Derek Schmidt, Attorney General for the State of Kansas, is going to be visiting Fort Scott on Tuesday October 25th. He will be meeting with the public at 4:00pm at Citizens Bank to talk and answer questions.
The report by Terry Sercer that was presented to the Commissioners this morning is available as a PDF from the link below. The report is addressed to the Bourbon County Commissioners and is dated October 10th.
Mr. Sercer said it was essentially the same report he gave to the Attorney General and the KBI.
Some notes from the report:
- The amount paid on the Treasurer’s property taxes are actually overpaid by $346.32 for the years 2005 and 2006. (Note: The treasurer has since paid her 2007 taxes as well).
- A number of tax payers on the payment plan over paid their interest by around $800.
- The biggest tax payer under paid by about $5,000.
- There was one tax payer where $1,130 was not collected in August when the property was offered for sale.
Terry Sercer is on the agenda for this mornings commission meeting at 9:00. There are already 8 people in attendance.
As the clock chimes indicating the top of the hour, everyone stands and begins the meeting with the pledge to the American flag.
Chairman Endicott introduced Terry Sercer as an accredited auditor.
Terry said he was asked to:
- Verify the proper publication of taxes.
- Summarize delinquent taxes
- Verify the process for tax sales.
- Verify whether proper interest charges are being applied.
Mr. Sercer did not spend time looking at previous years tax sales. He said he was told by the Treasurer that the previous tax sale included people who had been on the payment plan.
The accounting for partial payments involves putting money into a fund and then when the amount is sufficient, applying it to the amount owed. There were two systems in use because the new system couldn’t handle partial payments.
Mr. Sercer was able to obtain copies of every payment plan. He went through every one to make sure the proper interest rate was supplied. He then traced all the partial payments to the records on the old system. He also verified the proper payment of interest.
Mr. Sercer said that he didn’t think people knew about the partial payment plan and there didn’t seem to be any type of written eligibility requirements, but noted that state law allows the Treasurer to use his/her own judgement.
He said that the Treasurer and several relatives were repeat users of the plan. Also there were several personal property taxes that were on the plan. Mr. Sercer said he wasn’t aware of a statute that allows payment plans on personal property. The Treasurer said she checked with Johnson county before doing this.
Mr. Sercer pointed out several examples where plans were for very small amounts that wouldn’t have allowed the individuals to pay off the amounts owed within 3 years. He referred to these as “errors in judgement.”
There were numerous errors in the manner in which partial payment plans were established. Mr. Sercer said that the amortization on 23 of 224 payment plans that are now in plance “made no sense whatsoever.” The Treasurer wasn’t sure how these had been calculated. He said he couldn’t audit the history to see if it had been changed from what the computer calculated. There was not correlation between the plans that had the expected interest and the ones that had “crazy” interest.
18 of the agreements used the right tax, but the interest rate was far to low. In some cases the interest rate was 0%. 27 agreements had a higher interest rate than they should have. 8 plans looked reasonable, but there wasn’t a schedule to verify them. About 1/3 had interest rate issues.
The computer system from Infinitec that was calculating interest was no longer under maintenance, so that might have been part of the reason some interest rates were incorrect. These errors are in addition to the ones mentioned above.
The way that the interest and tax were applied was incorrect. Sometimes early payments were applied entirely to interest. He said this was a flaw in the program itself.
Mr. Sercer said there were also errors in the way it was managed and implemented. Some tax payers did not make their payments on time. Late payments should require recalculating the interest. The actual payment plan states that it is estimated amount and that late payments may require additional interest to be paid.
Most people on the payment plan did not pay the amount they should have. One tax payer under paid by $5,000. The Treasurer’s own tax payments were low, but she paid to catch up and now has overpaid.
A number of tax payers overpaid interest by approximately $800. (It sounds like this is cumulative–not per tax payer.)
There was a case where the Treasurer wrote off interest based on a judgement call in hopes of recovering some taxes before the property went to sale. Mr. Sercer said he was told that was the only case where that occurred.
