The Barton County Treasurer’s Office was forced to issue a third June property tax disbursement totally $1.1 million after a tray of mail containing tax payment checks, including one for $300.000, was overlooked, the County Commission learned Monday morning. The payout was part of $2.3 million that wasn’t included in the June 5 disbursement, causing shortfalls for several taxing entities.
Commissioners were concerned that this meant the remaining $1.2 million of the $2.3 million remained “missing.” They feared these payments were sitting around and, perhaps, lost.
Of bigger concern would be the impact on taxing bodies that were relying on this money, Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. “The issue came to light when Barton Community College, the Great Bend Recreation Commission and some school districts in the county noted their disbursement payments were smaller than anticipated.”
However, County Treasurer Kevin Wondra, who was not at the meeting, told the Great Bend Tribune that the balance of the undistributed money was not lost. This was just money not received from tax payers.
“There was no money stolen and there was no money lost,” Wondra said. “It’s was just a timing thing.”
It takes several days to process payments prior to a disbursement, so the office sets a cut-off date to stop taking payments so this work can be done. In this case, that date was May 25.
The June 5 disbursement was the third of the year and include funds collected since March.
But, in the days leading up to May 25, Wondra said he was short one staff member who had lost her home in the May 16 tornado. This was in addition to the department being down one employee already.
“We had some mail that just didn’t get processed,” he said. The $1.2 million balance in question are delinquent tax payments, he said.
During the meeting
Schartz was also worried about taxpayers. “If any taxpayers have checks that have not been cashed, we need to know who these people are so we can compare that to the outstanding checks that we have and we will have to do a more thorough search of the Treasurer’s Office in order to find that money.”
It was noted that any taxpayer whose check is found in the Treasurer’s Office dated by the payment deadline would not be considered delinquent.
County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said county Finance Director Matt Patzner reviewed the disbursements after complaints from the college and others. The Rec Commission is included here since its funding flows through USD 428 in Great Bend.
The excluded money is not a big problem for cities, townships and the county since their budget year ends on Dec. 31 so these late payments will arrive in plenty of time, Zimmerman said. But, BCC and the schools have a fiscal year that ends June 30, and they have to submit a funding analysis to state officials by mid July.
This analysis details how much money they will receive and any shortfalls would have to be plugged with state funding. In this case, that may not be necessary, but the college and school districts just don’t know.
As of now, the college is short a half million and the GBRC $98,000.
The distribution of the $1.1 million marked the third disbursement for June. The first was the actual disbursement and the second included delinquent taxes and state mineral taxes that should have been distributed in March.
Schartz brought up the topic of the Treasurer’s Office at the end of the commission meeting and it was not on the agenda. Although Wondra was not at that meeting, he met with commissioners during their study session for discussions that reportedly became contentious.
The tax delinquency rate
The $2.3 million in undistributed funds would put the county’s tax delinquency rate at over 7 percent, Zimmerman said. That’s why when Patzner reported his findings, it just didn’t make sense since the average is between 2-3 percent.
Wondra told the Tribune that with the $1.1 million that just went out and remaining uncollected $1.2 million, the rate is still higher than the average, but not as bad. He said with the downturn in the economy, he is not surprised that this number is higher.
He also said that three years ago, his office stopped sending reminder notices that second-half property taxes were due. Perhaps, he said, his office should resume this practice.
Here we are again
This was the latest round in a string of run-ins the commission has had with Wondra, dating back to 2014. The problems then dealt with unreconciled tax rolls, inaccurately recorded end-of-year tax receipts and belated disbursement checks.
Wondra did not seek reelection this past November. Local businessman James Jordan won the job in the general election, but won’t take office until October.