More Questions and Answers From Treasurer

I spoke with Susan Quick today and asked about a few questions that have come up. The answers are the way I understood them and are not an actual transcript so inaccuracies are my responsibility.

Why don’t we see partial payments online for people on the payment plan?

The older version of the software didn’t allow partial payments, so the partial payments were put into an escrow account and brought over when there was enough to pay off the full amount. The newer version does support partial payments, so eventually we’ll start seeing partial payments on the public website.

Was everyone not on the payment plan printed in the original listing in the  paper and was everyone on the paper left off? (Basically asking if everything was consistent from person to person.)

Yes.

There are allegations that thousands of dollars of interest were “written off” and not collected. Were there any circumstances where non-trivial amounts of interest were ignored?

No. The amounts written off were  small amounts where the cost of tracking down the additional fees would have cost more than what would have been collected.

Even though the payment plan is gone, can people come in and make partial payments?

Yes. People can make partial payments. It will be applied to the interest first and then to the principle.

So people can basically create their own “do it yourself” payment plan if they need more time to pay?

Yes. The treasurer’s office can accept partial payment so people can come in and pay smaller amounts toward the amount they owe.

Payment Plan in the Minutes

Here is a list of the payment plan mentioned in the Bourbon County Commission meeting minutes prior to 2011. There may be more mentions as well as it can be difficult to find–particularly if it was referred to by a different name. There isn’t anything of too much interest, but it is worth noting that the payment plan appears to have been discussed quite a bit in the past and was recommended as an option for people who were behind on their taxes.

October 6, 2003

Susan Quick told the commissioners that Dan Meara is wanting to add 1999 and 2000 to the upcoming tax sale.  Ms. Quick is concerned because she has promised people if they were paid up through 1998 they would not be on the sale and she has also got people on the payment plan.  Commissioners agreed to hold the sale for delinquent properties through the 1998 year only. (source)

The minutes from August 6, 2011 mention that there were allegations that people did not have their property sold when they were on the payment plan. While the minutes don’t say for sure, it implies that this indeed happened back in 2003. However, if that is what happened, the decision was made by the county commissioners–not the treasurer.

This section of the minutes does seem to indicate that being on the payment plan could somehow change whether or not your property went up for sale at a tax sale. It would appear that this is illegal based on a cursory look at the relevant legal statutes.

Of course from a legal standpoint, it probably wasn’t legal to leave off the 1999 and 2000 taxes either.

August 6, 2004

Susan Quick met with commissioners to discuss the upcoming tax sale.  Commissioners decided to hold in November 12, 2004.  There are currently 36 parcels to sell at this time with an additional 50 that Othick’s is researching.  Those will sell sometime after the first of the year.  Commissioners agreed that the buyer will be responsible for 100% of the 2004 taxes, just like the last sale.  It will be announced before the sale.  Susan mentioned that Othick Abstract Company has indicated that they are not interested in doing any more tax sales.

Ms. Quick indicated that 53 properties have been redeemed since the tax sale process has begun this year.  She clarified for the commissioners that those persons on the payment program for delinquent taxes must be caught up before the property is eligible for sale.

The meaning of this last part isn’t clear. It appears to say that they can’t sell the property until people on the payment program have paid their taxes, but of course that would defeat the entire purpose of the sale.

Continuing with the same minutes, is an indication that in 2004 the tax sale had properties that were over 8 years delinquent in paying their taxes.

Charlie Blevins met with commissioners to discuss the tax sale.  He said that the sheriff and county attorney were on their way up.  He also wanted the newspaper present.  Sheriff Coleman arrived for the meeting.  Mr. Blevins is very upset about the progression of the tax sale.  As a taxpaying citizen he feels it is negligent that these people have been allowed to slip by for over 8 years without paying their taxes while he and thousands more pay theirs every year and live without things in order to keep up.  Commissioners explained the lengthiness of the process from researching the property to notifying all those with an interest and publishing the notices in the paper that it takes a long time to get to the actual sale.  Mr. Blevins was not satisfied and feels something needs to be done.  He feels another lawyer or another abstractor can do the work faster.  Commissioners explained that only Othick and Dan Meara answered the request for working the tax sale.  The gentleman that Mr. Blevins spoke about from Linn County the last time has never contacted Bourbon County.  Gary Houston called an abstractor but he wasn’t interested as long as Othick’s was involved.  Mr. Blevins said that it’s not right and he asked for all three commissioners’ resignation.  Robert Query told Mr. Blevins that he would resign January 1.  Charlie told Robert that he was glad he got beat in the election.  Robert said he was glad too. (source)

