Presiding Commissioner votes against fixing problem he and County Clerk helped create with faulty paperwork
In a two-to-one vote, the Platte County Commission this week re-established the County’s tax ceiling after a fiasco last fall resulting from improperly completed paperwork. An error was discovered last fall by the Missouri State Auditor’s Office, and after an investigation it was discovered due to clerical errors the County’s property tax levy ceiling was lowered from approximately 19 cents in 2012 to one cent in 2013. This figure matches the actual assessed levy set by the Platte County Commission for 2013. What this error means for the County, however, was that without taking action the County no longer has the state-authorized capability to raise its levy. While the actual tax rates have been correct, the calculations to arrive at the number have been wrong, and this impacted the tax ceiling. It’s a complicated issue, much of it mandated by state statute, which County attorney Bob Shaw explained during a public hearing held during the Commission’s regular session June 2. The levy paperwork was submitted incorrectly in 2011, 2012 and 2013, with the error only discovered by the state in 2013. Shaw said the only legal remedy to the situation that he and the state and county auditors could determine was to reset the County levy ceiling. In 1980, he said, voters set the Platte County tax ceiling at 35 cents per $100 assessed valuation. This does not mean the levy was set at 35 cents, but only that this was the starting point for a set of complicated tax calculations. Reductions must be taken to offset sales tax income, in accordance with state statute known as the Hancock Amendment. Then, the Commissioners may take voluntary rollbacks of the tax, which the Commission has for several years. To further exacerbate the problem, these rollbacks were not always properly handled. “We have an accumulation of voluntary reductions and paperwork errors causing these issues,” Shaw said. He estimated that the 2014 levy ceiling could fall between three to 10 cents after reductions for sales tax, at which point it would be the Commission’s decision to ultimately determine any voluntary rollbacks and set the levy. Auditor Kevin Robinson said the rollback process has never been properly managed in the County, as voluntary rollbacks become permanent if they are not regularly rescinded. Such resets — which should happen every two years — protect the County’s ability to raise the levy should the need arise. The last several rollbacks had not been rescinded as required, putting the County further behind. Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown, who ultimately voted against the levy ceiling reset, told Shaw he had asked him to obtain paperwork from the state auditor stating that resetting the levy ceiling was the only solution to these coinciding problems.