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.

How Delinquent Payments are Applied

According to the Association of Kansas County Treasurers, payments on overdue taxes are first applied to the most current tax bill.

If one wants to pay delinquent years Kansas State Law (KSA79-2401A) requires that the most current delinquent year be paid first. Example: If a homeowner had taxes owing for 1993, 1994, and 1995 the full amount for 1995 must be paid before payment for the 1994 etc., or of course, the homeowner can pay all the years at once. (source)

If true, this would mean that once you got behind on your taxes, you’d be required to pay everything you owe to keep the property from being sold at the sheriff’s sale. In other word’s you wouldn’t be able to be consistently behind on your taxes. Once you get behind you’d have to get completely caught up to prevent a sale.

I asked Susan Quick (Bourbon County Treasurer) about this and she said it didn’t sound right. She said, Bourbon County has always let people apply payments to any year. In some cases, people want to pay the current year first in order to keep their name out of the paper.

I read through KSA79-2401A a few times, but Terri Johnson (Bourbon County Attorney) was kind enough to take a look at it and explain it to me. It turns out that the Association of Kansas County Treasurers is in error. It appears they copied nearly word for word a section from the Johnson County website that says the same thing. They aren’t the only site to copy Johnson County. Linn County’s site says the same thing.

If you read through the statute, you’ll see that the Johnson County site is correct, but only for Johnson County. Everywhere else requires the payments to be applied to the oldest delinquent taxes.

It seems a little odd that there is a state law saying, “do X” but if you are in Johnson County “do the opposite of X.” I’m surprised it makes an exception to the opposite in one particular county. Terri Johnson pointed out that at some point in the past the law applied to both Johnson and Wyandotte counties, but Wyandotte was later removed. At this point it is unclear what was driving this difference in state law.

As far as Bourbon County goes, the law says that people can’t choose how to apply delinquent payments so the current policy should be changed. However, since the law basically says that people need to act in what is usually their own best interest, it is unlikely that the policy has had any significant variation from the law.

Update From Treasurer

There was some updated information from the treasurer (Susan Quick) today. According to the auditor (Terry Sercer) the interest charged on overdue taxes is to be simple interest. Based on this change, many of the calculations in the previous articles on this site are inaccurate.

I also obtained a copy of the report on the last Tax Foreclosure Sale that was held January 27th 2010. The sale brought in $8,087.00 but cost $13,322.50 for a total loss of $5,235.50. However,  an additional $68,342.34 was collected in taxes right before the sale. This means that even though money was lost on the sale itself, there were considerable funds collected from people who went ahead and paid taxes so the property wouldn’t be sold.

The $13,332.50 consists of the following charges:

  • $6768.00 – Justin Meeks, Attorney
  • $720.00 – Gilbert Gregory, Guardian Ad Litem
  • $2,680.00 – Linn County Abstract Co.
  • $2,656.50 – Tribune
  • $498.00 – District Court Fees

Today Susan Quick said that she had rectified the situation with the 2005 taxes mentioned at the bottom of the previous article, by paying an additional $375.60 in interest and the ad fee of $17. Unfortunately, because of the way the software works, it won’t show up in the online tax website.

When I dropped by the court house this afternoon, Terry Sercer was sitting at a desk conducting the audit.

Second Lake at Gunn Park

The second lake at Gunn Park is currently drained. The city is going to dig it out, but so far has been unable to get large equipment in there because it has been so wet.  They will use the soil as topsoil for various projects and plan to put in some fishing piers before filling it back up.

Today there was a backhoe there digging a trench so any rain water will drain out and not prevent them from getting the equipment in there again. Their goal is to close the drain and let it fill back up sometime next year–probably in the fall of 2012.

Bourbon County Tax Rates

The rate of interest charged on delinquent taxes is set by state law. At the commissioner’s meeting on Friday the tax rate was said to be 11% or 10%. I just got a fax from the treasurer’s department that shows the actual interest rate for each year. The current amount is considerably lower.  According to Susan Quick the interest is locked in at the current rate when the taxes were due.  So if someone doesn’t pay their 2008 taxes and the rate for 2008 was 11%, all of the interest on those outstanding taxes will be charged at 11%–regardless of what year the taxes are eventually paid.

