In gentle arguments, laid out between assurances of continued friendship, the county is suing the city over tax payments.
The county wants $1.2 million in unpaid property taxes. The city wants to hand over that money — but not until it actually succeeds in collecting it from the property owners who are supposed to pay it.
County officials filed a lawsuit this week demanding either the money or the authority to collect it directly from city property owners.
In a written statement, county officials said the city must provide one or the other.
“Simply put, the city must take the bitter with the sweet — the bitter granting to [the] county equal tax collection status if it wants the sweet — to discontinue making the county whole,” the statement said.
It adds, “The county and city have had several amicable meetings regarding this issue but were unable to reach an agreement. Accordingly, the county, in order to preserve its legal position was required to file this suit.”
The county’s written statement included more than a page of praise for county-city initiatives, as well as repeated emphasis on the value of the county-city partnership. Only on page two did it begin to address the tax dispute.
Mayor Gary McCarthy took a similar tack, downplaying the lawsuit.
“There’s a difference of opinion here,” he said.
He added that he had no objection to paying the county when the city collects the county’s taxes.
“But I only want to pay what we actually collect,” he said. “I don’t want to have to be a bank to finance other levels of government.”
Last year, McCarthy urged the City Council to pay the county for all unpaid property taxes, even though it wiped out all but $75,000 of the city’s savings. He said then that it would be better for the city to pay the delinquent taxes in return for having control over the timing of foreclosures and sales, as well as being able to select buyers.
But on Wednesday he said there were many ways to handle tax collection without paying the delinquent taxes to the county. He declined to offer specifics and it was unclear how the county and city would both foreclose on the same property at once.
City Council members said last year that they felt they had to pay up to avoid a lawsuit from the county. Christopher Gardner, county attorney, then insisted that he had never said he would sue the city — but McCarthy said Gardner was not being completely truthful.
McCarthy said another attorney had threatened to sue the city on the county’s behalf.
The lawsuit made that situation clear: It was filed by attorney Patrick Saccocio, who was hired by the county to handle the issue.
Gardner recused himself from the lawsuit on the grounds that he now represents the city in labor negotiations.