Treasurer: Finlay owes thousands in overdue property taxes

Published: Apr. 16, 2010 at 7:59 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2010 at 3:46 PM EDT
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Steve Benjamin (L) and Kirkman Finlay
Steve Benjamin (L) and Kirkman Finlay

By Logan Smith - email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Days before Columbia's mayoral runoff election, Steve Benjamin and Kirkman Finlay are waging a war of words over a report that Finlay owes thousands of dollars in overdue property taxes. Now the Richland County Treasurer is explaining just what those unpaid taxes are.

According to the Richland County Treasurer's website, Finlay's company Chapel Hill LLC owes the county a combined $3,722.63 on four different properties. The website says the two most recent tax bills were due March 12, but two other unpaid bills date back to 2006.

"Somehow didn't get paid," said Treasurer David Adams. "And they're still due right now. They're about a month late right now."

"This is troubling," Benjamin said in a statement. "None of us are perfect, but considering how often Councilman Finlay has spoken on the need to bring fiscal accountability to City Hall, I would have expected better from him."

But Finlay denies owing any unpaid taxes, and attacked Benjamin in a statement Friday evening. "It is incomprehensible that a major candidate for mayor be this sloppy and uncaring," Finlay said. "In his effort to discredit me, he has discredited himself."

[Click here to read Finlay's full statement (PDF)]

A property assessment inquiry showed Chapel Hill LLC owes a combined $710.15 for two adjacent properties in Northeast Columbia near the Oak Hills Golf Club. Those bills were due on March 12. When contacted about the bills, Finlay said the Richland County website was wrong.

"Two families who had bought properties from me were incorrectly assessed at the rental rate of six percent as opposed to the primary residence rate of four percent," Finlay explained in a statement. "Chapel Hill's attorney has been working with Richland County staff to have this mistake corrected and the families were granted extensions to allow the paperwork to be completed. Their tax bills are not past due."

The Richland County website showed Finlay's company also owes $3,012.48 in unpaid 2006 tax bills for the Beltline and Harden locations of Rising High Natural Bread Co.

"These were unpaid taxes on two Rising High locations for the furniture and fixtures inside of those," said Adams.

Finlay also denies any taxes are owed for the now-closed restaurants. "I was, and still am, unaware that Rising High owes Richland County any money," Finlay said.

Finlay says Rising High's attorney tried to resolve any outstanding issues when the restaurants closed in 2006, and Adams agrees -- sort of.

"In October of 2006 there were five locations of Rising High that received tax bills through an accounting firm," explained Adams. "And those bills were attempted to be paid at the end of January of 2007. They came in the wrong amount, so we had to return that check to the business. Three of these were subsequently paid and two of them somehow have never been paid."

But Finlay says Rising High got a $72.52 tax refund in February. "I do not understand why a refund would be sent if money is owed," Finlay said, attaching a copy of the refund check. "If it turns out that money is indeed owed, I will of course pay it."

Finlay accused Benjamin's campaign of releasing the information, saying Benjamin "has had a small army of people trying to find anything negative on me."

The treasurer says every election season he sees campaign staffers requesting tax information about their opponents. He says Benjamin's campaign manager requested Finlay's information on Thursday. However, Benjamin's campaign says they did not leak the information.

Finlay and Benjamin face each other in a runoff election on Tuesday to replace outgoing Mayor Bob Coble.

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