Concerns and questions linger after $5.8M mistake in Routt County Treasurer’s Office
Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn has provided new details about how her office made the mistake that deprived schools, towns and other tax recipients of $5.8 million worth of their property tax revenue for more than two months.
But even as the details came out this week, some elected officials and a town manager in Routt County still had questions and concerns about the error and how it took so long to discover and correct.
“I find it almost incomprehensible that a missed (property tax) distribution of $5.8 million could have gone unnoticed for over two months,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.
In a letter responding to several questions from the commissioners, Horn said one of her employees overrode a default setting in the office’s tax distribution software. The override resulted in tax payments for only part of April going out to tax recipients instead of for the entire month.
“Our software does not automatically provide an alert if the default distribution period is altered,” Horn wrote.
Horn said the employee who made the error also failed to inform a supervisor about the $5.8 million in taxes that weren’t distributed correctly.
In the wake of the error, Horn said she has elevated the tax distribution responsibilities to her chief deputy treasurer.
She described the mistake as a “one-time glitch.”
Commissioners, however, still have concerns.
“I find it odd that we have a computer issue on a computer program we’ve had for so many years,” Commissioner Doug Monger said Thursday. “How does that kind of stuff happen?”
The employee who made the mistake is no longer with the treasurer’s office, but Horn declined to say Thursday if they were fired because of the error.
Horn said the error was not discovered until the week of July 17, after some of the tax recipients had noticed something was wrong and called the county asking where their money had gone.
“We really had to drill down, drill down, drill down” to find out what had happened, Horn said Tuesday.
Asked Thursday why it took more than two months to find the error, Horn responded that she “must stand by my original statement that I legally can’t and I won’t discuss personnel issues.”
The treasurer’s office said all of the taxing entities that didn’t receive the correct amounts on May 10 were made whole by July 24.
They will also receive the interest that had accumulated while the funds mistakenly sat in an interest bearing account.
Horn continued to stress that no money was lost as a result of the mistake.
Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco, whose town was among those shorted by the error, sent Horn an email Wednesday morning expressing disappointment and concern about the situation.
He told Horn her office’s more than two month delay in discovering the error and informing tax recipients was ‘unacceptable.’
“It seems to me that given the resources of Routt County this issue should have at least been addressed within 1 month?,” Mendisco wrote in the email.
Mendisco presented Horn with a list of questions, including why it took more than two months to discover the error and what steps her office was taking to prevent another one in the future.
The incomplete property tax payments have also created a new point of friction between the treasurer and the county commissioners.
In her letter back to the commissioners, Horn accused them of being “unduly antagonistic and formal” in two letters they sent her inquiring about the mistake.
“I suspect that, like the Commission’s past actions, the Commission’s recent actions will be as counterproductive, unnecessary and potentially costly effort to insert itself into matters that are the responsibility of an independent elected official,” she wrote.
Commissioners defended their inquiries on Thursday, saying they weren’t among those who received an initial letter Horn sent July 20 to taxing entities first admitting the mistake, despite the county itself being shorted because of the error.
“We respect her independent status as an independently elected official,” Corrigan said. “But the fact remains, somebody didn’t know what was going on for two months, and that’s a source of concern to me not only as a county commissioner but also as a taxpayer.
“She could have walked upstairs and said ‘listen guys, we have a problem, we made a mistake, here’s what we’re going to do to correct it,'” Corrigan continued. “It wouldn’t have eliminated questions about procedures and management from her office, but it would have been a more civil conversation.”
Commissioners said Thursday the treasurer has previously instructed them to only communicate with her or her office in writing.
“I would love it if we had a relationship with the treasurer that we could walk into her office and find out what is going on,” Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said. “She wanted the type of relationship” where we have to communicate in writing.
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