Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mistake adds $300,000 to district coffers

Incorrect reporting of mill levy to county clerk results in higher charges to property owners

December 12, 2007

An error in the Tonganoxie School District budget will cost property owners nearly $370,000 in estimated property tax increases.

The money will be reimbursed, but when and how the reimbursement will take place is being debated.

Superintendent Richard Erickson proposed at Monday's school board meeting to repay taxpayers through lower mill levies the next two years.

However, patrons at the meeting were concerned Erickson's plan would fall short for some taxpayers.

Teresa Ellis said a lower mill levy the next two years wouldn't necessarily equate to a full reimbursement because a person's house valuation could go up from this year to the next, meaning taxpayers could pay more in taxes the next two years.

"I guess my biggest concern is if the taxes were right, I would like to know what they should have been," Ellis said. "How are you going to provide that? Yes you think you're saving us money : You didn't save us a dime."

Debbie Himpel is part owner of Himpel Construction and owns several properties in Tonganoxie. She raised concerns about how Erickson's proposal would affect developers and residents involved in real estate. She said, for instance, when she closed on a property, she was responsible for any outstanding property taxes; thus new homeowners would benefit from Erickson's proposal.

"I own over 200 pieces of property in this town," Himpel said. "I'm the one getting the wrong end of this."

Erickson said he noticed in his November tax statement something was incorrect with the district's mill numbers.

The school board approved a budget for publication at its July 9 meeting. The budget published Aug. 1 in The Mirror called for a levy of 54.696 mills.

A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

But at its Aug. 13 meeting, the board restructured its budget so that it could hold the line on the levy. Members actually approved a slightly lower levy from the previous year, at 50.603 mills.

Erickson said he submitted the original information to the county by mistake.

"As superintendent in USD 464, I accept full responsibility for this error and I apologize to USD 464 taxpayers for the outdated information that was filed with the county clerk, which resulted in incorrect tax statements to taxpayers," Erickson said.

After receiving certified budgets in August, the county sends information back to school districts, cities and townships to verify that the information is correct.

After Monday's meeting, Erickson said he looked through the documents and didn't notice the error.

The error was in the bond and interest levy, which was the area in which mills were reduced at the Aug. 13 meeting. That amounted to a difference of 4.149 mills, from 15.818 to 11.669.

And, although the district's original numbers called for 54.696 mills, Janet Klasinski, deputy county clerk, said the county's estimates, after reviewing the original paperwork, put the budget at 59.127 mills.

Klasinski stressed that the numbers were estimates. She said that, for a $100,000 home, owners on average will pay $47.72 in increased taxes because of the error. Taxes on a $150,000 house average $71.57 in increased taxes, Klasinski said.

Monday afternoon, Klasinski said the school district had the option of paying out tax refunds to patrons in May, when the second half of property taxes are due, but that it would be the school district's responsibility to pay for any costs associated with sending out refunds. However, Erickson said after Monday's meeting an official with the Kansas Department of Education on Monday afternoon advised him that only the county could handle tax refunds.

Attempts to reach the Kansas Department of Education were unsuccessful Tuesday, and Leavenworth County offices were closed Tuesday because of inclement weather.

Patron Diane Bretthauer wasn't impressed with Erickson when he said he hoped to reduce the mill levy to compensate taxpayers during the next two years.

"Taxpayers deserve more than your hope, Dr. Erickson," Bretthauer said.

Erickson reiterated that reducing the mill levy to reimburse property owners was his priority and that he would recommend such a plan to the board.

Board member Darilyn Hansen pointed out that the taxes reflected what the board originally approved for its mill levy, but fellow board member Kathy Baragary said that didn't matter.

"That doesn't make it right," Baragary said. "That doesn't change what happened."

Board president Leana Leslie asked the board to form a committee to discuss further how to handle refunds. Baragary and Hansen agreed to be on the committee, which also will include patrons. Additional committee members were not named at the meeting, but the committee is expected to be formed in the coming weeks.

After the meeting, board member Mildred McMillon said the board is bound by regulations in how to refund taxpayers.

"We are governed by state statute," McMillon said. "We are audited on our budget by our auditors. And there are things you can do and things you can't do.

"And with our finance commissioner in Topeka, he has been advising us what to do; things we can do and cant' do. We just have to follow through with what we can do."

Comments

JerryB 6 years, 7 months ago

Why is a straight-up refund not the option that is being proposed by the superintendent? A reduction in tax rates over the next two years would be far from equitable considering many people by and sell property in the interim.

Those that would sell property within the next two years would lose out because they overpaid and they'd never see the return...those that purchase property would stand to gain from this error by paying reduced rates (rates that were subsidized by those the former group) for the next couple of years. It seems as though the most equitable (and likely, most legally appropriate) way to approach this error would be to make available a refund as soon as possible rather than some later reduced rate.

When a store overcharges me for an item and I call them on it, I don't want a gift certificate to the store for some later purchase, I want the money back that is rightfully mine to begin with.

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TheCowboy 6 years, 7 months ago

This most recent mess up with the budget is not just a minor incident. People are getting taken advantage of and should be in an up roar. The proposal to lower taxes the next two years is just an easy way of getting out of this mess.

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Catblu 6 years, 7 months ago

Someone should explain why it took the superintendent a month to tell the taxpayers he "messed up". Why was it hidden from the taxpayers until Monday nights School Board Meeting? The superintendent said, he "hoped" there might be refunds. He gave no answer if there were going to be any kind of refunds, even though he had a month to find the answer. As for the school board, Mrs. Baragary was the only member who had shown any concern about the taxpayers. The board president formed a committee, but would not say whether or not any refunds would be forthcoming. The quote in the Mirror is "the money will be reimbursed".......At no time during the board meeting did anyone say, " the money would be reimbursed. The superintendent said he "hoped" there would be refunds. The board president said the board would look into it. But there was never a promise made to give the taxpayers money back. Again the board knew a month ago that the superintendent had made a mistake. The Tonganoxie School Board has had a month to find the answer to the taxpayers questions but chose to do nothing until taxpayers raised (loud objections) at this months school board meeting. This is an example of another problem the superintendent has caused and the taxpayers are going to be STUCK paying the bill. The Tonganoxie School Board has "punished" the superintendent in the past for his "mistakes" by extending his contract, and giving him big raises. I wonder how big his next raise is going to be? I'll bet it's big enough to cover his property tax increase. The taxpayers have to pay for their tax increase, and also pay for the raise of the superintendent who made the "mistake". (Some people have to come up with almost 30% more for their taxes because of the Superintendents "mistake") Its business as usual at U.S.D. 464.

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fedup 6 years, 7 months ago

Once again our Superintendent Dr. Erickson fails our school system. If this was a error how come it was not corrected in the 10 days the county allows for corrections. When is the school board going to do something about him? It might be time for a total recall of our board. We all need to all step forward and speak our minds to the board. IThis issue in not going to go away! I would like to know what consequences he is going to take for his actions, as this is what we teach our children. If you are just as concern as I am, please attend the next school board meeting and speak you mind. The only way we are going to get things changed if we do.

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bolo 6 years, 7 months ago

What would my bank say if I wrote a check for $300,000 then told them, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'll just reduce my spending over the next 3 years to pay you back." There is no excuse for this type of error. It is stealing from the taxpayers. The money needs to be returned NOW and Mr. Erickson should use his own money to buy the stamps (or maybe buy them from part of his severance package?).

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