Supreme Casino Ruling

The Supreme Court reversed itself Thursday and ruled the Carlo Corp. does not have to pay an $80,000 collection fee for late taxes on its vacant casino barge in Harrison County. The high court had ruled in April that the fees must be paid. Thursday's decision upholds a ruling issued in 2000 by a Harrison County judge that the fees were unjustified and excessive.

The justices, however, said Carlo Corp. should pay some collection fee and kicked the case back to the trial court for a hearing on that issue. Carlo, owned by multimillionaire race horse breeder Allen Paulson, owed $293,000 for the 1997 tax year and $27,000 in interest. It paid the taxes and the interest but challenged the county over the fee, calling it ``exorbitant.'' The trial judge ruled the company did not have to pay the fee because an attorney hired by Harrison County to recover delinquent taxes didn't follow collection procedures. The trial judge said the attorney erred because he collected taxes for the barge, docked next to the Interstate 110 bridge, before a list of delinquent taxpayers had been submitted to county supervisors.

Supervisors fired the attorney, in part because of complaints from constituents about his collection fee,  25 percent of the taxes he recovered. State law allows a fee of up to 25 percent of what is owed as an incentive for counties to collect back taxes. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 reversal of its April decision, said the supervisors' decision to automatically charge the 25 percent fee was unfair. ``It is true that the statute authorizes a charge not to exceed 25 percent,'' Justice Bill Waller Jr. wrote Thursday for the court. ``It is also true that the statute has no language that limits or restricts the board from assessing the full amount to the delinquent taxpayer. ``Common sense, however, dictates that when the Legislature states that something is not to exceed a particular amount that it does not dictate that amount should always be applied,'' Waller wrote. Waller said

Harrison County supervisors also did not have in place any rules on what collection fee would be assessed.