Below is a chart showing what the tax rate is for each year. (pdf source)

Year Interest Rate
2000 11%
2001 12%
2002 10%
2003 9%
2004 8%
2005 7%
2006 9%
2007 11%
2008 11%
2009 8%
2010 7%
2011 7%


A Talk with Bourbon County Treasurer

At the commission meeting last Friday, there were all kinds of accusations flying around directed at the treasurer. Some of what had people upset was legal issues that are decided at the state level.

It seemed like it might be worth asking the treasurer herself about how property taxes work and about some of the accusations. So, Tuesday afternoon I headed down to the court house.

Susan Quick was very gracious and answered my questions. This article is an attempt to clarify some of how taxes work in Bourbon county and get Susan’s response to some of the accusations leveled against her office.

One thing that struck me is that they seem to be struggling with an inadequate computer system that is making their work much harder than it needs to be. There are three systems being used, but not one of them does everything they need. To get information it often involves looking in three systems and manually combining the data.

Another thing that I noticed is that Susan seems to have a very kind heart and genuinely wants to keep people in their homes if there is any way she can help them. In fact, I’ve talked to several people who said that when they got behind on their taxes, Susan helped get them on a schedule to get it paid off and they were very grateful for her willingness to help. Her job would be a lot less work if she simply didn’t care who lost their homes, but someone who doesn’t care probably isn’t the type of person citizens really want in this position.

Still the position must stay within the bounds of the law, but not everything that is illegal is actually criminal. For example, it appears that it is a legal requirement that all the names of delinquent tax payers be published in the paper. This wasn’t done, but the situation has been fixed for this year going forward. If only people in good standing on their payment plan were left off the list, this could have been caused a simple misunderstanding of what was legally required.

Below is a list of questions and answers from my meeting. It isn’t a verbatim transcript, but hopefully it will shed some light on how things work. I have emailed a link to Susan and asked her to let me know if I mis-represented anything so I can fix any errors I may have made.

Did the payment plan let people pay less than if they had of just made partial payments on their own?

No. The only difference was that people on the payment plan got a book of coupons that showed how much they needed to send in each month. They still pay the same fees and interest as those not on the plan and their house goes on the sheriff sale if they don’t pay just like everyone else.

However, in cases where property was eventually sold, the payment plan was sometimes able to collect some funds before they stopped paying again, so the net effect to the county was more money coming in than without the payment plan.

Why were people on the payment plan left off of the delinquent list in the paper?

Susan said that she didn’t realize they had to be on it, if they were making regular payments to cover what they owe. She said they will be included going forward and the delinquents from this year will all be published in the paper three times.

Are partial payments applied to interest or taxes first?

Partial payments go toward the interest and fees before they are applied to the tax amount owed.

What are the fees associated with delinquent tax bills beyond the interest?

State law allows a $15 per listing advertisement fee along with another $2 fee. The total fees are $17 per year.

How long does it take for property that is delinquent to be part of a sheriff’s sale?

It takes three years for a homestead to be listed and two years for a non-homestead to be listed.

Why was there going to be a charge of $140 to get a list of people on the payment plan?

Compiling that information comes from several different computer systems and required 14 hours worth of work at $10 per hour. The commission decided to waive the charge.

Why isn’t there a sheriff’s sale every year?

The sheriff acts as the auctioneer, so that part doesn’t cost the county, but there are many other costs involved. The costs of running the sale are great enough that it is in the best financial interest of the county to occasionally skip a year.  For example, some (but not all) of the approximate fees associated with the last sale for each property:

  • $5.25 – cost of advertisements
  • $80.00 – attorney fees
  • $7.74 – certified mail
  • $25.00 – abstract work

For 100 pieces of property the total cost of an auction is well over $10,000. In cases where most of the property is likely to sell for only a few dollars, a sale can result in a large loss for the county. By waiting to sell more pieces of property together, some of the costs are lower which increases the chances of the county breaking even.

These fees are paid by the county and, depending on the selling price, may not be recovered.

What is the interest rate on delinquent taxes?

The interest rate is 11% and it compounds annually.

When are taxes due?

Taxes are divided into two payments. The first is due at the end of the tax year, the second half is due in June of the following year. So for 2010, the first half was due at the end of the year and the second half was due in June of 2011.

Someone accused the treasurer’s office of taking lower payments and just “making it work”. Has that ever happened?

