Category Archives: Bourbon County

County to Pursue Treasurer’s Bond

According to the the March 5th Commission Minutes the Commissioners voted to write a letter to KCAMP (the county’s insurance company) and request that the county be reimbursed for $5,335.67 from the Treasurer’s $25,000 bond.  It appears that this amount is the amount that was underpaid by Klein Products (plus additional) interest in Terry Sercer’s report details. We previously discussed this underpayment and pointed out that if it was a computer error, there may be difficulties recovering this from the bond. It isn’t clear (at least to us) whether or not a computer mistake in calculating interest could actually be recovered from the Treasurer’s bond.

If you read  KSA 79-1703 it says:

Except as provided in subsection (b) or as otherwise provided by law, no board of county commissioners or other officer of any county shall have power to release, discharge, remit or commute any portion of the taxes assessed or levied against any person or property within their respective jurisdictions for any reason whatever.

To recover money from the bond the county will need to show that the Treasurer “released, discharged, remitted or commuted” a portion of the taxes levied against the property. What isn’t clear is whether or not an error–particularly if that error can be shown to be caused by a computer–would fall under any of those categories. It is possible that there are other laws that come into play here as well that the county is basing their action on.

However, there was $1,130 that was “forgiven” by the Treasurer on property in order to help a real estate transaction proceed. This definitely falls within the definition of KSA 79-1703, but it doesn’t appear that this amount is being included in the request for a payout from the bond. (It is possible that the requested amount includes a portion of the miscalculated interest from Klein Product as well as the full $1,130 amount, but that seems unlikely.)

Further, the law seems to indicate that the process to recover money from the bond requires a lawsuit:

Any taxes so discharged, released, remitted or commuted may be recovered by civil action from the members of the board of county commissioners or such other officer and the sureties of their official bonds at the suit of the attorney general, the county attorney, or of any citizen of the county or the board of education of any school district a part of the territory of which is in such county, as the case may be, and when collected shall be paid into the county treasury to be properly apportioned and paid to the county, municipalities, school districts and other taxing subdivisions entitled thereto

This suggests that if the county or a citizen were to sue the Treasurer to recover the $1,130 and win then the fund would be able to be recovered from the bonds. However, if such a lawsuit were to succeed, a more likely scenario would be that the Treasurer would simply pay the $1,130. In fact, if a lawsuit were filed, it might make sense to simply pay the $1,130 unless the Treasurer thought it was reasonable to expect the lawsuit to fail. Our understanding of the public bond is not that it offers a type of insurance so the public (in this case the county) can quickly recover their fund through the bond. The bonding company still has the right to recover the fund from the person bonded.

If a bonding company has to pay out for someone once, it stands to reason that it may be very difficult to get another bond on the same individual. If someone can’t be bonded, it appears that this would prohibit them from being able to occupy a public office that required a surety bond.

According the the commission minutes, the county is not suing the Treasurer. They are writing a letter to KCAMP requesting funds from the bond directly. It is possible that there is an agreement in the bond that allows this in order to prevent expensive legal proceedings, but it appears to be a different procedure than outlined in the law quoted above.

 

 

Recovering Unpaid Interest

According to the report by Terry Sercer, a number of individuals overpaid their taxes–(including the County Treasurer by $346.32 in 2006) because of problems in the way the interest was calculated.  The report said that a number of individuals overpaid by around $800. (It wasn’t clear if this is the sum of all overpayments or an average per person.) These individuals should be receiving a refund in the coming weeks.

Mr. Sercer has provided a summary of his findings from his audit. FortScott.biz has requested the details from Bourbon County, but at first they were not available under Kansas Open Records Act because the Commissioners had yet to request them. Since the Kansas Attorney General hasn’t indicated that their investigation is complete, the Commissioners didn’t originally want to request this information (and thus make it public) in case it would damage the Attorney General’s efforts. After weeks of not hearing anything from the Attorney General’s office, the commissioners decided that the importance of getting the refunds made outweighed any potential benefit to the Attorney General and went ahead and requested the details which we published here.

When it comes to interest that should have been charged, but not paid it turns out that there are provisions in the law for this.

