Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The runoff in the mayoral election is just days away, but a look into the financial records of one of the candidates has revealed thousands of dollars in delinquent business taxes for Kirkman Finlay III. However, he says there is an explanation for the discrepancy, and now the controversy is leading to a war of words between he and his opponent.
News19 confirmed with the Richland County Treasurer's Office that businesses owned by or affiliated with Finlay owe nearly $4,000 in back taxes.
They include four properties: two in the city, and two in the county. As of 5 p.m. Friday, Treasurer David Adams said those taxes were still unpaid.
According to the county, Finlay owes the money from 2006 for two separate business locations. The company is listed as Rising High Natural Bread Company.
According to Finlay's biography on the City of Columbia website, he is the CEO and founding owner of that business. The county also says there are more than $700 in delinquent taxes from 2009 for two other Richland County properties owned by Chapel Hill LLC, with which Finlay is affiliated.
Officials say those county taxes are late as of March 17.
Finlay's opponent, Steve Benjamin, released a statement saying, "This is troubling. 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."
Finlay, however, disputes much of that information, and says the taxes are not delinquent. Here is the full statement which he released to News19.
"Mr. Benjamin's blind ambition to win at any cost has made collateral damage of two innocent families who simply are trying to live the American dream of home ownership.
"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. 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.
"It is incomprehensible that a major candidate for mayor be this sloppy and uncaring. In his effort to discredit me, he has discredited himself.
"I am attaching all the email from my attorney on this matter but I have deleted the names of the individuals involved. I will not allow them to be run over roughshod by Mr. Benjamin.
"As to the second allegation, I was, and still am, unaware that Rising High owes Richland County any money.
"Four times since 2006, Rising High's attorney went to the Richland County offices to close out any and all outstanding issues before the company was shut down.
"Rising High was issued a $72.52 tax refund by Richland County on February 23, 2010, sent to the correct company address.
"I do not understand why a refund would be sent if money is owed. I am attaching a copy of the check. See the Check
"I have asked the company's attorney to hold one more meeting with Richland County officials to hopefully get to the bottom of this. If it turns out that money is indeed owed, I will of course pay it.
"But there is another issue that should be addressed. Not one time have I attempted to pry into my opponent's personal or financial life during this campaign although I have had abundant opportunities to do so. I have said nothing negative about him personally. I have refused to allow my campaign to rummage through files and find dirt.
"My opponent, on the other hand, has had a small army of people trying to find anything negative on me.
"The people are tired of tacky gotcha politics. The candidate who claims to want ONE Columbia is the only candidate to go negative. His actions mock his words. He discredit (sic) himself and the cause he claims to represent.
"I am saddened and disappointed in Mr. Benjamin. I expected better of him."