It's Your Money

Apr 4, 2011 9:15 PM by Andy Koen

Schools to raise taxes after county settles for over-taxing company

Fremont County and the Holcim cement plant have reached an agreement that will refund the company $1.5 million in over-paid property taxes, including a $90,000 penalty levied because of the error.

The company has been in appeals over the value of their property since 2008. Fremont County Assessor Stacey Seifert says she couldn't lower their taxes because the Holcim never provided her with appropriate financial information to determine how much depreciation they experienced.

"If I don't have their production figures, then I have no way of knowing exactly how the economy has hit them," Seifert said.

But the company is only required to disclose that information to the state 10 days prior to a hearing. There is currently a back log of property assessment appeals at the state which caused the Holcim case to be put off until February 24.

Thus, the miscalculations were applied for the past three years.

"I think we need to have a rule change as well, you know, 10 days prior to a hear is the first time you see any of the information that you can actually use, that's ridiculous," Seifert said.

As a result of the refund, the Fremont RE-2 school district will lose more than $1.15 million (roughly 40 percent) of their property tax revenue this year. Superintendent Cynthia Scriven says the district will raise taxes next year by at least 25 percent to make up the loss.

Current property taxes levels for the district are set at 28 mills. Scriven says, "when we adjust the mill levy it will go up about another 7 mills and that's required by state statute," Scriven said.

The tax hike is a considered a special mill levy which gives the district the ability to recoup the loss in the year immediate following an abatement. Special mill levies aren't covered by the Tax Payers Bill of Rights so voter approval isn't required.

Scriven says the district plans to dip into their reserves to cover short term cash flow losses and, if need be, apply for a loan from the state.

Other local taxing entities that will lose money include Fremont County itself and the library district. So far, only the school district has said it plans to use the special mill levy.

An attorney for Holcim declined to comment because the matter is not yet officially settled.

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