November 18, 2005

Debbie Talbot and Betty Hixon met with commissioners.  Mrs. Talbot asked commissioners for assistance with taxes on Fort Scott Lanes, the local bowling alley.  Bill Brittain explained that the County can not help anything but if she were to put an improvement plan together, she may qualify for a tax abatement.  Mr. Brittain will speak with Don Russell on her behalf.  Commissioners also advised Mrs. Talbot to speak with the County Treasurer about a payment plan on her taxes for the meantime.  (source)

Misdirected Anger

This article is going to be a bit more on the editorial side of things rather than just presenting facts. If you disagree with me, feel free to let me have it in the comments below. If you want to get these articles via email when they are published, click here.

I find it fascinating and disheartening the way people are responding to the current property tax issues. In particular it is amazing to see what people are upset about. 90% of the things people are acting upset about are the inconsequential, based on misunderstanding the law or trivial.

For example, I’ve heard many people express anger that anyone was able to be put on a payment plan if they were unable to make full payment on their taxes.

Who in their right mind would be upset about this? If someone can’t pay all of their taxes, isn’t in the best interest of everyone to let them give the county the money they have and try to get them on a plan to pay it off? Imagine you run a business and someone owes you $1,000.

Debtor: I don’t have the $1000, but I have $100 in my pocket. Can I give you that toward what I owe?
You: No you either pay it all or none of it.
Debtor: Are you sure? It may be a long time before I have $1,000 together. Can’t I give you what I have so I’m at least making progress on it and I don’t spend it somewhere else?
You: No. I either want all what you owe or none of it.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Yet, this is exactly what some people are calling for. I can’t figure out why. If someone is in financial trouble now, they may be in more financial trouble later.  What the treasurer’s office was doing was actually even better. When someone couldn’t pay their taxes, they would give the tax payer a “coupon book” like what mortgage companies used to give you so you’d know how much needed to be paid at the end of each month.  As a citizen who lives in Bourbon county, this is exactly what I want my elected officials doing–making it as easy as possible for someone who owes money to get it paid off.

I’ve seen some people claiming that this cost the county thousands of dollars, when in fact the opposite is probably true. Even if the property did eventually go up for sale, any amount collected was probably more than if the county had refused to take anything less than payment of the full amount.

Now, not listing the names of people on the payment plan in the paper was a mistake. However, that is the type of thing that should be assumed to be an honest mistake until you have some pretty strong evidence to the contrary.

Part of the problem is that many of the people who seem the most angry about things, don’t understand how the law works in the first place. Let’s say you have your income taxes done by an accounting firm. If you feel your taxes are too high, would you be mad at the accounting firm? Would you run around and tell all your friends that you need to get a new accounting firm because you don’t like the tax rate mandated by the federal government?  No. Of course not. Well, that is what some people are doing regarding the property tax procedures.

I’ve seen a lot of people upset with the treasurer because there are people who consistently pay their tax bill just before the property goes to a tax sale.  This is like getting mad at the accounting firm over your tax bracket. It isn’t in their hands. State law determines how late you can pay your taxes, not the treasurer.

Then there are the people who have the law backwards and are mad because they want the treasurer’s office to do the opposite of what the law says.

What I am wondering is that since the County Treasurer was not following the law when she allowed those on the “Friends & Family” payment plan to pay the taxes from the bottom up thus allowing them to avoid the tax sale and not pay in full as the law was written to provide for, will all of those people who owe taxes beginning in 2007 or earlier and not paid by auction day be on the auction? ~ Comment on Topix

The law is pretty specific that you can consistently be behind on your taxes if you choose. (Although various counties are confused about it and even the Treasure’s Association has it wrong on their website.)  New payments are applied to the oldest bill first. (Johnson County is the legal the exception to this.) The funny thing about this comment is that in a few cases Bourbon County has allowed people to pay off more recent tax bill before paying an older bill. The only real benefit would be if someone wanted to keep their name out of the paper for the current year–of course if they didn’t pay the older tax bill, their name would go in the paper when it was time for the tax sale anyway. So the actual mistakes that the treasurer’s office made in this regard were doing what this particular comment suggests they want to see happen all the time.

My point is, that if you are someone who really wants to get angry about something, at least don’t be completely irrational about it. If you don’t like state law, don’t get angry at county elected officials. And once you’ve made sure that your anger is actually headed in the right direction, make sure you aren’t being petty about trivial mistakes. I’m not saying to ignore mistakes. By all means bring them up so they can be corrected, but there is no sense giving yourself an ulcer over it.

