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High Point City Council members owe thousands in unpaid taxes

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Based on information in documents provided at our request from the City of High Point, Mayor Bernita Sims and Councilman Foster Douglas owe thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. Both now face garnishment of city wages to repay that debt.

According to a notice from the Department of Revenue to the City of High Point, Douglas owes $2,180.60 for overdue state income taxes, penalties and interest for 2007, 2009 and 2010.

A similar state notice to the city stated Mayor Sims owes $5,578.93 for overdue state income taxes, penalties, and interest for 2003, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

The forms request their city wages be garnished in order to pay back their state taxes.

In addition, a notice from the IRS to the City of High Point in 2011 said Douglas owed $15,249.49 total for overdue federal income taxes and penalties for 2006, 2007 and 2008. A Levy on his wages was requested at that time to pay back the federal government.

According to Communications Director Jeron Hollis, the Mayor of High Point makes $15,000 annually, with a $4,200 travel allowance each year. Council members make $10,800 annually, with a $3,600 travel allowance each year.

Hollis said when the City receives a court order for wage attachment or garnishment, staff first notifies the employee involved.

"If the employee chooses to make exemption notification to the City, staff will then adjust the maximum garnishment allowed by law to the highest amount allowed based on the claimed exemptions," he explained in an email.

"There are limits to the maximum that can be deducted from an employee’s payroll check. For example, a garnishment order from the NC Department of Revenue will garnish 10 percent of wages.  An IRS garnishment will vary based on the current table of allowances and exemptions," Hollis wrote. "Failure by the employee to notify the City of any exemptions will mean that City will deduct based on the highest possible amount allowed."

Referencing city protocol, Hollis said, "The garnishment of wages begins with the next effective payroll that processes for that employee. The City continues to withhold until we receive a notice from the enforcing authority that the order has been satisfied/paid in full and the City is released from additional withholding under that order."

FOX8 caught up with people who live in High Point and were at the license tag office paying their taxes and tags.

"If everybody took the tact that these public officials in High Point are taking, we'd be in a hell of a mess," insisted city resident Tom Amico. "We have elections not coronations. These people elected to public office they have a trust, a public trust to do their job and do it correctly."

Amico said part of that job is setting a good example.

"It irritates ya to no end to hear about this," he added.

Guilford County also issued a garnishment of Douglas's city wages in 2011 for $121.66 for vehicle taxes, fees and interest owed.

"There's no VIP in heaven! DMV is no different," said Carolyn Jones, saying she understands what it's like to sometimes get behind on tag fees or taxes. "But they will have to pay their taxes! There's no way around that... To hold an office and to represent the people, to some degree you should be held accountable. Some type of check should be established."

Last month FOX8 reported Douglas owes $32,000 to the City of High Point per a judge's orders after a lawsuit against the city ten years ago.

FOX8 called both Douglas and Sims for comment, emailed them and stopped by their homes to ask for more information about these delinquent taxes. Neither responded.