Finance director wants to strip Arriola's tax collection powers

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 10:49am

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling wants to strip the Davidson County Clerk’s Office’s power to collect a range of different tax revenue after claiming clerk John Arriola failed to promptly turn over collections to the city.

In a May 1 letter, the finance director told Arriola that Mayor Karl Dean’s administration plans to file legislation that would return certain tax collection functions from the county clerk’s office to the finance department, including the collection of tourism-related hotel taxes, wholesale beer and liquor taxes, alcoholic beverage privilege taxes, and certain franchise fees.

“The Department of Finance decided to move in this direction for a number of reasons including the failure of your office to timely post collected funds,” Riebeling wrote. “You may recall the Metro Council ordinance that originally transferred this responsibility to the County Clerk requires a daily remittance to Metro.”

Arriola did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

On Tuesday, Riebeling announced the clerk’s office plan to the Metro Council as a footnote in his presentation of a proposed 53-cent increase on the city’s $4.13 tax rate, a tax hike that would help bolster a proposed $1.71 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

Riebeling said the finance department had historically overseen the collections of the various tax revenue at issue until 1996 when it changed hands to the county clerk’s office via enabling state legislation.

“We think it’s important the council move it back to the finance department,” Riebeling said. “This is a lot of money. It’s $40 million that we collect from these various taxes and fees. And over the course of the last several months, there’s been some issues to put it mildly.”

Instead of a daily remittance to Metro’s accounts, Riebeling said it’s taken “several weeks” for those funds to arrive. Riebeling said recent bond payments for Music City Center, for example, were due during the first week of April. But he said it took Arriola until the last minute, March 30, to deliver tourist-targeted tax revenue, which is used to pay off those bonds.

“We weren’t going to go into default,” Riebeling said. “We recovered it, but it created a lot of consternation.”

Transferring the collection of these taxes to the finance department would result in the elimination of two deputy county clerk positions and the associated funding of $157,000. County clerk services to the public –– such as vehicle registration –– would remain untouched. Arriola’s office is facing a 4 percent cut, believed to be the largest among any Metro department in Dean’s proposed budget.

Two council members, Phil Claiborne and Robert Duvall, immediately announced they would be “happy” to sign on as co-sponsors to Riebeling’s legislation.

The council in February approved a non-binding resolution that called for Arriola’s resignation after a Tennessee Comptroller Office report found he had charged $40 wedding fees to couples he married, pocketing what was supposed to be voluntary gratuities.

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson is said to be reviewing the comptroller’s findings.

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7 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 5/2/12 at 10:12

Never a good idea to have the department that writes the checks also be the one that collects the revenue. The counties of Tennessee entrust tax collections and treasury management to an elected Trustee (that last position I would think you would want to entrust to popular election but I digress). The checks being written are "warrants" for payment by the same trustee but that position is not responsible for the invoices/bills, just sending the money.

The clerk is the last place I would think you would want to move tax revenues through. I would be curious to hear the original justifications for why the move was made rather than setting up a trustee-like revenue position inside Metro. But finance/accounting is not the place for it, regardless of the allocation of separate human resources inside of the department.

I really wish the state reps and senators would enact a moratorium on the poorly written enabling legislation coming out of Metro. They are being used as scapegoats for all sorts of artificial barriers and absurd earmarking.

By: govskeptic on 5/2/12 at 10:53

Trusting Riebeling or Arriola to do the right thing in a competent and correct
manner is a bad toss up either way. Jeff does make a great point in how
this collection should take place. Even with benefits, 2 clerks requiring
$157,000. pay appears to be heavy for the level required in Arriola office!

By: Jughead on 5/2/12 at 10:53

The fact that Arriola remains a Metro employee speaks volumes about the intergrity of the Nashville gov't. Sheesh--a dang thief, and he still collects a taxpayer funded salary!

By: Shadow63 on 5/2/12 at 11:13

Yeah, yeah.
Why is there not a word anywhere about Dean's property tax increase?
It's time Nashville voters get off there complacent behinds and stop the transfer of debt to the working people of Nashville.
Local politicians zest for tax deferrals for billion dollarr corporations through increases in middle class voter increases has got to stop.
The trickle down theory doesn't hold water. It hasn't happened in the past and it won't happen in the future. WTFU

By: pswindle on 5/2/12 at 3:36

Arriola is still Davidson County Clerk, and that is his job to collect taxes. There is always someone ready to run over you, especially when you are down. He has done less than some. He deserves a chance. I bet his books balance, amd I bet he does not charge for weddings anymore. What is in for the Director.

By: JeffF on 5/3/12 at 8:41

Actually the county clerk is not responsible under normal state law for the collection of taxes not tied to the licensing business of government. As I said earlier in every other county not named Metro Davidson the County Trustee is the TAX collector of record and is the one responsible for the collection, recording, and depositing of all tax revenues collected.

No, skeptic is right, Darth Riebeling cannot be trusted as well. The man's many political maneuverings over the last few years should prove that he and his staff of political appointees cannot be trusted with actual cash,checks, and credit cards. Rule of thumb in government, never trust the higher up appointees, they are the ones who lack the fear of being caught.

By: bfra on 5/3/12 at 10:27

Riebeling is Karl's puppet, so the MCC must be running short on funds and needs more taxpayer's money diverted to the MCC pot or some other ego boosting plan for Karl.