County Treasurer Brita Horn: overdue Peabody taxes in the mail Nov. 11 | SteamboatToday.com
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County Treasurer Brita Horn: overdue Peabody taxes in the mail Nov. 11

Empty box cars wait to be filled with coal from Twentymile Mine in West Routt County.
courtesy photo

— Fewer than 24 hours after Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn announced Oct. 31 that she and her attorney had reached a “confidential” agreement with Peabody Energy officials to accept nearly $1.8 million in overdue 2015 property taxes, the Routt County Board of Commissioners was preparing a request Nov. 1 under the Colorado Open Records Act to learn the details.

Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said Tuesday that County Finance Director Dan Strnad had gone to Horn’s office early that morning to learn the details of how much money was in different Peabody tax accounts and was told he could not have access to the information because of the confidentiality of the treasurer’s agreement with Peabody.

“We want to know how much money is in the accounts,” Hermacinski said.

Among the questions the treasurer declined to answer, Strnad said, was whether or not the agreement included payment of the interest on the overdue taxes that Horn had cited all summer as her reason for not accepting Peabody’s offer to pay the taxes.

Strnad said his request of Horn was straightforward.

“I wanted to know how much was taxes, how much was interest (on the unpaid taxes) and if any fees were paid by Peabody,” Strnad said. “They need to be put on the county’s books, and if she’s exceeded her operating budget (with any legal fees, for example), the board (of commissioners) needs to (consider approving) a supplemental budget.”

Horn told Steamboat Today on Tuesday she expects to forward the property tax monies from the second half of 2015 to the 17 affected taxing entities on Nov. 11, either by direct deposit or by mailing checks.

“We’ve already started a whole process with talking to all of the principle people,” at the different taxing entities, Horn said.

The amounts owed to each entity range from as little as $6.83 owed to the Hayden Cemetery District, $120,828 owed to the West Routt Fire Protection District and nearly $1.4 million owed the South Routt School District. Routt County government is owed $458,161.

South Routt Medical District Manager Ken Rogers, whose medical facility has been supported through much of this year by a loan from the county offsetting the $55,403 its owed in overdue Peabody property taxes, confirmed that he’d received an email from Horn seeking to have a conversation. However, he demurred until after the Nov. 8 election.

Peabody, which owns and operates the Twentymile Coal Company southwest of Steamboat Springs, filed for bankruptcy in April and was cleared by a federal bankruptcy judge in late July to pay property taxes to public entities across the U.S. However, Horn was steadfast in her position that Colorado law forbids the treasurer from accepting the property taxes without interest (compounding at one percent per month of delinquency) and associated fees.

Peabody spokesperson Beth Sutton, citing Peabody’s pride in being a good neighbor in Routt County, told Steamboat Today July 20 the company would move quickly to clear up the tax bills.

Asked by Steamboat Today if her agreement with Peabody included the interest (compounding at 1 percent a month) and fees she has insisted Colorado law requires her to collect at the same time as property taxes, Horn responded she was confident the agreement met state statutes.

“We are pleased with Peabody’s assistance and confident that the payment is in full compliance with Colorado law,” Horn said. “The terms of the settlement are confidential, but we are pleased with the outcome … I stood strong for all the people of Routt County. I can’t give special treatment to one group over another.”

When asked by Steamboat Today if the “fees” she has sought to collect represented the legal bills she has incurred in her interactions with Peabody, she replied, “fees and costs were costs to this office.”

Steamboat Today has also sent Horn a records request of its own, seeking to clarify whether or not her “confidentiality” agreement with Peabody included payment of the interest that was the foundation of her unwillingness to accept the delinquent tax payments over the summer.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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