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

Note: If you would like to get email updates from this site sent to your email address, please subscribe using the form on the right or by clicking here.

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.

Fort Scott Fiber Initiative Meeting

The Fiber Initiative meeting on Friday was designed to look at how to get better Internet access in the Fort Scott area. Fort Scott is well behind many of the nearby cities. Here is a list of cities along with the highest bandwidth package available for residential users:

  • Frontenac – 35Mbps
  • Pittsburg – 35 Mbps
  • Girard – 15 Mbps
  • Uniontown – 15 Mbps
  • Iola – 35 Mbps
  • Nevada – 25 Mbps

(thanks to Nick Graham for researching this)

In Fort Scott AT&T DSL offers up to a 7Mbps (download) / 768kbps (upload) connection while Suddenline tops out at 3Mbps/512kbps. In some places AT&T is only available at lower speeds and in many others it isn’t available at all.

Right now the only bandwidth on fiber optic cable that comes into Fort Scott comes from AT&T. The only alternative for people who need significant bandwidth is some form of wireless. This is what FSCC is using–a microwave link provided by Cox. Unfortunately these types of connections are not particularly reliable and they tend to cap out at much lower speeds than what can be achieved over fiber optic.

Suddenlink says they can do fiber runs in town that make use of the bandwidth they purchase from AT&T. It appears a 5 Mbps connection would cost around $1,300 per month. (For those of you in the meeting who heard me say that it would cost $3,000 per month, I mispoke and realized my error after consulting my notes from last year.) For comparison purposes the college is paying around $3,000 per month for a 45 Mbps connection and a significant portion of those costs are for KanREN network management services–the actual bandwidth is closer to $1,000 of that.

There are two basic problems. First, the limited bandwidth coming into Fort Scott is very expensive and only available from AT&T. The second problem has to do with actually getting bandwidth to the houses and smaller businesses.

To solve the first problem, we need to get more fiber running into Fort Scott. It appears that at least Cox and Quest have fiber runs that follow the railroad through Fort Scott, but there are no “junctions” so no one can tap into it here. The previous meeting was attended by Cox and there was discussion about trying to get a “junction” to allow businesses in Fort Scott to tap into the bandwidth from Cox. It sounds like the cost to dig up the fiber, put in a building with a junction, etc. would be roughly somewhere between $30k to $100k.

Larger cities have what is known as “carrier hotels” where anyone can buy bandwidth from multiple providers. This helps drive the price down because carriers can quote prices based on just the cost of bandwidth–not the cost of building out to various buildings. This type of arrangement also means there is more competition to drive down prices and allow companies that need redundant connections the ability to easily provision connections to multiple carriers. The client is then responsible for getting the bandwidth to their datacenter or office. The clients in this type of setup would be ISPs and larger companies that can afford the build out to move the data from the “carrier hotel” to wherever it is needed. Fort Scott needs to be able to get reasonably price bandwidth into the city before it is going to be cost effective to provide reasonably priced bandwidth to individuals and businesses in the area.

Better bandwidth to Fort Scott from multiple carriers could make the city a more attractive place to put datacenters, call centers and other bandwidth intense businesses.

The second problem has to do with how to get the bandwidth to the individuals and businesses. This is often refered to as the “last mile” problem. The two big players in this market with wired connections are AT&T and Suddenlink. RTS and Valnet offer some wireless connections in and around Fort Scott.

AT&T DSL service only works with wire lengths less than about 14,000 feet from the central office. While this seems like a long distance in Fort Scott, wire doesn’t go in a straight line and wasn’t originally installed to minimize the distance back. Also older infrastructure often can’t support the needs of DSL. There are many situations where one person has a good DSL connection, but their neighbor across the street can’t get service. In repeated calls to AT&T it does not appear that they are interested in building additional infrastructure in Fort Scott to support better connectivity to homes. (Although they may change their mind with pressure from someone other than me calling in as an end user.)

Suddenlink says they plan to eventually support 10 Mbps connections in Fort Scott, but doesn’t have a timeline for any upgrades. When I spoke with them in August 2010, they said they might start offering a premium tier in the first half of 2011. It sounds like they are hesitant to increase the bandwidth because their current network design within Fort Scott, is not adequate to handle the existing traffic much less traffic that would come if their speeds were greater. Suddenlink says that 50% of the Fort Scott traffic in the evenings is from Netflix. Interestingly they have their max bandwidth right below what it would need to be for HD Netflix streaming which would consume significantly more bandwidth.

From a technical perspective of what is possible, DSL typically maxes out at about 15Mbps while normal cable modems can typically support speeds up to 50 Mbps. (There are all kinds of different technologies to make this go faster, so I’m talking about typical networks with typical equipment.) Suddenlink does have some networks where they have 50Mbps and even 107Mbps connections. However, it appears that they only offer this in markets where they are trying to match speed with competition. AT&T DSL coverage is spotty enough that it doesn’t seem to be a big competitive driver.

The places that are offering extremely high speed connections are doing it with fiber. Google is planning to offer 1000Mbps connections in Kansas City in the near future. The price hasn’t been set, but it will probably be $30 to $70 per month. Chattanooga offers a 1000Mbps connection for $350 per month. They also have a 50Mbps plan that is priced in the same range as Fort Scott’s options.

I think the current plan is to come up with a plan for where the city wants to be at certain points in time and then see if the current providers are interested in helping to implement it. For example, here are some very rough ideas of possible targets from looking at what other cities are doing:

In 1 Year:

  • 10Mbps/2Mbps connections for less than $50 per month.
  • 3Mbps for less than $35 per month.
  • At least one fiber bandwidth provider other than AT&T
  • Free Wifi at Library and downtown

In 5 Years:

  • 100 Mbps connections for less than $100 per month.
  • Network reliability sufficient to run 911 services over the connections.
  • A “carrier hotel” with at least three carriers providing bandwidth.

In 10 Years:

  • 1000 Mbps connections for less than $100 per month.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a plan that is being proposed, it is just my quick attempt to demonstrate what a plan could look like.

Fort Scott News