Susan said that they often get payments for amounts that are a little bit below the actual amounted owed. This could happen if someone had been told they owed one amount and by the time the check got to the court house additional interest had accrued. She said that in some cases they would take a slightly lower payment to keep from spending time going after “pennies”.   She said there were also situations where there was a discrepancy between the amount calculated by hand for someone who was making regular payments and the amount the computer calculated when they made their last payment. Her office would try to work with people in those situations as well to only hold them to the amount they had had been told when they signed the contract for monthly payments.

The 2006 taxes listed for Susan’s house were paid on 6/22/2011. The interest and fees were $183.30 on an original tax of $941.70. This doesn’t appear to be 11% interest. Why is that?

Susan showed me the receipt for an additional payment she had made for $200.00 8/23/2011. She said that in the transition between computer systems it was calculated incorrectly. She said the $200 paid the difference and a bit more once she noticed the error. She said that since the system had already showed her taxes as closed, she couldn’t pay in a way that would update the online records, so her payment went straight to the general fund–where it would have ended up anyway. The total paid in interest and fees was $383.30 for 2006.

Note: My calculations are that the interest should have been $486.80 if 11% was charged on 6/7 of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. There should have been an additional $68 in fees ($17 x 4 years) as well for a total of $554.80. However, it is entirely possible that I didn’t understand how the interest is calculated or when it starts accruing. I have emailed Susan Quick for clarification and will update with her reply. (Update: this method of calculation did not include 12 months of interest on the first half payment that would have been acrued in 2007 nor on the 6 months of interest that would have been accrued on the second half for the last half of 2007. The corrected calculations are below.)

Update (9/7/11): It turns out that the interest rate charged on outstanding taxes for 2006 was only 9%. At 9% the balance would have been $1369.32. (This is based on a more detailed calculation than above, where I calculated the tax due based on when that particular part of the payment because due and compounding every 6 months. See table below.) An additional $68 in fees would bring the balance to $1,437.32 for a total interest and fees of $495.62. I used the dates of 1/1 and 7/1 to keep it simple to understand.  The actual amounts will be off slightly because I don’t believe they are exactly 6 months apart.  Also if interest is compounded daily or monthly instead of twice a year, this would change the totals.

Update (9/8/11): I was told today that the interest is actually just simple interest and it is not compounded. See this article for more information.

Date Taxes Due Taxes with Interest
01/01/07 $470.85 $470.85
07/01/07 $470.85 $962.89
01/01/08 $1,006.22
07/01/08 $1,051.50
01/01/09 $1,098.82
07/01/09 $1,148.26
01/01/10 $1,199.93
07/01/10 $1,253.93
01/01/11 $1,310.36
07/01/11 $1,369.32

The 2005 taxes listed for Susan’s house were paid on 4/16/2008 with $15.35 interest and fees on a tax of $939.06. This appears to be below the standard 11% as well.

Susan said she hadn’t noticed that one, but it was probably the same issue as the 2006 taxes.

Update (9/7/11): The tax rate for 2005 was only 7%–not 11%.

Commission Meeting & Tax Payment Plan

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The commission meeting this morning heard from many citizens concerned about the payment plan that was being offered for people who couldn’t afford to pay their property taxes.  At the bottom of this page are a list of bullet points covering the facts about how various things are supposed to work.

The payment plan is a bit of a red herring because from a legal standpoint it does not allow anyone on it to do anything that a citizen could not do on their own. Even if you are on the payment plan, your name is required to be published in the paper and you are still responsible for all interest and penalties. The only thing the payment plan can do is help people schedule their payments. If the taxes have not been paid in full within three years, the property still must be sold at the sheriff’s sale. It doesn’t matter if it is on a payment plan or not.

If a payment plan is working as legally provided for, it allows the county to encourage people to make a series of smaller payments where they might put off making a large lump sum payment.

The real issue is whether or not people on the payment plan were given illegal preferential treatment. This would include:

  • Not having their names published in the paper.
  • Not being charged penalties and interest.
  • Not having their property sold at a sheriff’s sale after being delinquent for 3 years.

While there have been allegations that his has occurred, nothing has been proven. Part of the problem seems to be that it is difficult to get records out of the computer system. Some people allege that the records were not kept according to standard accounting practice. It seems like it would take someone savvy with Excel less than an hour to verify that everything has been done correctly once they had access to the data in a reasonable form.