If you look at this opinion by the Attorney General, it talks about payment plans and makes it clear that neither the Commissioners nor any other officer of the county can change the amount of tax due or interest charges.

Thus, except for very limited exceptions, no board of county commissioners or other officer of the county has the authority to release, discharge, remit or commute any portion of taxes that have been levied or assessed against a person or property.

The exceptions have to do with bankruptcy and a situation where there was a very specific program established by law for Wyandotte County.

The law cited is KSA 79-1703 which says:

Except as provided in subsection (b) or as otherwise provided by law, no board of county commissioners or other officer of any county shall have power to release, discharge, remit or commute any portion of the taxes assessed or levied against any person or property within their respective jurisdictions for any reason whatever.

So if you owe taxes, no one can change what you owe other than changing the actual assessment. So what happens if Commissioners or another elected official does “release, discharge, remit or commute” a portion of the taxes?  For example, what happens if they mark the taxes and interest as paid when the proper amount was not collected? There is a provision for that.

Any taxes so discharged, released, remitted or commuted may be recovered by civil action from the members of the board of county commissioners or such other officer and the sureties of their official bonds at the suit of the attorney general, the county attorney, or of any citizen of the county or the board of education of any school district a part of the territory of which is in such county, as the case may be, and when collected shall be paid into the county treasury to be properly apportioned and paid to the county, municipalities, school districts and other taxing subdivisions entitled thereto

So basically if any commissioner or official releases a tax payer from paying taxes, they become liable for them personally and they can be sued by the Kansas Attorney General, County Attorney, any citizen of the county, or the board of education. This provision means that trivial amounts, while they can’t technically be written off, are unlikely to be something that will incur a lawsuit. If someone owes $0.32 on their taxes and a county official decides it isn’t worth pursuing and marks it as paid, someone could sue that person to recover the $0.32, but it would be a whole lot of effort for very little.

Notice that the wording of the law refers to “taxes assessed or levied.” It doesn’t specifically say that interest on unpaid taxes gets the same treatment.  However, the Attorney General’s opinion concludes with:

However, K.S.A. 79-2024 does not authorize the county treasurer to abate or forgive delinquent tax or interest on tax debts, which remains prohibited by K.S.A. 79-1703.

79-1703 doesn’t mention the word interest. The Attorney General appears to assume that the interest on taxes is treated the same way as the taxes themselves and cannot be changed.

It appears that if  a county official released someone from their tax obligation by marking it as paid when they hadn’t paid the proper amount, the county official becomes liable for the amount that wasn’t paid. The law says that the funds may be recovered from them and the sureties of their official bonds by civil action. I called the County Clerks office and asked if Bourbon County Officials are bonded. They are and here is the bonded amount for a few of them.

  • $5,000 – County Commissioners
  • $10,000 – County Clerk
  • $25,000 – County Treasurer

Bonds are basically a type of insurance so that funds can be recovered if an elected official acts inappropriately. The county pays a premium for elected officials to be bonded.  This helps remove some of the risk for the county of an official making off with county money. If that were to happen, the bond company would pay the claim up to the amount of the bond and then it would be up to the bond company to track down and collect from the public official. So basically a bond allows the county to get its money quickly if something goes wrong without depending on whether or not an elected official has the means to pay.

So is a the bond company that insures Bourbon County elected officials on the hook for interest that was not collected? It may depend on the circumstances.

According to Mr. Sercer’s audit report, there was one individual who had their taxes marked paid even though they underpaid by around $5,000 for a two year period. If it could be proven that an official in the county marked the amount as paid even though it was too little, then it appears that the official would be liable to pay back the $5,000 that was not paid.

However, if it could be shown that the computer system incorrectly calculated the interest, it might be a bit more complicated because it might be hard to actually win a civil suit against the county official. The computer company might have some liability, but in Bourbon County, it appears that the system that was producing incorrect numbers was no longer under any type of maintenance plan which would likely remove the company from having any liability since they stopped updating the software when the maintenance plan lapsed. On the other hand, there may possibly be some liability if a county official signs off on something that has obvious error–regardless of what computer system generated them.