88% of the plans currently in place are not making payments as agreed–and that is even given them some leeway for time. Mr. Sercer said that the payments that are not being paid can probably be terminated.
It is the auditor’s understanding that property on a payment plan still needs to be sold. He suggest that all the money in the payment plan fund should be applied to taxes and move forward on the new system that is calculating interest correctly.
Mr. Sercer said there needs to be better controls in place so amounts can’t be over-ridden without the approval of a second person–preferably from a different office.
Susan Porter (former Treasury employee) said that some of the properties were held off the tax sale and not even sent to the abstractor. She said there was an individual who were held off tax sale for two years and only made one payment of $100. She said they took the money out of the account and applied it to someone else’s account.
She said she knows of three that were held of the tax sale for “personal reason’s of Susan [Quick].”
Mr. Sercer said he did not go back and verify old sales, but agrees that the presence of a payment plan should not change whether or not property is sold.
Susan Porter said that she was repeatedly told to “make it work” in cases where she was told to drop off interest that was owed. She said that the interest that was being calculated was correct, but they were being told to manually change the interest.
She said the case where the interest was completely dropped (which Mr. Sercer mentioned above) was dropped at the request of a realtor who said they could sell the property if the interest was not being charged.
Cecilia Kramer brought and example to ask Mr. Sercer about. He was familiar with that case and said the calculation was wrong because it was based on the old system. Asked some questions about the listing she had originally been given and Mr. Sercer said that some of the numbers on it were incorrect.
Mr. Sercer said the he suspects that if 2011 is wrong, previous years are as well.
One citizen said that he wasn’t sure if he would pay his taxes next year until this is all sorted out.
There was some discussion about how the computer should work in letting people override interest amounts. Mr. Sercer suggested that if a system is put into place where override authority must require more than one person. His example was the treasurer and someone from the clerk’s department.
Chairman Endicott asked about Mr. Sercer’s meeting with the Attorney General and KBI. He said they said they would take his report under advisement. He said that the Treasurer could be removed based on failure to perform their duties. Mr. Sercer said that the Commissioner’s would have to ask the County Attorney to see if the findings are grounds for removal of the Treasurer. The County Attorney would contact the Attorney General and they would start the process if there were grounds for removal.
Mr. Sercer said Attorney General isn’t going to automatically pursue removing someone based on the report he presented to them.
Mr. Sercer said he did not audit whether or not properties were left off of tax sales.
Mr. Sercer was asked if he recommended dumping the old software. He said his understanding was that once the payment plans were done away with and no longer being run, the Treasurer planned to go to the new system and not keep the old one.
The Attorney General said because there are no qualifications for becoming County Treasurer so the AG office looks into several issues in one of the 105 counties each year related to issues like this.
Susan Porter asked if the properties that weren’t previously advertised in the newspaper could actually be sold. She asked if delinquent properties had three years from the first year they were published.
Chairman Endicott said that Mr. Meara “is reviewing that hopefully at this moment.” He also said that most of the properties send to the abstractor were published as they should have been in the past.
Susan Porter said that as an employee of the Treasurer’s department, they told people on the payment plan were allowed to skip a month, pay late or bring in a lump sum.
Mr. Sercer said the county was out about $5000 in the eight months he audited.
Mr. Sercer and the Commissioners were asked if the people who underpaid their taxes could still be collected from and if people who overpaid would get a refund. The Commissioners didn’t know, but Mr. Sercer said in the case of the person who underpaid by $5,000 they had a statement from the county that specifically said their taxes had been paid for at least the past 2 years.
He said that as far as he knows the fact that this person saved $5,000 on their taxes was not a relative of someone in the Treasurer’s department.
Melvin Antrim asked what the process would be if an elected official was removed from office. The answer is that their party would make a recommendation to the Governor and the Governor would appoint someone.
Randy Handly suggested that the Commissioner’s contact the state representative to see about rewriting the laws in order to change legislation to give less authority to the Treasurer. He felt that the laws need to be changed.
