Online tax sale pays big for Forrest County

By BETH BUNCH,

Forrest County’s tax sale using the GovEase online tax bidding process netted the county a pretty penny this tax season.

Tax Collector Delbert Dearman reported during Monday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors that the county netted $229,874.30 in this year’s sale. Last year’s profit was $142,874.11.

“I would call the online tax sale a success,” said Dearman, explaining the excess online bid the county gets to keep was increased by 61 percent or $87,000 over last year.

“That will more than cover what the bill for GovEase is,” he said.

The board approved paying GovEase Auction $51,827.01 for their services.

This was the first time the county has used the online bidding service being used by 36 counties across the state, including Lamar County.

The county’s tax base went up 225 parcels and increased from 7.7 last year to 10.7 this year, an increase of 3 percent.

Dearman said in the past it had taken two to three employees two to three weeks to balance the tax sale.

“This year we were able to have the tax sale book to the chancery clerk by the middle of September and they could start redeeming parcels.”

Dearman said the sale usually tied up three employees for the entire sale and required three or four employees during the balancing process.

 “All of that was eliminated and I could monitor the tax sale all through the week just by getting on the computer,” he said. “It cut the clerical part way back and the impact on the office was a lot less. I consider it a win-win situation.”

He said with the online process the sale went all the way through Friday, Aug. 31.

Most of the complaints he received, which was maybe a handful, involved people having to come in and register, which was already a rule prior to switching to the online service.

District 4’s Rod Woullard inquired if the county had just broken even, would the convenience alone be worth it?

“As far as my office is concerned, hands down yes,” Dearman said, noting it freed up people to work the counter and keep  lines from backing up, especially on Mondays and Fridays.

Dearman explained that the money from the excess bid goes into the county’s general fund from which GovEase is paid.

“The city would not go with negotiation of the interlocal agreement until they were sure they would get their share of the excess bid,” Dearman said. “What we did was agree to reduce the commission for the month of August for their pro-rata portion of the excess bid.”

In other action, the board heard from Forrest General Healthcare’s Troy Daniels, vice president & chief Human Resource officer and Tracie McPherson, the broker/agent for the Forrest County Employee Health Plan, regarding health insurance for the county’s approximately 400 employees.

Two options were presented, one from United and the other from Blue Cross Blue Shield. United’s benefit package remained the same with no cuts, while BCBS had a 4 percent reduction in premiums, but there were also some benefit takeaways.

The board voted unanimously to stick with United.

Board President David Hogan said several years ago the board made the decision and reached out to the Forrest General administration regarding health insurance.

“Troy Daniels worked closely with us to include our employees in with their employee health system,” he said, noting that county employees can use the hospital’s health clinic without a copay.

“We also have been able to save, we believe, by partnering with them on our health insurance policies.

Luckily this year we got by without an increase. If you look back from 2013 we’ve only seen a 10 percent increase and compared to what the industry has gone through since 2013, we’re very very fortunate that we’ve been able to hold that increase to that low of a level.”

Last year, employees were asked to contribute $20 per month or $10 per pay period toward their insurance premium.

“We appreciate everybody’s help involved and are glad we didn’t have to cut any benefits to our employees and are able to keep the same premiums for the coming year,” Hogan said.