County could owe $16K to West Routt Fire Protection District

Error in tax collections left West Routt Fire short funds in 2009

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday asked its legal department to research an error in tax collections that left the West Routt Fire Protection District short $16,289 in 2009 property tax revenues.

Options discussed on a tentative basis by the commissioners included reimbursing the fire district out of the county’s general fund, or possibly attaching the uncollected property tax mill to the district’s 2010 property tax bills.

“We asked (County Attorney John Merrill) to look at our options and tell us what they are,” Commission Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak said.

In a May 5 memo to County Manager Tom Sullivan and County Finance Director Dan Strnad, Stahoviak suggested the county would be obligated to compensate the district if another way cannot be found to recover the lost taxes.

“If this was our error, we need to pay the district for that lost revenue out of our funds,” Stahoviak said. “They should not suffer because of something we did.”

Routt County officials have been in contact with officials in the Division of Local Government in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs regarding the matter.

Local officials still were trying to pin down exactly how the error was made Monday, but they were looking at a 2008 tax credit the fire district set aside as a means of keeping its revenues consistent in the era of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

County Assessor Mike Ker­rigan confirmed Monday the mistake was made by a former deputy assessor who has since left his department for unrelated reasons.

“She entered the total mill levy correctly but didn’t take out the credit,” Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan said that on a percentage basis, the miscalculation was small compared to the $55 million in tax revenue his office manages.

The county employs the same tax credit strategy, Com­­missioner Doug Monger said.

Local governments can opt to forego a portion of their property tax revenues in times when assessed valuation is growing and “keep them in the bank” for times when valuation is falling.

West Routt Fire Protection District did that in 2008, Monger said, but when valuations declined last year, county government neglected to back out the tax credit. As a result, the $16,289 was taken as a credit in a year when the fire district needed the revenue.

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