Most people left after the discussion turned to other matters.
The county is looking at buying a fuel truck to fill the generators at the rock quarry. Commissioner Warren, made a motion to purchase a 1979 GMC fuel truck from Mike Judy for $5,000. It will be paid for in January and picked up at that time. The motion passed.
Stewart Porter who is the engineer for the sewer district project out at the lake came in to bring the commission up to speed on a few items. The lift station will be ready to go in a few days, but they don’t have a date for when they will turn it on.
He wondered if the commission had given any thought to the grinder pump at the old Wally Anthony property. He didn’t think it needs to come out, but wondered if the Commissioners felt it need to be moved because of flooding.
Commissioner Warren said that in 1986 he lived near there and in 1986 the water got 12 inches above his dock. He suggested that Mr. Porter measure off the top of the dock to see if the pump was high enough.
The engineers said that the placement of that grinder unit was determined by the easements that they had to work with. The easement was created by condemning part of the lot and the engineers were trying to not condemn a strip through the center of someone’s lot.
Lake Fort Scott isn’t mapped for 100 year flood elevations, so the engineers haven’t had a good guide to work off of. The engineers said it would probably cost something like $1,000 to move it, but it would greatly depend on where they want to put it.
They will compare the elevation to Commissioner Warren’s old dock and come back with additional data.
Stewart Porter asked what should be done with old holding tanks. The original idea was to collapse them, but some of the locations are difficult to get to and may need to just be filled with sand. His goal is to minimize destroying people’s driveways and other property.
Chairman Endicott questioned whose responsibility it would be if a holding tank caved in because it wasn’t collapsed like the others. It sounds like the holding tank still belongs to the homeowner and the agreement was to render the tanks inoperable so the actual method doesn’t matter.
Some individuals do not want the holding tank to be demolished, but it wasn’t clear why.
The Commissioners agreed that filling them with sand was sufficient to destroy them. There was some discussion about the tanks that were above ground where demolishing the tank might leave a pile of rubble and the homeowner might prefer to have the tank left as it is and simply filled with sand.
The engineers said that communication with homeowners has been difficult. There are still a handful of homeowner where they still have no contact information. The County Attorney said she may be able to help contact these individuals.
The bulk of the equipment should be operable within the next month, but actual date will depend on the how much cooperation they get from homeowners. The engineers felt that it would likely be somewhere in the 4 to 6 range.
At that point, the commissioners will need to hold a public hearing to set the rates that people will be charged once the costs are known. Some people may start pumping (and not being charged) before that point.
The Arcadia Christian Church held a cookout for the community on Friday evening. Organizers said they estimated 100 to 150 people came through during the evening. Hotdogs and marshmallows were cooked over the small fire and a grill helped keep a supply of food for those less skilled at cooking over the flames. Attendees were entertained by youngsters doing acapella Justin Bieber impersonations on a small sound system and a tractor and trailer provided hay rack rides.
On November 10th, the Chamber, City of Fort Scott, and KansasWorks will be hosting a job fair at the Danny & Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center on the campus of Fort Scott Community College. The event will run from 10am until 2pm allowing potential employees to stop by on their lunch break.
If you are a potential employer, please contact the Chamber about getting a booth. If you are a potential employee, you might take a look at this resume template created by a graphic designer for Microsoft Word to get you started with a fresh look. Also, you may be interested in taking a look at these 10 Articles On Creating the Perfect Resume for some tips and ideas.
Tomorrow the final pieces of the old bath house will be hauled off. This evening a number of local volunteers helped comb through the debris retrieving bricks that could be salvaged and used again. The good bricks were loaded onto the flat bed of a truck to be hauled off and stored elsewhere. The hope is that the historic Fort Scott bricks can become part of the new facility in some way.
As you can see from the photos below, the concrete from the old pool has all been removed. There is an orange safety fence going up around the construction site. There were two large trucks parked on the tennis court and two backhoes in the pool area.
