Routt County Treasurer Horn succeeds in collecting $100,000 in interest on Peabody’s overdue property taxes
Claiming tax checks
From the Office of the Routt County Treasurer: This month’s tax distribution checks will be available at noon on Thursday, Nov. 10 for pick up by authorized personnel. Since Friday is Veterans Day, the Treasurer's Office will have the checks available until 4 p.m. Any remaining checks after will be mailed out after 4 p.m. Contact the office at 970-870-5555 with the name of the authorized person that will be picking up the check in person.
Steamboat Springs — Peabody Energy officials have confirmed to the Routt County Board of Commissioners that under the terms of a previously “confidential” agreement with Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, they have paid about $1.8 million in overdue 2015 property taxes as well as a little more than $100,000 in interest on the taxes. In addition, they have remitted $65,200 in legal fees Horn has incurred with the law firm Klenda, Gessler and Blue in pursuit of the taxes.
“I am grateful we could remedy this situation with Peabody on behalf of the citizens of Routt County who depend on the services and amenities that these tax dollars deliver, such as roads, sidewalks schools and more,” Horn said in a news release. “Peabody truly earned my respect and admiration. The company worked with us to find a solution and has been a great community partner.”
Claiming tax checks
From the Office of the Routt County Treasurer: This month’s tax distribution checks will be available at noon on Thursday, Nov. 10 for pick up by authorized personnel. Since Friday is Veterans Day, the Treasurer’s Office will have the checks available until 4 p.m. Any remaining checks after will be mailed out after 4 p.m. Contact the office at 970-870-5555 with the name of the authorized person that will be picking up the check in person.
Peabody Director of State Government Relations Michael Blank informed Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Cari Hermacinski Nov. 8 that the agreement with the treasurer “is based on what the court allowed us to do.”
“Out of respect for the commission and the greater community, we have worked with Treasurer Horn to have the terms of the agreement shared, which include Peabody’s payment of nearly $1.8 million in property taxes in addition to interest and other fees,” Blank said.
He advised Hermacinski that the property taxes that pre-dated Peabody’s bankruptcy would have been paid in the coming months as part of the company’s reorganization.
“When it became apparent the delayed payment was creating hardship in our hometowns, we sought special approval from the court to pay these taxes in Routt County and communities where we operate,” Blank said.
The county, as well as the Steamboat Pilot & Today, had filed last week for access to the settlement agreement through a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) filing. County Manager Tom Sullivan said County Attorney Erick Knaus played a role in the process of accessing the details.
Horn forwarded Sullivan’s request to Peabody, and Knaus contacted the Board of Commissioners’ bankruptcy attorney John Bernstein of the legal firm Kutak Rock, who negotiated the receipt of a copy of the agreement, emphasizing the need to make the document public.
“I appreciate the statement by Peabody in (their) letter, that they ‘recognize (the county’s) interest in a transparent process enabling a better understanding about the agreement,’” Sullivan said.
Peabody was cleared by a federal bankruptcy judge over the summer to pay overdue property taxes to jurisdictions where it operates in Routt County and beyond. However, Horn insisted that Colorado law prevented her from accepting the taxes without also receiving interest that had accrued on the taxes.
Asked this week if her company had encountered conditions of acceptance similar to those of Horn’s in other counties where it operates coal mines, Peabody’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Beth Sutton replied in writing, “We have been pleased to resolve the payment process in other communities where we operate.”
While Horn and her attorney Steve Klenda, of Klenda Gessler and Blue, worked through the negotiations, the Colorado Department of Education advanced $1 million to the South Routt School District to keep it financially viable while it waited for the overdue taxes, and the Routt County Board of Commissioners loaned the South Routt Medical Center $55,403.
In a formal summation of the settlement document dated Oct. 28 and labeled a “Confidential and Inadmissible Settlement Communication,” Peabody Vice President of Tax Compliance and Reporting Robert F. Bruer acknowledged his company would submit $1,798,462.38 representing the principle amount of overdue taxes, as well as $100,774.45 in interest on those taxes.
“The debtors will promptly pay $65,197.65 to Klenda, Gessler and Blue, counsel for the Routt County treasurer, in full satisfaction of all amounts incurred related to work performed in connection with the tax claim,” Bruer also wrote.
In an apparent reference to the Board of Commissioners and the editorial board of the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Horn said in a written news release, “While I had overwhelming support from the community, I am disappointed in those who pressured me to break Colorado law. The county cannot be short-sighted when it comes to collecting taxes and we must treat everyone fairly.”
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Wednesday, Nov. 24