While it is not clear how the larger amounts might be treated in court if a civil suit were to be filed, the audit report mentions one instance where $1,130 in interest was not paid. According to Mr. Sercer’s report, it was written off based on a belief that the money probably wouldn’t be recovered in a tax sale. Based on KSA 79-1703 it appears that the official who wrote of the $1,130 could be compelled to pay that money back to the county (in which case their bond would probably be the mechanism that the county would be paid).

Commission Meeting February 17th

Marty Pearson showed the commissioners details on a training program on roads that KCAMP will pay for. The commissioners voted for him to take the classes that will be paid for by the state. The classes are offered through KU and are part of the Kansas Roads Scholar Program.

There still isn’t a date on the tax sale and the county is still waiting for Mr. Meara to put together the press release. There are a few dates in March and April when the Register of Deeds office will be gone to a conference so the the tax sale can’t be scheduled for those dates. The commissioners asked that these dates be communicated to Mr. Meara.

Sheriff Gray presented a request from Uniontown asking about putting a flashing light on  K3 and Maple Road. There have been two fatalities there recently. They have permission from the state, but the state said they didn’t have funds to pay for it. Uniontown is asking for assistance from the county for the approximately $5,000 cost of installing it. The state doesn’t have any money to pay for it, but they were hoping the county could pay for 75% of it. The commissioners acknowledged the request and said they would approve it, but didn’t have the funds to add it at this time.

The county has been asked for a Bourbon County representative for the Kansas 6th Judicial nominating committee.

The commissioners spoke with a company that will help audit the counties phone bills to see if they can recover any overpaid funds. The company will split the refunds with the county. The Commissioners made and passed a motion to use the service to look at their phone bill.

Over/Under Payment Information From Audit

Some time back, FortScott.Biz requested a copy of the details from the audit showing the individual under and overpayment information. The commissioners were concerned that they might not want to request this information (and make it subject to Kansas Open Records Act) until any investigation by the the Attorney General was complete.

This information has now been made available and is being used to send refunds back to tax payers that overpaid. The commissioners said that they still hadn’t heard anything back from the Attorney General, but decided it was in the best interest of the county to request the information in order to issue refunds to those that overpaid.

Keep in mind that underpayment doesn’t indicate any type of problems on the part of the tax payer. They paid what they were told to pay. If there were inaccuracies, in the amount of tax they were told to pay or how the interest was calculated, that wasn’t the fault of the tax payer.

Based on previous conversations, it does not appear there is a way to recover underpaid taxes from the tax payers if their accounts were marked paid in full. This seems reasonable as it would be very disruptive to businesses and individual if the county could go back several years and say “oh we made a mistake, you now owe more money.”

Here is the pdf of the over/underpayments. If your name shows up as having overpaid, you should be receiving a refund in the near future.

County Commission Meeting Feb 13th

The commissioners discussed the best time to plant fescue on some county land and the reclamation project at the old quarry.  There was also some discussion about moving the scale.  The county is getting the old crusher ready to go to the company where it was traded in on the new one.

The commissioners wanted to clarify that the East side of Cedar Creek Lake is still open and you can drive in there. The West side is closed to traffic now, but you can walk in to go fishing. The restrooms are also being removed from the West side. The decision was made by the rural water department because of the vandalism that was taking place.

The commissioners are still waiting for a list of properties and what day they will be sold from Dan Meara for the tax sale.

Joanne Long asked the commissioners about a money transfer from the general fund to the sewer fund, but they decided to hold off until they had more information.

In January Commissioner Coleman was voted in as chairman. Evidently Commissioner Jingles Endicott had made a motion to make Commissioner Allen Warren the new Chairman and the motion had been seconded by Commissioner Coleman. After some discussion Commissioner Warren convinced then Chairman Endicott to not vote for his own motion and the two of them voted Commissioner Coleman in as the new Chairman.

County Commission Meeting Feb 10th

Carter Stegall from Running Foxes Petroleum can to discuss buying right of way to put in pipeline. They need to drill under a road and wanted to know what issues there were with going under roads. Marty Pearson said that they would be responsible to fill in any settling the happens afterwards. Commissioner Warren suggested a type of mix that had a good history of not sinking.

