Area School District: Taxpayers Overpaid Due to Clerical Error

It looks like some taxpayers in Crawford County may have overpaid, according to the Cherokee School District. A press release issued by the District's office say the Capital Outlay taxes for the 2013-2014 school year were accidentally not certified, and thus shouldn't have been collected. An employee with the Crawford County Clerk's office discovered the error, finding that a 2012 resolution passed to collect the money was never certified, meaning now they'll have to return the money they've collected to taxpayers.

Read the full press release below:

The U.S.D. 247 Board Office has learned that the Capital Outlay taxes for the 2013-2014 school year were accidentally not certified, and therefore should not have been collected.  An employee with the Crawford County Clerk’s Office discovered the error and the district was made aware through a McCune patron records inquiry on Monday, August 3, 2014. The mistake means property taxpayers within U.S.D. 247 overpaid capital outlay taxes for last school year.

Prior to 2012 the U.S.D. 247 Board of Education had approved and certified a resolution allowing 4 mils to be collected for Capital Outlay.  On September 10, 2012 the Board of Education again voted to renew the resolution to collect 4 mils for the next five school years beginning in 2013-14, but the resolution was not certified due to a clerical error.  As such, Superintendent Dr. Glenn Formatter says the Capital Outlay tax rate should have been 0 mils.

Dr. Fortmayer says “the checks and balances failed” in multiple ways.  He says the issues started when a former board clerk documented in the minutes that a resolution to “renew” the 4 mils for five years was passed on September 10, 2012 for the 2013-14 school year and the next four years ending in the 2017-18 school year.  The minutes stated the resolution was in Appendix C, but no signed resolution exists in the appendix or in the BOE files from that time period nor were notifications run in the Morning Sun.

“The Crawford County Clerk’s office did not catch that the tax was not certified as they go by the budget document only and do not verify taxes assessed are certified according to the Crawford County Clerk,” says Dr. Fortmayer.

Plus, two independently contracted budget-financial services did not catch the oversight.

“Further coincidence enabled the error not be caught earlier,” according to Fortmayer.

In June of 2014 one of the contracted budget services, checked, but was informed incorrectly because the billing for the August 2012 Budget Hearing was paid on the exact date of the resolution – September 10, 2012 giving the appearance in the records that the affidavit present was for the resolution ads that should have run in that month versus it being the affidavit for the regular budget hearing the month before.  Thus, there is no record of the former board clerk running the required notifications in the paper or mailing the resolution to the County Clerk to be certified.

Believing the 2012 resolution was still in effect, the U.S.D. 247 Board of Education passed a resolution in September 2013 to remain at the 4 mils thought to have been established versus moving to 8 mils.  This resolution was for informational purposes and did not require action, or so believed at the time.

A resolution was then passed on June 9, 2014 to provide the board the authority to raise the mil levy to 8 mils and to provide more flexibility in spending those Capital Outlay funds, but a petition has been filed against the resolution by a patron member of the Save McCune School Group.  That petition, if certified with the necessary number of signatures, will require the district to have district wide vote on the resolution during the November general elections.

“Unfortunately, it has been reported many people signed the petition because they believed the resolution was to double their entire school tax rate versus just increasing the Capital Outlay mils by four; and given the states recent relief for property owners, the total taxes were actually going down by over 7 mils.” Fortmayer explained.

Further impacting the district is the fact that if the petition is certified and the vote has to occur, the vote will take place after the August 25, 2014 school budget certification date, so even if the vote passes; the district will not receive about $306,000 in capital outlay funds this year.

“When you do not have any reserves as we have had to live these past four years, I have had an almost nightly nightmare that I have shared with many so often that a simple mistake, a missed deadline, or some over looked detail will cost us - my nightmares were prophetic,” Fortmayer said.  “The unfortunate aspect of being a superintendent is that you are responsible for every action or inaction that occurs under you in your district.  In this case I failed to ensure that this error could not happen, I did not have an effective enough checks and balances system to make sure all was done as required.  It is very difficult for all of us to give so much trying to stabilize the financial situation of such a strapped district in these hard times.  We have been doing so much more with less for so long, and then to compound the issues by missing such a mistake is very rough personally.”

Fortmayer reported that the district will overcome this setback and proceed forward.  The district is just beginning its first year under its reorganized single district wide elementary, junior high, and high school configuration.

“One reason for the reorganization was to increase fiscal efficiency so we could handle the unexpected fiscal challenges that crop up,” said Fortmayer.  “We will charge on.  ‘We are Southeast!’”

The actual process and adjustments to the taxes overpaid in 2013-2014 will be handled by the county clerks if you are a property owner inside U.S.D. 247. 

Capital Outlay is used by school districts to make purchases of certain restricted items.  In the past, the State of Kansas only allowed Capital Outlay to be used on certain purchases – like a bus, roofs, large equipment or computers.  These funds could not be used to repair the bus or buy software, or clean facilities or do routine maintenance – those dollars had to be taken from elsewhere.  The State of Kansas recently passed a law increasing flexibility with this spending as long as the local Board of Education passes a resolution. 

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Location : Crawford CountyKansas
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