In the run up for the last city commissioner election, I was very interested in hearing from the candidates at a forum where they were asked about their plan for downtown. I was very disappointed that most of the ideas consisted of “get businesses” and “get grants.” If anyone had concrete ideas, they weren’t shared at the meeting.
Even a candidate whose family had previously run a downtown businesses didn’t have anything to share about what would have kept them from moving. I’m not trying to criticize anyone, but just point out that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ideas (at least that I’m aware of) designed to benefit the downtown area and get more foot traffic to those shops.
So to get the conversation started, here are five ideas of mine. I’m not saying that they are all great ideas, but even starting with a bad idea can help get people thinking and eventually produce some winners.
Be sure to leave your comments at the bottom. Which of these ideas sound worthwhile? Which sound stupid? What other ideas can you think of?
1. Put In a Play Scape
At Wall and Main there is a large grassy area where a building burned down. This space is owned by the city and contains a concrete pad where the Christmas tree is attached around the holidays.
My family eats down town nearly every week with some friends. After dinner we will usually head over to this grassy area so the kids can run around, maybe kick a soccer ball a bit and the adults can talk.
This area could be turned into a very nice small park to help draw people into downtown. A school grade plastic and metal play scape that can accomodate about 22 children would cost around $11,000 for the hardware. A larger unit that can accomodate 50 children would probably be in the $30,000 range. Wooden systems may be considerably less expensive and it might even be possible to get used equipment from schools that close down, etc.
One of the nice things about this idea, is that if there is ever a desire to put a building back there, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to think about moving a play scape to one of the other city parks.
2. Giveaways & Contests
My dad grew up in Arcadia back when it was a thriving little town. To help get people downtown, they would choose one night when all the stores would stay open late and they would do drawings to give away cash and prizes sponsored by the downtown merchants. This produced quite a draw and the only way to fit everyone in was to double park up and down the street.
Could something similar work in downtown Fort Scott? Maybe or maybe not, but it might be worth considering.
3. Downtown Movie Night
Would people come downtown to watch a city sponsored movie on the side of one of the buildings? The downtown concerts are great, but perhaps showing Toy Story 3, would pull in a slightly different demographic. It might mainly help the two restaurants downtown because most of the other shops are usually closed in the evening. I’m not sure what the cost would be to show a movie like that, but I imagine it wouldn’t be outrageous.
4. Use Empty Shop Windows
One thing that is plentiful downtown are shop windows and unfortunately many of them are empty. I’ve seen some efforts to put up displays in some of these windows, but none of them were things that you’d make a specific trip to go see. Would people come downtown to view local art work? What if high-school & middle school art projects were displayed downtown–perhaps a contest where people could vote for the winner from their cell phones?
5. Free Wireless Internet
Pretty much any downtown business is going to need to pay for Internet. This will probably cost $50 to $150 per month depending on what options are available at a particular location. Offering free wireless can help free up those dollars for businesses that are willing to invest in our downtown and if done correctly, the cost should be fairly inexpensive.
A mesh based solution like Meraki would make it easy to cover the downtown area and add on access points to get to the back of buildings or other places where reception didn’t have good signal from the main antennas. The actual hardware to get started would probably cost somewhere in the $2,500 to $4,000 range and businesses who wanted better coverage could buy an extender for around $200. Monthly costs would probably be in the $50 to $150 range–or virtually nothing if it could be run over the city’s existing connection.
In addition to helping the businesses, it would benefit visitors who need to get to the internet from their phone or laptop. Obviously offering free wifi isn’t going to produce a flood of 100s of visitors each day, but it is a little thing that can make for a more pleasant visit for the people who want or need access.
So there are five ideas. If you’ve read all of them, I bet you have some opinions about what might work and what wouldn’t and chances are you have some other ideas that are much better than what I’ve come up with. Please take a few minutes to share your ideas and thoughts in the comments where everyone can benefit from your perspective.