There was a discussion of what type of permits would be needed and if a bond was needed

The water district has voted to close Cedar Creek Lake to vehicles and take the bathroom out because of too much vandalism.  It will still be open for fishing, but people will have to walk down to the lake and the dock will be removed.. The plan is to move the bathroom to Elm Creek Lake.

Ron Center from the landfill came to discuss a request to the state about going 10 foot higher in the landfill. There are some changes that need to be made to meet the state requirements. Mr. Center has a flat fee bid for $1000 to do the work that is required.

The Commissioners were asked if the press release detailing the status of the tax sale had been created and they said they were waiting on Dan Meara.

They were also asked about the status of the request for a listing of the people who had overpaid and underpaid as determined by the audit. Joanne Long said that this information had been emailed to Fort Scott Biz, and the Commissioners indicated that the Treasurer was going to start sending out refund checks for the approximately $800 that had been overpaid. They pointed out that $300 was the Treasurer’s overpayment.

The commissioners voted to go into executive session for 30 minutes to discuss non-elected employees.

Arctic Airmass Forcast

The National Weather Service out of Springfield is forecasting a surge of Arctic airmass in Southeast Kansas starting Friday evening with temperatures falling into the single digits by Saturday morning followed by snow and sleet fer the next several days. With the low temperatures road surfaces are projected to be very slick.

County Commission Meeting – January 9th

Joanne Long clarified that the approximately $1.5 million spent on healthcare for county employees included about $800,000 of employee contributions. So the total amount spent on health care per county employee is around $7,000–not $15,000 as was previously suggested.

There was some discussion about the need to purchase a used truck. A suitable truck has been located, but it was slightly more expensive than expected. Marty said that the cost of used trucks is very high that this one represented one of the best deals he could find. They are going to check to see if the truck is still available.

The crusher has been moved to the new quarry. The county is working on making sure the brakes are good and all the equipment is ready to begin operation. People are coming in to train county employees on the new equipment. There was some concern that there were some maintenance issues with the loaders so it was discussed the need to have a backhoe available as a backup plan if the loaders were down when the training was taking place.

There was a firm coming in to discuss the possibility of building a new jail at 9:45. (I wasn’t able to stay for that part of the meeting.)

There was also a planned discussion of the new sewer district, planned for later in the morning.

Map Of Properties In Tax ForeClosure Sale

The map below shows properties that are on the list for the Bourbon County Tax Sale. Properties are being redeemed by their owners so some of the properties on the list may have already been redeemed. The Bourbon County website has a list that is more up-to-date. Also it is possible that some of the properties didn’t get geo-encoded correctly so they may not show up as expected. The locations are probably close, but not all of the mapping information is accurate so it probably wouldn’t be wise to use this map as a basis for bidding or not bidding on a piece of property.

There area lot of properties to show, so you may need to zoom in to view the details. Clicking on a red marker will give you the address of the property and give you a link to see just that property on a map.

If you are reading this in an email, you may want to click on the link for “View Larger Map” to see the details or visit FortScott.Biz directly.


View Larger Map

County Commission Meeting – 12/30

Matt Harris on Indian Road has a spot right in front of his house where the water is running over the road when we get a lot of rain. He is concerned that the way the water is flowing is coming up around his house.

There was some discussion about the vacation policy for the people working on road & bridge crews. Too many employees are taking vacation all at the same time–particularly at the end of the year. Marty is also concerned that some employees are wearing improper footwear.

Allen Warren made a motion to go into executive session with Marty to discuss non-elected personnel issues (not related to vacation or attire).

At 10 am, the budget amendment hearing started. Employee benefits and road and bridge are expected to exceed the budget. The proposal was to adjust the budget to meet the expected expense. In order to avoid a budget violation the Commissioners will move some money from the general account where they had more income than expected to the accounts where they spent more. Exceeding the budget without amendment would put the county in violation of state law.

All objections were heard and a motion was made an passed to accept the amendment to the budget.

