylor works wonderfully with everyone,” she said. “We’ve had virtually no complaints about the process that Traylor does. They’re very informative. They’re very polite and professional. They answer all the questions that the business owners would have.”
County Administer Steve Bradley said there was an additional benefit from the process: businesses would be more careful in reporting their property.
“What the audits do are two things. They correct where there have been mistakes, but businesses now know that Bartow County will come in and do audits and I think that, going forward, businessess will understand the importance of getting their returns correct,” he said. “We’re not saying anybody deliberately makes mistakes, but mistakes do happen. ...
“By doing random audits like that it just keeps it in check and makes sure it’s accurate information [that] we get. It’s the best way, that we know of, to ensure we’re getting accurate information from the businesses.”
Shellhorse expressed a similar concern, saying the county wanted to get the most accurate information available while being as objective as possible.
“It’s really all about assisting us with our mandates to be equitable with all our accounts in the county. It’s just making sure that we have correct numbers, whether those numbers go up or those numbers go down,” she said.