By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Due to an error, the Seward County Clerk’s office recently had to regenerate all tax statements, but on Dec. 6, county commissioners voted to record some of those statements as paid in full.
The reason, according to county clerk Stacia Long, is that it would cost more to mail those statements from and back to her office than the money that would be collected.
Long explained the error at the Dec. 6 commission meeting.
“It was determined that the valuation that was used to set the levies was a valuation that included penalties, which caused the levies to be off,” she said. “As soon as that was brought to my attention, the first thing I did was figure what the shortfall in the budget would be throughout the county.”
Long provided commissioners and the media with spreadsheets detailing the shortfall, and she said information in that packet was used with the incorrect levy.
“The budgeted amount is the amount that was turned in by the county, by the community college,” she said. “On the far right, it shows the shortfall. When you add all those together based on the very first tax statement, the shortfall countywide was over $100,000.”
Long said the error was discovered on Nov. 19.
“I made the decision, because the levy was illegal, to regenerate tax statements,” she said. “Also because of the shortfalls on the budgets and with budgets being so tight, $27,000 is a lot of money to the county.”
Long said with the help of the county’s software vendor, Infinitec, the clerk’s office was able to regenerate statements.
“The new tax statements that were generated were issued the same number,” she said. “The statement number was exactly the same as the original statement number.”
Long said for people who paid taxes before the second statement, that payment was shown on the new statement.
“That just gives you an idea of the amount of the error and why it was absolutely necessary to regenerate tax statements,” she said.
Long said a few taxpayers were angry because they could not understand why such small amounts were being billed.
“While to the individual it was not a substantial amount, countywide, it was a substantial amount,” she said.
Long said decisions needed to be made on how to handle statements which were paid in full prior to the error being found and new statements being sent out.
“There were statements that were under $5, under two cents,” she said. “There were a handful of statements where it didn’t change at all.”
Long said the numbers presented were through Nov. 30.
“The statements were mailed out by Nov. 23,” she said. “We were hoping that by Nov. 30, the majority of the taxpayers had received their second statement. We knew if they paid their first one before they received their second one, then money and the statement crossed in the mail. These numbers are through Nov. 30.”
Long said more than 2,700 statements were paid in full prior to the second one going out.
“The total amount of tax to collect was $6,916.13, and I did do an estimate of how much it would cost us to mail those out,” she said. “It was $1,594.76. The majority of the number of statements are all under $5.”
Long said more than 1,800 of the statements mailed out were for less than 50 cents.
“If we mailed those out, we would be collecting $213.11, and it would cost us $811 to mail them out,” she said. “Under $1, there were 2,008 statements for a total tax of $328.99. It would cost us $883 to mail out.”
For real estate taxes, Long said 273 of those statements were for less than 50 cents, and the money collected from them would be just more than $50.
“It would cost us $120 to mail them out,” she said. “Under $1,349 is the number of statements at $409.25 in tax, and it would cost us $153.56.”
Long said while the county treasurer’s office does not generate tax statements or figure the levy and valuation, the office does receive much criticism from the public about taxes.
“The public gives their money to them,” she said. “They are the ones that get to hear all about it. They take a lot that they really shouldn’t. If they have an irate taxpayer, I have asked them to direct them to me so that I could fully explain what happened – to kind of take the burden off of them.”
Long said her recommendation was to look at waiving statements for less than $5. She said another option was to pay the taxes out of the clerk’s budget, but this is something she said would cause more harm than good.
“I do have it in my budget, but we’re talking about 2,704 tax statements that you would be applying two cents, 44 cents, 24 cents to, and thus spending taxpayer dollars to do it,” she said. “I feel like it would almost cost us as much or more to apply the money than to flag it as paid and, basically, disregard the under $5 tax statements.”
The commission voted to direct county treasurer Sherry Wilson to flag as “paid” all 2010 tax statements with an amount due less than $5 that were paid in full prior to Nov. 30. The board also approved a motion, according to Long, to allow Wilson to flag as “paid” any 2010 tax statement if:
o The amount of the statement is less than $5; and;
o The treasurer determines that the taxes were paid in full prior to the taxpayer receiving the second statement.
Long said the decision made by the commission is in the best interest for everyone involved.
“It doesn’t make any sense to mail a 2-cent tax statement when it costs us 44 cents to mail it and it’s going to cost them 44 cents to mail it back, not including the cost of their check,” she said. “It would cost us more money to mail those out, and it’s not being responsible, in my opinion, to the taxpayers by doing that. We’re doing, in my opinion, the cheapest thing we can possibly do.”