There was some discussion about the increase in employee benefits and if there was a plan to keep the cost of insurance from continuing to climb. The amended budget for health insurance in 2011 totals $1,557,560. With 100 paid county employees this works out to over $15,000 per employee. Some employees do not take county insurance, so the actual cost per employee is higher. (It was unclear if this figure includes the amounts that employees contribute to cover their families.)

The commissioners expressed concern that since they have not given raises for the past four years, health insurance is one of the main reasons people will work for the county. Chairman Endicott said, it is hard to get people to apply for jobs as it is.

The Commissioners were asked if there was a long term plan for dealing with the increasing costs of employee benefits. They said there wasn’t. They were also asked if the plan was to just raise the mill levy as needed to cover the increased costs of employee benefits. The Commissioners asked if there were any suggestions for dealing with other increases such as gas prices pointing out that other costs were going up as well.

There was some discussion about capping the amount that the county spends on employee benefits.

This is the first payroll that the county has done direct deposit. Employees that work in the court house will get the receipts for their payroll check in the office, but the ones that don’t work in the court house will get it in the mail.

The County Attorney (Terri Johnson) clarified that the attorney that the AG office did get the first letter requesting that they look into allegations against the County Treasurer. The letter that they didn’t receive was the second letter where the AG’s office had requested additional information from the County Attorney.

Dan Meara has yet to provide the list of people who have property that could be sold, but will be held off because it wasn’t published correctly. The Commissioners asked the Clerk’s office to request the lists from Dan Meara for the meeting on January 6th.

FortScott.biz has previously requested a copy of the list showing which property owners overpaid and which underpaid on their taxes. This information is not in the Commissioner’s hands so they could not provide it. FortScott.Biz took the position that the data belonged to the county and that the whether the physical bits reside shouldn’t matter and if it was simply a matter of requesting the data from Terry Sercer, it should be subject to a Kansas Open Records Act Request.

Terri Johnson (County Attorney) has contacted the Attorney Generals office to find out if there is any reason not to release the data and if it is indeed subject to KORA. She said that she thinks that list doesn’t actually belong to the County, but that they can request it. She suggested that the Commissioners need to request that information eventually in order to refund people who overpaid. She also pointed out that if the information is published the community needs to be careful not to vilify citizens who may have underpaid even though they were acting in good faith and paying what they had been told they owed.

Refunds For Overpayments?

According to the audit report by Mr. Sercer, most individuals on the payment plan overpaid their interest by $800. Now that the County is aware of this error, it would seem that they would be required to send refund checks to the individuals who paid too much in interest.

It doesn’t appear that this has happened. The information about who overpaid is not in the report. It would be part of the details of the audit. These details have not been made available because they have not be requested from Mr. Sercer. The Commissioners, who ordered the audit, are hesitant to request the audit details because they feel that the Attorney General’s office may conduct an investigation and the release of the audit details would compromise the investigation.

On the other hand, the county has something of an obligation to quickly give people their money back if they were charged interest they did not owe. Even if this isn’t a legal statute it is surely an ethical requirement. In some situations, it might just be a matter of taking the overpaid interest and applying it to any outstanding tax bill for current years, but in others it may be a matter of issuing someone an $800 check.

Without the audit details, it is impossible to know who needs a refund, but there are some complicated scenarios that may to arise.

First, if someone has overpaid in the past, how is that money applied to other delinquent taxes? It would seem that their interest would need to be recalculated to keep from penalizing them for money they had been incorrectly charged.

Second, if someone is owed money due to an incorrect calculation by the county, they may be entitled to receive interest on that money. Federal taxes have a provision where the IRS can owe tax payers interest in certain situations and their may be a similar state laws.

The third scenario that may complicate things for the county involves a tax payer who has overpaid on the payment plan, but currently has property in the process of being prepared for sale for other unpaid taxes. If they have money owed them by the county and the property is sold, what happens to the extra money? If the amount was more than what they owed (unlikely), then the county would be in the position of foreclosing on someone who had paid all their taxes.  If it is for less, then the county would be in the postion of foreclosing on someone without telling them how much they actually owed.

Now it is impossible to say if anyone is in any of these situations or not. At this point, Mr. Sercer and his firm are the only ones who have the information, but it seems like it would be in the best interest of the county to make  the details public before that tax sale. Otherwise there is a chance that it will put the county into a very tricky position.