Julie Saker and Bill Farr are partnering together on buying the old IGA to turn it into a bowling alley–something that Fort Scott has been missing for quite a few years now. They hope to have it open by May or June. The plan is for the new facility to include 12 lanes of bowling. It will also have a grill and arcade area.
Julie wasn’t sure if smoking would be allowed or not under Kansas state law, but there are no plans to make it a private club. They do plan to get a liquor license so beer can be served.
The project is going to be partially financed by investors. Julie said that Macy Cullison is going to help the partners look into getting some grants and they will probably finance any remaining needs with a loan. Julie also said they are open to talking with other people who might be interested in investing in the project.
They haven’t come up with a good idea for the name yet and are looking for suggestions. If you have a good name for a bowling alley in Fort Scott, please leave it in the comments below and we’ll make sure Julie gets to see them.
Macy Cullison is Fort Scott’s new Economic Development Business Recruitment and Retention Manager. She moved her from Pennsylvania where she was working with Economic Development loan fund called Community First. We caught up with Macy at City Hall and asked a few questions about her new position.
What brought you to Fort Scott?
I wanted to work in economic development and have always wanted to live in Fort Scott. So when I started looking for a new job I looked at Fort Scott first and was excited to see there was a position here.
How do you plan to help foster economic development?
Right now I’m working on revamping the marketing for the city to help market ourself to companies outside of Fort Scott. A major component of economic development is fostering the businesses that are already here. So working with them to help them grow is a major part of what I’m doing.
Last week I met with a bunch of our manufacturers to talk to them about how we can help them grow. We found that a lot of them are looking to expand so we are going to be having a job fair with the chamber in November.
What types of things can you do to help a local person looking to start a new business?
They should definitely come talk to me. I can help find a good place for them to locate, help them get demographic information and try to help them get a good building to rent. I can try to help make sure they are in a place where there is traffic for their type of business and I have the resources at my fingertips that may take them a few weeks to find on their own.
Is your position only targeting new businesses?
No. Definitely not. I want to know about all of our businesses in town. I’m going to spend 60 to 70 percent of my time working with existing businesses helping them grow. Just last week I found out that existing business owners have 20 or so positions open that they are having trouble filling. A huge amount of our growth is going to come from our existing companies.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
Yes. Ask people to “like” our Facebook Page!
Work is being done building a new retaining wall at 3rd and 69. Workers were there this morning with equipment including a large crane that was being used to place large concrete blocks into the drainage ditch.
There will be no county commission meeting on Friday due to a large meeting with 17 other South East Kansas counties in Yates Center.
There was some discussion about an individual who was stealing gravel from the roads. There was also
Mike Houston and Larry Beerbower came in to talk to the commissioners about treating the fuel that is used in the county vehicles. It is a fuel additive that they say works for gas or diesel. They claim it will increase the efficiency by 10%. It is called Xtreme Fuel Treatment. They said it will lower the ignition rate of the fuel down to 800 degrees.
Mr. Hueston said that the treatment “knocked 200 RPM off”. He also says he got 11.7 MPG instead of 11.1.
When asked if there are other counties using the product, Mr. Beerbower said that the counties that tested it decided not to use it because it would reduce their budget for next year if they had fuel savings.
There was some paperwork related to the lease for a rock query that was signed.
As preparation for getting bids on insurance, there was a discussion on how the city of Fort Scott handled getting quotes for insurance. The city had limited bids to companies in the city of Fort Scott based on their rules for giving preference to local businesses. The county has similar rules that can be used as part of a bid process.
Fort Scott does not have an insurance program with an “attorney assist” service. This is a service where the insured can call and ask questions of an attorney from the insurance company. The county currently has this and is using it now.
The commissioners received copies of the publications from the past years from the treasurer and a copy of the list that was sent to the abstracting company.
On Friday, Dave Martin (City Manager), told the Young Professional’s League that the pool was on schedule. I went by today to check on the process and there was a large backhoe hard at work breaking up concrete.The construction company said that everything was on target. A contractor was doing the current demolition before the new construction can begin.