Leaving people off of the list published in the newspaper if they were on the payment plan was illegal, but it could have been due to an oversight. It appears that they were listed in previous years, so it may have been a simple mistake.

The only thing that seems odd about this, is that you’d expect a computer system that dumped out a list of everyone delinquent on their taxes to show everyone delinquent on their taxes and require extra manual work to remove a subset of those citizens. It this occurred, then it would be hard to say that it was just a mistake. On the other hand, it is possible that compiling the list of  delinquent accounts is a very manual process. If so, it could easily have been that the people on a payment plan were in a different file drawer and it was an honest mistake.

The KBI and attorney general’s office have both been contacted and it appears that they are going to be looking into things.  Terry Sercer from Diehl Banwart Bolton has performed a high level audit and said the totals look as would be expected. He recommended that an audit be performed in more detail and giving particular attention to the accounts that were under the payment plan.

When Terry Sercer first started to speak, a white haired man wearing overalls stood up and said:

“Who are you?!”
Terry tried to explain.
“What authority do you have over the commission?!!”
Terry tried to explain that his role was just to offer advice.
“Let me offer you some advice! Zip your pants!”

With that the man stormed out of the room. (This exchange isn’t a word for word quote, but it gives you pretty good idea.) I believe the mans name was Charles, but don’t know his last name.

Toward the end of the meeting the commission voted to authorize Terry to do as he recommended and look into things.  He said he wouldn’t be able to start on it until Wednesday, but was going to try to give it some priority because of the importance.

I asked if the information he was going to be auditing was public record and was told yes. It should be available to anyone and while there might be some fee for making copies, anyone should be able to come in and ask to look at it. It was unclear if the information was available electronically or not.


What follows are some facts that were brought up in the meeting that might be of interest. If you have any corrections please post them in the comments.

Regarding the tax search information available here.

  • The website that allows people to go in and research tax histories has been up and down due to some issues and upgrades with the provider. That software isn’t hosted locally and no one has been messing with it to cover stuff up.
  • At one point the county would charge $60 per year for access to this information, but they are making the basic tax search available to everyone for free.
  • There was a mistake a day or two ago that caused all the amounts to have the decimal place moved two places to the left. This should be fixed now.

As far as the payment plan goes, here is how they are supposed to work legally:

  • The law allows the treasurer to create some type of payment plan. It doesn’t need to be a written policy.
  • The payment plan does not do anything that you couldn’t do on your own. In other words if you owed $1,200 in taxes, you could come in and pay it $100 per month regardless of whether or not you had a “payment plan”.
  • Even if you are on the payment plan, you must be treated just like any other delinquent account. The law only allows for partial payments to be made, but that does not change the status of the delinquent account.
  • It is illegal to not charge interest to people on the payment plan.
  • If taxes are being paid on a payment plan, it doesn’t change when the house would go to the sheriff sale.
  • It would be illegal for the county to not sell a particular house just because it is on the payment plan.
  • You have three years to pay your taxes before it is sold–regardless of whether or not you are on the payment plan.
  • The commissioner’s do not have the authority to stop the plan or determine what the policy is. They can make recommendations and request information.
  • The current payment plan has some type of contract associated with it that people signed agreeing to pay a certain amount every month.
  • Any delinquent account should be charged interest. The rate was either 11% or 12%. It is unclear of this is compounding or just simple interest.
  • There are fees associated with delinquent accounts as well. This includes the fee to help pay for publishing the list in the paper.

Regarding selling houses at a tax sale:

  • Often selling property in a tax sale produces less income than the costs associated with holding the auction.
  • Sometimes the county will decide not to hold a tax sale because it wouldn’t be worth the cost.
  • Justin Meeks and Susan Quick both recommended that a tax sale not be held last year saying that it would cost more than it brought in.
  • Tax liens — where the taxes are paid by an investor in return for a lien that accumulates interest on the property are not available in Kansas.
  • Often the only advantage of selling a property at a sheriff’s sale is getting it into the hands of new owners who will pay taxes on it.

Regarding getting rid of an elected official:

  • It is possible to do a recall election, but it would be expensive.
  • There is a process to oust an elected official. This is legally refereed to as an ouster.
  • There are certain crimes that will automatically oust an elected official.