Routt County treasurer withholding tax money from Steamboat after tax error discovered
April 18, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn is withholding more than $100,000 of tax revenue from the city of Steamboat Springs as a way to recover tax dollars Horn claims the county has mistakenly been paying to the city for more than a decade.
The $117,078 of tax money the treasurer claims the city needs to repay includes $8,672 of interest, despite the blame for the tax error reportedly falling on the county, not the city.
Horn informed the city of the tax mistake and her plan to withhold tax dollars in a letter she sent via email Monday.
The treasurer’s office also mailed a hard copy of the letter five blocks down the street to City Hall.
The city was still reviewing the letter and figuring out how to respond Wednesday.
The letter, which Horn drafted with the help of an outside attorney in Denver, prompted some of Horn’s fellow elected officials at the county to call for a more collaborative approach to resolving the issue with the city.
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Horn claimed the county has mistakenly been overpaying the city its share of road-and-bridge taxes since 2004, when the city created an urban renewal authority.
The mistake wasn't discovered until this year when County Finance Director Dan Strnad said he found that the city was apparently getting paid twice for the road-and-bridge taxes.
The error was discovered after the county started using a new form of software to process tax payments.
"In effect, Steamboat appears to have inadvertently 'double dipped,'" Horn wrote in her letter.
The mistake totaled $151,872, but Horn said the county could only legally request $108,405 of the overpayment because of a six-year statute of limitations on any claims.
She said she is legally required to collect interest from the city on the repayment despite the mistake being made by the county.
Horn's letter included several mentions to legal cases and informed the city she was withholding further road and bridge tax payments until the overpayments had been recovered.
At a hearing with the county commissioners Tuesday, Horn blamed the tax payment mistake on Strnad and said she had documentation to prove it.
Strnad said he doesn't remember making such a mistake and hadn't seen the documentation mentioned by Horn.
"If I did something wrong, I'll own it," he said. "But I don't know what I did though."
He said he has been focused on helping resolve the issue with the city, and he was critical of Horn’s use of an outside attorney to help respond to the error.
“Shouldn’t we talk first before we bring in attorneys?” Strnad asked. “You would think we could talk to each other, the city and the county, and we could say ‘we made a mistake.'”
After Horn blamed Strnad for the mistake, County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said the treasurer's office is responsible for property tax distributions, not the finance department.
Horn did not respond to a phone call Wednesday to discuss the tax error.
She told the newspaper in January she was no longer answering questions from the local media.
Some of Horn's fellow elected county officials also appeared concerned by the manner in which the treasurer is trying to recover the tax revenue from the city.
Two county commissioners told the treasurer they aren't interested in collecting the interest on the overpayments because it was a county mistake, and it didn't appear the city did anything wrong.
They also said the city and the county have forged a stronger working relationship in recent years.
"It would be nice to work collaboratively with our partners on 10th Street," Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said after she mentioned the letter Horn sent to the city.
"OK, but I have to take care of the mess that was taken by your finance director for 2004 because he miscalculated since then, and we have the documentation to prove it," Horn responded.
City Manager Gary Suiter said the city's finance director was working to verify the numbers in Horn's letter while City Attorney Dan Foote was reviewing the legal citations in the document.
Suiter said he’d bring the issue soon to the city council for discussion.