Just to make things easy, here are a list of things, that are irrational to be angry about when it comes to local county government:

  • The fact that delinquent taxpayers are allowed make partial payments.
  • The fact that some people are consistently behind on their taxes.
  • The fact that the treasurer is legally allowed to be behind on her taxes just like everyone else.
  • The order that payments are legally supposed to be applied.

If you are angry about any of these things, you need to take them up with the state government because it isn’t something that is controlled locally.

Here are some things that you could be angry about that aren’t completely irrational, but tend a bit toward the silly side of things. If you think you’d be happier with the way a different treasurer handled these things, that is what elections are for.

  • The fact that the computer systems used in the treasurer’s office doesn’t seem to make it easy to really keep track of what exactly has been paid or how it was applied. This is really causing a lot of trouble and expense and needs to be fixed, but isn’t anger worthy.
  • The fact that people who were on the payment plan didn’t have their names printed in the paper. Personally I think this should just be considered a mistake at this point, but it was a local mistake so it isn’t completely unreasonable to get upset about.
  • The fact that there was a mistake in the way the interest was calculated on the treasurer’s taxes in 2005–something she fixed when it was brought to her attention. (Now if you believe this was intentional, it doesn’t fall into the silly category.)
  • The fact that some payments have been applied in the wrong order.

Here are some things that have been alleged, that might be good reasons to get upset if they are proven to be true and intentional:

  • If some people on the payment plan had their name printed in the paper and others  in the same situation didn’t in ways that weren’t just a simple mistake.
  • If some people were offered the payment plan, while others in the same situation were told they had to pay all of it or none of it.
  • If there are many significant errors in the fees and interest, particularly in ways that would provide personal benefit.

So far I haven’t seen anything that offers proof of anything on this last list and this is the list that would really matter. If I’m wrong, please leave a comment below to set me straight. This is what the auditor is checking on.

I’m all for transparency in government and I think it is great that people are looking through the county website and reading up on the legal statutes. This whole process has made me realize that we really have a long ways to go in making things more accessible. It isn’t that people are hiding information, it is just that it isn’t easy to access.  If I had been able to download all of the tax information in a few spreadsheets, it would be very easy to show if there were any significant problems with the amounts people were paying in interest and fees.

I do think that our community is in a sorry state when we immediately assume malice on the part of our officials we elected–particularly when it is based on misunderstanding of the law or anger about things that aren’t even under local control. I’ve found that everyone at the court house has gone out of their way to answer questions, so if you see something that doesn’t seem right, go down and ask about it.

Home Energy Savings Workshop

Fort Scott Community College hosted a Home Energy Savings Workshop presented by Westar Energy on Tuesday night. The presentation looked at different ways to make homes more efficient and was followed by a workshop where attendees could practice applying caulk and foam.  Attendees were given a packet containing a caulking gun, foam, weather stripping and other weatherizing supplies.

Some facts from the meeting:

  • Sillplates and wall outlets account for 45% of the are infiltration in a typical home.
  • Most houses have air infiltration that is equivalent to a 3 foot by 3 foot hole cut in the wall.
  • Fort Scott is currently leading the contest for a $100,000 prize among communities competing for making energy efficient upgrades.
  • Through the end of September, you can get a home energy audit for $100 through a special government program. (And it helps with points toward the contest.)
  • The money that Kansas had available for loans to make energy efficient improvements has been reassigned, but there is a possibility that it may come back.
  • Many devices still pull power when plugged in, but not turned on. This is called phantom power.
  • A typical TV and cable box uses $3.50 per month in phantom power.
  • Phantom power can account for up to 35% of an electric bill.
  • CFL bulbs contain mercery. However, when you account for the mercery produced by the additional electricity requirements of a standard bulb, CFLs result 5 to 6 times less mercery than standard lightbulbs over a 8,000 hour period.
  • Home Depot and other stores offer CFL recycling so the mercery, plastic and glass gets reused instead of ending up in a landfill.
  • Westar has a program where they will install a free electronic thermostate, but there are reception problems in Fort Scott at this point. If those are resolved the program will become available here.

Bourbon County Commission Meeting 9/12/2011

Here are some questions and answers from the meeting today.

How much does the auditor cost per hour?

The yearly audit costs $12,000. This is additional so it will be at an hourly rate, but the commission wasn’t sure what that rate was.

What are the rules on how the delinquent taxes are published?

The lists must be published three times in the official county newspaper or a newspaper with general circulation. There are some people pushing to be able to publish the list online, but the newspaper associations are fighting it because publishing these lists can represent a very large source of income for smaller newspapers.

