Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2007

State school official: tax error happens ‘once in blue moon’

December 19, 2007

The case of an incorrect school district mill levy rate being reported to county officials is a rare occurrence, a top state official said Friday.

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas Department of Education, said last week that an incorrect report of mills "normally happens very seldom."

The issue has come to the forefront in Tonganoxie after schools Superintendent Richard Erickson announced at the Dec. 10 school board meeting that he had made an error in documents filed with County Clerk Linda Scheer in Leavenworth. It was an error that is costing district property owners an estimated $370,000 in higher property taxes.

In experiences that Dennis has had with previous incorrect levies, he said that the mill levy normally was lowered the next year.

"Once in a blue moon, there will be, for numerous reasons, there will be a mill levy too low," Dennis said. "Once in awhile, when the mill levy is too high, the ones I've been involved with (school districts) usually reduce the mill levy the following year.

"To go back and make changes at this late date is very difficult."

Dennis also said that, as a general rule, taxes usually are reduced the following year.

That was Erickson's proposal at the December board meeting, but patrons adamantly disagreed, stating that it wouldn't fairly reimburse property owners. They said that if property valuations increase, owners likely wouldn't receive an accurate refund.

Erickson said at the meeting that he previously looked into other options with county officials, such as refunding taxpayers in late May, when the second half of property taxes are due. However, Erickson spoke with a Department of Education official the day of the December meeting. The official advised him that only county officials could handle the refunds.

If refunds were to be allocated, the school district would have been responsible for all expenses related to the procedure, Janet Klasinski, deputy county clerk, said last week.

Talk of the error first became public early on at the Dec. 10 meeting. Erickson stated that he reported a mill levy that the board originally approved for publication at its July 9 meeting. It was published Aug. 1 in The Mirror and called for a rate of 54.696 mills.

At the board's Aug. 13 meeting, because of concerns voiced to Erickson about too steep an increase at one time, the budget was restructured to reflect a slightly lower mill levy than the previous year, at 50.603 mills.

However, Erickson reported the original rate.

After receiving certified budgets in August, Scheer's office sends information back to school districts, cities and townships to verify that information is correct.

Erickson said after the December board meeting that he reviewed the documents and didn't' notice the error.

It wasn't until Erickson received his tax statements in early November that he realized he had made an error.

Action on the matter was not taken at the meeting. However, board members Darlyn Hansen and Kathy Baragary agreed to join a committee with patrons that would evaluate the issue and explore options. The committee is expected to form in the coming weeks.

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