Blair Oaks: County Tax Fix Lacks Details

7 years 2 weeks 8 hours ago Tuesday, November 30 2010 Nov 30, 2010 Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:38:48 AM CST November 30, 2010 in News
WARDSVILLE - Blair Oaks School District officials said Monday the details are not in place for them to sign off on an agreement to end a dispute over tax revenues Cole County sent the district in error.

The split between the district and Cole County on how to handle the issue threatens to send at least three county government entities — the district, the county, and Jefferson City — to court, as Jefferson City has said it would file a lawsuit if all parties had not signed the agreement by Tuesday at 5 p.m.

The dispute stems from a mistake in the Cole County Collector's office made nearly 20 years ago that slowly diverted roughly $4.5 million in revenues from a county surtax on commercial property toward some government entities and away from others.

Jefferson City says it lost out on more than $3.5 million in tax revenues because of the miscalculation. The city council unanimously agreed on November 15 to the settlement drawn up by the county which repays the city more than $751,000, the maximum the city could recoup under the three-year statute of limitations.

The county overpaid the Blair Oaks School District more than $665,000.  It agrees in principle that it should pay that money back, but refuses to sign off on the agreement because the amount it would have to repay over a 23-year period — $656,000 — has not been certified by a third-party audit.

Blair Oaks superintendent Jim Jones said district officials were the only county government entity to raise questions about the county's math, asking in writing whether the surtax revenue numbers were correct in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Each year, Blair Oaks school board president Greg Russell said county officials told the district the figures were correct.

"We believe that was arrogant," Russell said, "that it should have been dealt with at the time when it was repeatedly brought to their attention, and now we're faced with the situation that we now have."

According to documents from the Blair Oaks schools, the county overpaid itself by more than $1.2 million between county disability funds, a road and bridge fund, and county government itself. Under the agreement, the county would pay back about $15,000.

Without a finalized agreement, Jefferson City's attorney Nathan Nicklaus said the city will file a lawsuit to make sure the city can get back all of the funds the county owes it under the legal statute of limitations.  If the lawsuit's filed, the entire agreement over how to handle the miscalculation would likely fall apart.

"I'm not afraid of going to court," Cole County presiding commissioner Marc Ellinger said. "It doesn't bother me. I'd just as soon resolve this dispute amicably. But that ball's not in my court."

Specifically, Ellinger believes the ball is in Blair Oaks School District's "court."  He says the deal is a result of four months of negotiations and is not about to be changed at this point.

"At this late date, we've got a done deal," Ellinger said. "At the last minute, you don't add new terms to a done deal."

Blair Oaks superintendent Jim Jones says that nobody involved wants the dispute to end up in front of a judge, but he also wants an agreement "everyone can stand by" in the future.

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