 

 

County Commission Meeting – December 12th

County Landfill

There was some discussion about the issues with people dumping the wrong materials at the landfill with roll off loads. The problem is that the workers can’t really see the entire load until it gets dumped. Construction and demolition waste is charged at a lower rate and is handled differently, but if regular trash gets dumped in the C&D pile it becomes a big problem to deal with.

The commissioners discussed making all rolloffs pay the trash price. They also talked about making rolloffs go to Arcadia.  Marty is going to call the state and see what options exist. He questioned why they can accept furniture and fiberglass boats as C&D, but not clothes.

Gas Usage

Gas usage for January through November has been 127,443 gallons. Last year it was 185,807 gallons at this point. Even though the average cost has gone from $2.497 in 2010 to $3.365 in 2011, the county has spent $35,190.51 at this point

Radios

There was some talk about trying to work with the city to buy radios at the same time. Keith Jeffreys said the county has been trying to coordinate with the city to get better purchasing power.

There was some discussion about how to make sure that the radios are compatible between the city and the county. There is a requirement to switch to a new type of radio that uses a narrow band spectrum, but the new radios and the old radios are not compatible. Because of this the county and the city need to make the transition at the same time.

The county pays $50,000 per year from the 911 funds for the city to handle dispatch for the county.

Budget Hearing

The commissioners scheduled a budget hearing December 30th at 10am. This may involve making minor changes to the budget to balance between accounts that might be slightly overbudget with those that are underbudget.

Fence Viewing

The commissioners passed a motion that the fence they viewed was not sufficient to keep cattle in and that both land owners on either side should share the cost of putting in a new fence.

Sewer District

The engineer had a few issues that needed to be discussed and decided on. There are two and possibly three grinder pumps at the lake that are installed too high for the home owner to connect to them. The engineer said that in those cases the grinder pump was placed where the homeowner or their representative specified to put it. They previously lowered Leon Culvertson’s in the past, but it cost $1,000. Some of the remaining ones are likely to cost $1,800.

The engineer feels that the contractor did what they were supposed to do based on the plan and what the homeowner specified. He said the commissioners need to decide if the cost is to be absorbed into the project or if it needs to be billed to the homeowner. He said that every additional $1,000 spent will cost about 2.8 cents per homeowner per month.

Commissioner Warren asked if it was the engineer’s responsibility to know where the sewer line came out. The engineer pointed out that there wasn’t a way for him to know where every sewer pipe comes out of every house. Commissioner Endicott said that if they knew where the holding tank was, why couldn’t that be used to determine how deep the grinder pump should be placed. The engineer pointed out that some of these were buried up to 5 feet deep.

Part of the problem is that some of the homeowner’s plumbers recommended specific places to put the grinder pump saying that it would work and after it was dug, they found out that it wouldn’t.

The sewer bill is estimated to be around $37.00 per month which is less than what had originally been projected.

The houses where there is a problem, some of the sewer lines coming out of the house are lower than where they need to go into the grinder pumps. A homeowner mentioned that since the engineer and contractor observer approved the location of the ginder pumps it seems like it should be their responsibility to move them. The engineer pointed out that when you start building things underground there is always going to be a risk associated with things that you can’t see until you dig.

The Commissioner’s decided to go ahead and do what needs to be done to make it operable and charge it to the project.

There were some questions about how to handle the short term financing of the overages and asked if the county could front the additional cost for 3 to 6 months until the longer term finances come into place. It was estimated that this would be $50,000 to $75,000. This would keep the county from needing to issue temporary bonds which would incur a cost.

There are some individuals who are refusing to connect. The holding tanks can’t be demolished until they are connected. Terri Johnson said that if they still refuse to connect after a certain date, it may be a matter of using police power to force the connection.

The engineer said that in at least once situation, the cost of hooking up is going to be very expensive so the county may need to front that money. The engineer said that a few homeowners appear that they are going to fight hooking up to the sewer until they are forced. The engineer doesn’t want to tie up the construction workers if they can’t finish demolishing the tanks.