Our view: Less confrontation, more collaboration | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Less confrontation, more collaboration

At issue:

The Routt County Board of County Commissioners and the county treasurer are at odds over the treasurer’s decision not to accept Peabody Energy’s overdue property tax payments without interest.

Our view:

The treasurer should have communicated directly and sooner with the commissioners, Peabody and the 18 taxing entities that rely on those taxes about her decision.

Last week we were surprised to learn that County Treasurer Brita Horn was refusing to accept overdue property tax payments from Peabody Energy after a federal bankruptcy judge in St. Louis cleared the company to pay the county three weeks ago.

At issue:

The Routt County Board of County Commissioners and the county treasurer are at odds over the treasurer’s decision not to accept Peabody Energy’s overdue property tax payments without interest.

Based on a series of email exchanges between County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski and a lawyer representing Horn, which were prompted by questions about the treasurer’s decision, it appears that communication between the Routt County Board of Commissioners and the Treasurer’s Office has deteriorated. Rather than discussing issues face to face, Horn seems to want to let her lawyer do the talking, which we think is an unfortunate choice.

The county treasurer contends the commissioners are attempting to usurp her statutory authority, and the commissioners claim they are only seeking answers on behalf of the community and 18 local taxing entities who are owed a total of $1.77 million in taxes from Peabody’s Twentymile coal mine.

After repeated requests for more information about the situation, Horn issued a three-page statement Friday detailing why she and her attorney Steven Klenda, of Adroit Advocates, believe she cannot accept the payments from Peabody without interest. According to Horn’s statement, treasurers in Colorado are only authorized to waive interest or fees that total less than $50. Interest on Peabody’s overdue taxes is accruing at 1 percent per month.

Peabody, on the other hand, asked the federal bankruptcy court for permission to pay its overdue taxes, and a federal judge approved payment of $1.8 million to Routt County taxing entities. The company claims treasurers in other jurisdictions where the company operates have already found a way to accept the overdue tax payments, and we think Horn should follow suit.

We understand that Horn is within her statutory authority to refuse Peabody’s tax payments and that she believes she’s working to secure every penny owed to Routt County, but in this particular instance, we think Horn should have at least communicated sooner than July 12 with the 18 taxing entities affected by her decision as well as the Board of Commissioners before making that decision.

In her statement, Horn claims, “… waiving the interest and fees for a powerful and politically-connected company like Peabody would be unfair to other Routt County taxpayers.”

We now question whether Horn’s position and her lack of clear, direct and timely communication about that stance has been fair to the taxing entities, such as South Routt Medical District, South Routt School District and West Routt Fire Protection District, which depend on that tax money to operate.

These districts, which provide for the health, safety and education of our residents, are entering budget season on shaky ground. For many of these entities, the taxes Peabody pays account for a large share of their annual budgets, and in the case of Soroco, the district has a $1 million loan from the state to pay back, and receipt of the delinquent taxes will allow the school district to do that.

Under the circumstances, we think the county treasurer has taken a more confrontational stance than necessary. On the surface, Peabody has appeared to be cooperative, even asking the federal bankruptcy judge to allow it to pay the delinquent taxes it owed the taxing entities in Routt County, and we think the treasurer should continue her efforts to find a way to work with Peabody perhaps through a payment plan or to confirm with the bankruptcy court whether its order allows for payment of interest and fees as well as taxes owed.

Ultimately, we expect our elected leaders to work together to solve community problems and issues, and we’d like to see more collaboration and less confrontation from the county treasurer.

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