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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Error causes over-billing for Wallace school bond tax levy

Wallace School District residents got a surprise in their property tax bills last month – a school bond payment that should have cost the average homeowner about $61 this year instead came out at $183. It was a mistake – the Idaho district had refinanced the 30-year bond that a decade ago built Wallace Junior-Senior High School, where 244 students now attend the 7th through 12th grade. That move two years ago was designed to save the local taxpayers money, not cost them more; all told, Superintendent Bob Ranells estimates it’ll save taxpayers $100,000 and also shorten the repayment period. But as the district transitioned from the old loan to the new one, an error occurred, and the amount the district certified to the county for tax bills for 2014 included both the new payment and the old one, tripling the amount that taxpayers were billed for the year. The actual bond payment that’s due for the year is $187,494; the amount the district certified to the county was $559,610. For the owner of a $150,000 house with a homeowner’s exemption, that’s the difference between $61.39 for the year and $183.22, according to Shoshone County Deputy Auditor Linda Daugherty. Asked if she’s been hearing a lot about the overbilling, Daugherty said, “Oh, yes.” Those amounts are for the full year; Idaho taxpayers can pay their property tax in two parts, so the first-half bills that went out, with a December payment date, were for half the amount, with the second payment due in June. Some taxpayers pay their full year’s taxes up-front; some pay in monthly payments through their mortgages. But even those receiving bills just for the first half of the year were billed triple what the first-half payment should have been. Now the question is what to do about it. Under state law, there are two options, and the call is up to the county commissioners: Re-calculate and re-bill, including sending out refunds where needed; or do nothing, letting this year’s overpayments hold over to cover future years’ bond payments. “It’s left at the discretion of the county commissioners,” said Alan Dornfest, property tax policy specialist for the Idaho State Tax Commission. “Our role is technical support. Our programmers are on top of this and are planning to help out, if and when the commissioners give us the green light.” Ranells said, “My recommendation is that we go back and re-calculate and have it be right.” He said a ballpark estimate for the cost to re-calculate, re-bill and refund is about $4,000, but it’s worth it. “I understand people are always anxious about taxes, for sure – just like I am,” Ranells said. “We want it to be accurate and correct.” As required by state law, the county commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on which way they should go. It’s set for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the courtroom in the public safety building in Wallace, 717 Bank St. “We will have the hearing and listen to the public, and we’ll make our decisions on basically what the people testify at the hearing,” said County Commission Chairman Larry Yergler. “It’ll be a decision of the board.” He said the commissioners, too, have been hearing from taxpayers.