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County clerk's error may mean property tax hike in Fulton

County clerk's error may mean property tax hike in Fulton

October 26th, 2016 by Adam Brake in Local News

Doc Kritzer, Callaway County's western district commissioner, addressed the Fulton City Council on mistakes made by the county clerk,

Photo by Jenny Gray /Fulton Sun.

An accounting error officials say was made by the Callaway County clerk will end up costing taxpayers in Fulton.

County and city officials had an emergency meeting Tuesday morning to address the problem of several mistakes made over the course of the summer.

"We all want to make sure we set the taxes accordingly and don't overcharge," said Doc Kritzer, Callaway County's Western District Commissioner. "We don't believe the numbers are right and we're looking for an explanation of the numbers."

Callaway County Clerk Denise Hubbard admitted to a transposition error at the morning meeting.

"I did make a mistake," she said. "It was an error on my part and I'm in the process of working with the state auditor's office to make the corrections."

Hubbard said she had entered the wrong information on her documents involving the city of Fulton's revenue. The mistake led to a difference in the city's projected tax revenue.

"The city line is where I made the mistake," she said. "I transposed the number and put the county number on the city's line."

Owners of a $100,000 property can expect to pay an additional $4.46 for 2016 taxes, and have the money returned to them the following year.

The incorrect information was sent out to both the city and school district.

Gary Jungermann, presiding commissioner, said these discrepancies often cause a big problem for an organization trying to budget for the following year.

"It's important to have the numbers right," he said. "It's important for a government organization to know what they're looking at as revenue."

Jungermann said the problem will not affect residents of the county outside of the Fulton city limits.

"The city is where the bigger problem is now," he said. "The question is how to fix that situation. What happened here is a transposing error. It's a shame it wasn't caught."

At Tuesday's council meeting, Kathy Holschlag, chief financial officer for the city of Fulton, said a reassessment this close to sending out tax statements would be catastrophic for the county collector's office.

The error will prompt an increase in the property tax rate for all residents in the city, Kritzer said.

"Residents within the city limits who own property, real estate or personal property will be affected," he said.

Pam Oestrich, county collector, proposed the city officials accept the inflated tax number for this year, and reimburse residents by lowering the property tax rate next year. Her office ultimately would be the one scrambling to reprint and issue new tax statements.

"I can't even imagine what it would take this late in the game to fix this," she said at Tuesday evening's city council meeting where she spoke. "I plead that we do the rollback next year."

Hubbard was not present at the Fulton City Council meeting Tuesday evening. According to Kritzer, county officials have struggled to schedule a meeting with Hubbard on the matter.

"We set up a meeting in August with the county clerk to address the issue," he said, adding she didn't attend it. "Here we are two months later needing an explanation."

Hubbard said there was a period in August where she was on maternity leave and unable to work full-time.

"I still came in part time because we weren't given staff to cover my job," she said.

Kathy Holschlag, chief financial officer for the city of Fulton, said the city is working hard to be fair to taxpayers.

"We don't want to overcharge the citizens based on the faulty information we've been given," she said. "This affects all people within the city limits of Fulton."

Holschlag said city officials have tried several times to contact the county clerk's office to fix flawed information.

"At this point, we have a responsibility to advise the state tax commission that the levy has been set on Fulton because of faulty numbers," she added. "That's not how we operate at the city."

Kritzer said this mistake from the clerk is only a part of a bigger problem facing the county.

"It's important for everyone to understand the significance of these mistakes," he said. "It's been a struggle trying to get this resolved. What's (the clerk) going to do to fix this problem? Remember, this is also the person in charge of providing election results."

Hubbard said at the emergency meeting she is working diligently on fixing the error.

"I apologize, it's my mistake," she said. "I'll see what I can do to fix it. I called the state auditor's office, and I'm waiting for a response from them."

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Correction:  An accounting error led to a $4 million difference in the city's assessed property valuation. The difference was incorrectly described in the version of this story posted online late Tuesday night, Oct. 25, 2016 but corrected online on Wednesday morning, Oct. 26, 2016. A proposed tax increase to address the accounting error would amount to a 2.5-cent increase per $100 of assessed property value.