Mistake adds $300,000 to district coffers
Incorrect reporting of mill levy to county clerk results in higher charges to property owners
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"As superintendent in USD 464, I accept full responsibility for this error and I apologize to USD 464 taxpayers for the outdated information that was filed with the county clerk, which resulted in incorrect tax statements to taxpayers," Erickson said.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."
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