Tax collector says she’s glad to be down to business

Published 11:59 am Friday, May 25, 2012

Tax Collector Antonia Flaggs-Jones has gone back to business since last year’s election and says she has no hard feelings after the drawn-out vote count.

“That was a long situation,” Flaggs-Jones told the Port City Kiwanis on Thursday. Flaggs-Jones, a Democrat, won a full term in November by beating challenger Patty Mekus by 56 votes out of 15,205 cast. The race, however, was not decided until after 10 days of counting absentee ballots. A post-election review of sealed absentees by Mekus and some supporters turned up unclear reasons for some affidavits and absentees being rejected, but not enough to change the result.

Based on conversations she said took place with Mekus after the election, Flaggs-Jones indicated Mekus’ questions were more about process than simply the end result.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“People have been saying various things,” Flaggs-Jones said. “I don’t think she was wanting to look at them to say that something was miscounted. It was just the way they were handled.”

In Mississippi, absentees are cast before an election, then sealed and delivered to individual precincts to be compared with ballots cast in person. State law says candidates and poll watchers must challenge voting qualifications on grounds of registration, residency or other factors at the polls, where precinct managers must consider those questions. Affidavit ballots are handled at the polls by poll workers.

After a records request, Mekus said 66 affidavit ballots the commission reviewed were rejected for the same reason others were accepted and that 36 absentee ballots were stamped “rejected” without a reason, as required by law.

In March, an analysis by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann showed a 2 percent rise in absentee voting in the state between the 2007 and 2011 state election cycles. The report said the rise showed a shift toward “early” voting, which is done in 35 states and allows people to vote before Election Day either in person or by mail.

The tax collector’s office receives payments of property taxes and fees on real estate and vehicles for the county, and, by contract, for the City of Vicksburg. Vehicles include cars, boats and motorcycles. The office conducts sales of properties where property taxes go unpaid for the year. Tax sales in Mississippi are on the final Monday in August. Taxes are due the previous Friday.

Flaggs-Jones expects at least 1,500 parcels to be up for bid this year. Last year, 1,685 pieces of residential and commercial property were available, down from 1,799 in 2010. Bidders pay what an owner owes, then the owner may, by law, “redeem” the deed by paying the taxes plus a penalty that the bidder keeps. Owners have three years to redeem before it becomes property of the state.

“There’s a myth that people think when they come to the tax sale,” Flaggs-Jones said. “They think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna come get me a house.’ But, it’s a three-year process. You have to bid three consecutive years.”

Car tag renewals will be credited at 6 percent this year, up from 5.25 percent, she said. The percentage is set by the Legislature.