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Decimal Point On Ballot Could Cost County Quarter Million Dollars

Decimal Point On Ballot Could Cost County Quarter Million Dollars

By Mike Scott

“Essentially, the wording on the ballot was erroneous,” said Joe Martin, Chief of Staff to Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee.

That error could cost the county about a quarter million dollars for the Road and Bridge department, a total of about one-half of its local budget.

At issue is Clark County’s long standing 35-cent additional tax levy for road and bridges. In August, voters overwhelmingly re-approved the ballot question “Shall the Common Road District of Clark County continue to levy an additional tax rate of .35 cents on the hundred dollars valuation for a period of four (4) years?”

On August 15, the county was notified that the auditor’s office would not certify the tax levy at 35 cents per $100 valuation. Instead, it certified the tax rate at 35/100th of a cent per $100 valuation, which reflects the actual ballot language.

“What we want to do is make sure taxpayers are paying a rate they actually approved,” Martin said.

The ballot language was identical to previously certified ballots, according to Clark County Clerk Leih Ann Hayden.
“This levy amount was passed by our voters several times in the past 25 years,” said Hayden. “I have the letters showing it has been certified by previous auditors.”

Asked about the many previous certifications, Martin responded, “Under previous administrations, that may have been looked at differently.” Martin provided The Media with a copy of letter, sent to county clerks and election officials on August 2, 2007, which specifically addresses the decimal point issue, which had been found in over 20 ballots across the state. The letter explains that .xx cents is not the same as xx cents, and asks clerks to work with any political subdivision to correct their levy language. It also encourages political subdivisions that have a non-compliant levy to seek legal counsel to resolve the issue for future years.

“My office cannot certify a rate higher than that specifically authorized in the ballot wording. Any political subdivision that has used a ballot to set, increase or change their rate by or to .xx cents will only be authorized such rate, increase or change as specifically authorized in the ballot (i.e. an increase of or to $0.00xx). Any political subdivision choosing to levy a rate higher that the certified rate will receive a letter on noncompliance,” the letter from Missouri Auditor Susan Montee states.

Hayden said she received the letter, but didn’t think it applied to Clark County because her ballots had been repeatedly certified in the past.

Earlier in October, the Auditor’s office has turned the matter over to the Missouri Attorney General’s office, which has informed the county of it’s intent to take the county to court to enforce the Hancock Amendment, prohibits any political subdivision from levying a new tax or increasing the levy on an existing tax without specific approval of the voters.

If the county can only collect taxes at the 35/100th of a cent per $100 rate, it will reduce the revenue in the road and bridge department by approximately $250,000.

At County Collector Twila Harper’s office, tax statements, which include the 35-cent road and bridge levy have been printed, and will be mailed this week.

“I’m going to have to separate that 35 cents as the taxes come in,” Harper said. That money will be kept in escrow until the courts settle the issue.

The Clark County Commissioners have retained an attorney through the Missouri Association of Counties to fight the matter.

The 35-tax levy will also appear on the November 4 ballot. If passed, that could not take effect until the 2009 taxes are levied, so it will not help the current situation.

On Thursday, October 22, the commissioners released the following statement:
“The Clark County Commission would like to explain the reason for the 35 cent levy for Road and Bridge that will be on the ballot on November 4, 2008. The levy was also on the August 5, 2008 ballot and passed by approximately a two to one margin. The State Auditor will not certify the ballot language because of a decimal point in front of the 35 on the August ballot. The decimal point was certified for over 20 years by the Auditor’s Office, but now it is not acceptable. We are asking you to vote “YES” on November 4, 2008. This will make the 35 cent Road and Bridge levy certifiable.”