Peabody spokesperson says the company wants to move swiftly to clear up overdue tax bills
Steamboat Springs — Peabody Energy officials confirmed Wednesday that a federal judge had cleared them to pay overdue property taxes to local jurisdictions, including 18 in Routt County, while they work through the bankruptcy process.
Peabody spokesperson Beth Sutton told Steamboat Today the company has already begun the process of making arrangements with affected taxing entities.
“Our intention is to move quickly, and we have begun by reaching out to county treasurers in impacted communities earlier today to initiate the process,” Sutton wrote in an e-mail.
The taxing districts waiting for checks in Routt County range from tiny cemetery districts to fire protection districts.
Peabody operates the Twentymile Coal Mine here, employing about 300 people, and company officials estimate the mine operations generated about $500 million in direct and indirect economic impacts in the region in 2015.
“We are pleased that the court has approved our motion authorizing payment of certain property taxes,” Sutton wrote. “Peabody is a longtime employer and member of the Routt County community, and we pride ourselves on being a good neighbor.”
Routt County Appraiser Gary Peterson confirmed in March that Twentymile is the county’s biggest single property taxpayer yet contributes a modest percentage of the tax revenue total.
The mine’s 2104 general fund contribution to the county was $536,669, or less than 5 percent of the total, he said.
By far, the single biggest delinquent bill is the $1.038 million owed the South Routt School District.
The district, with offices in Oak Creek, recently obtained a $1 million loan from the state of Colorado to cover the gap.
And as of Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners agreed to loan $55,403, representing unpaid Peabody taxes, to the South Routt Medical Center, also in Oak Creek. The medical center serves Medicaid patients from around the county.
However, the board of the South Routt Library District, which operates libraries in Oak Creek and further south in the town of Yampa, is planning to take a cautious approach to its fiscal planning until it knows more about the future of the Twentymile mine. Plans to apply a reserve fund toward a future new building will be on hold in the meantime.
Peabody/Twentymile owes the library district $30,438.76, representing the second half of its 2015 property taxes, and Tom Lillie, library board president, said the total $61,000 the mine was due to pay in 2015 taxes represented half of the district’s annual budget.
“I’m pleased that they are going to be taking care of this soon,” Lillie said, “but it’s been kind of a wakeup call. Until we really know what is going to happen with the mine, we’re going to have to change our plans and maybe come up with different ideas on how to serve our library clientele. Because if (the mine) goes away, we’re in deep trouble. We couldn’t keep one library open,” let alone two.
Sutton signaled that her company intends to continue operations beyond reorganization under the protection of bankruptcy.
“We appreciate the continued support from the community as we work through the Chapter 11 process to emerge stronger on the other side,” she wrote.
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