Judge rules on lawsuit filed by Routt County treasurer against commissioners
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A district judge has sided with the Routt County commissioners in a lawsuit over $552 that was filed by Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn.
Horn will have to decide whether to appeal the decision or put the issue to rest.
“I anticipate the other side will file a motion for reconsideration,” said Routt County Attorney Erick Knaus, who was representing the commissioners.
If Horn does not appeal the decision, the litigation in the case should be over.
“On the district court level, it appears it is (over), but an appeal is always a possibility,” Knaus said.
Horn, who will finish her term as treasurer Dec. 31, did not return a message seeking comment.
Chief Deputy Treasurer Patrick Karschner said he and Horn were consulting with their attorney, and he believed Horn planned to appeal the ruling.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he was pleased with Judge Shelley Hill’s decision.
“It was a very good ruling, and we’re happy with it,” Monger said.
The lawsuit was the latest dispute between Horn and the commissioners, and it accused the commissioners of illegally abating tax interest.
The tax issue and ensuing lawsuit are related to two new barns that were built at the 149-acre Mystic Canyon Ranch in north Routt County. When the Assessor’s Office discovered the new barns, it was determined the barns should have been added to the tax rolls.
Mystic Canyon Ranch was retroactively billed for the taxes, but Horn thought the property owners should also be charged $552 in interest for the two years of back taxes.
The property owners did not dispute they owed two years worth of taxes on the barns, but they thought it was unfair to be charged the interest.
On Sept. 11, the commissioners had a hearing with Horn and the attorney she uses out of Denver to discuss the tax interest issue. The firm, Klenda, Gessler & Blue, has charged the county at a rate of $350 per hour in the past.
Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said Horn has spent more than $20,000 to have the private attorney file the lawsuit because Horn has chosen not to use the county’s attorney.
During a Sept. 11 hearing, the three commissioners unanimously decided to pay Mystic Canyon Ranch the $542 in interest out of the general fund. Because of the lawsuit, the county has been holding onto the check.
In the lawsuit, Horn argued the commissioners were overstepping their authority by issuing a refund to the ranch.
Horn filed the lawsuit Sept. 18.
Judge Hill met with the attorneys Nov. 5 and issued her ruling Tuesday.
“The county treasurer erred when she assessed retroactive interest on the additional assessment on omitted property that was discovered by the assessor,” Hill wrote in her ruling.
Hill also addressed an accusation made by Horn that one of the commissioners, Cari Hermacinski, should not have voted on the issue because there was a conflict of interest.
In the lawsuit, Horn provided documentation that Christy Belton, the Steamboat Springs resident representing the ranch in the dispute, supported Hermacinski during her political campaigns.
“The court notes that the complaint goes only to one of the commissioners and that the vote was unanimous,” Hill wrote. “Even were there to have been a conflict of interest, which issue the court does not reach, even if that one commissioner had recused from the vote, it would have passed anyway.”
If Horn decides to not appeal Hill’s ruling, Knaus said he will release the $542 check to settle up the Mystic Canyon Ranch interest payment.
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