Can the delinquent tax list be put online?

Joanne Long (county clerk) is going to try to get these posted online. There is a little concern about trying to make them match the newspaper because what is given to the newspaper is a hard copy that they take and retype into their publishing system.

What is going into the old Short Stack gas station?

Mazzios pizza is going into the old gas station near Sonic that currently has the hot dog stand in front of it.

How are delinquent personal property taxes handled?

Personal property includes things like cars, boats, golf carts and mobile homes (if they are not on land owned by the same person). Personal property taxes generate a warrant, so the sheriff can actually go into a bank and pull money out of the delinquent person’s bank account.  The list of personal property that has delinquent taxes will be published in the paper later in October.

Some more notes from the meeting:

An individual who owed $0.56 in property taxes on two lots said that he saw he owed $1.12 in the paper, but when he came in the total charge was $31.12. He was asking if there was any way he could prepay the taxes to avoid having that happen again.  He also asked if he could have the fee removed. The commissioners said that the $30 was two $15 publication fees and those costs were already incurred by the county and are established by state law.

Two individuals who run a trash pickup company asked about their dump bill. They owed $2,500 and wondered if they could get an extension on their bill. They said their bill used to be $1,600 per month but it has been going up. There was a question about how things were being measured because they feel that they aren’t hauling any more trash than before. They asked if a digital display could be installed so they could see the weight.

It doesn’t appear that the scales are electronic. The commissioners suggested that if they were concerned, they could get out of the truck and check the scales themselves. The commission agreed to give them some extra time to pay the balance of their bill if they would pay cash for anything they dump until they get caught up.

Funding Airport Day

If you saw a bi-plane doing loops on Thursday, you were witnessing an innovative way of raising funds for Airport Day.  Several individuals paid for a ride with Kelly Pietrowicz in her aerobatics plane Thursday evening and funds were used to help sponsor Airport Day.

Kelly Pietrowicz's Pitts Special Aerobatic Airplane in the Fort Scott Hanger.

Kelly’s plane is a Pitts Special–a two seater bi-wing plane.  Riders were given some instruction in what to expect and how to keep from blacking out.  They had to empty their pockets to make sure nothing would fall out that might get stuck under any of the controls and were strapped into the front seat of the plane with a parachute attached to their backs.

The rides lasted about 20 minutes and included inverted flight, loops, rolls and stalls.

David Sachau getting ready to fly.

David Sachau was one of the riders. He said the ride a lot of fun and it wasn’t as hard on the stomach as he thought it might be. However, David earned his pilots license when he was 17, so he might not exactly represent the experience of an “average” person.

Kansas Senator Bob Marshall was the other rider. As a former AirForce pilot of the F-4 Phantom and the F-8 Crusader, he is probably a bit more conditioned for aerobatics as well.

Commission Meeting

Today’s Bourbon County Commission meeting was quite a bit less animated than last week. Some interesting tax related facts from the meeting:

  • The auditor is still going through past taxes and once he is finished, the commission said they would make the results public.
  • Iola uses smaller fonts for their delinquent tax list in the newspaper. Doing something similar may result in lower printing fees.
  • Othick Abstract has placed a bid on providing abstract services for properties that will be sold in the upcoming tax sale. Their quote is for $25 for basic work and $75 for more detailed  25 year Chain of Title work. Apparently most of the properties will only require the $25 fee while a few with more complicated histories might require the more in-depth research.
  • There are a very small number of parcels that have been eligible to be sold all the way back to 2002. This may occur if there has been no way to contact the owner so the parcels were removed from previous tax sales.
  • The Guardian Ad Litem fee included in the costs of the tax sale, pays for a lawyer to represent the interests of someone who may be unreachable for one reason or another. In the last tax sale, the total fee was $720 and Gilbert Gregory performed this service.
  • In at least one case, the owner of a property is in the military and moves around frequently. Every time the county sends him notification, he has been relocated before the letter arrives. The Guardian Ad Litem represents people in this situation and there are some special rules that apply to people who are active members of the service.
  • When the owner is not reachable, there are additional steps and expenses that are necessary to go ahead and sell the property. In the past some of the property that falls into this category has been left of the sale to avoid the additional expense.

Joe Bisogno and Bruce Hatcher were at the meeting from Timber Hills Lake Hunting and Fishing Adventures to ask about trying to promote Bourbon County as “Monster Buck Territory”.  Joe Bisogno said he owns the rock quarry south of town and is interested in turning it into a place for paintball and AirSoft gun games and competitions.

Fort Scott News