Ellis County will lose almost $900,000 in oil valuation from its tax rolls in 2019 since the state just reduced the value of 37 low-producing oil properties in the county.
Changes like that affect the tax statements that Ellis County residents will receive in the mail later this year, said Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus.
Maskus has come under fire from Ellis County Treasurer Lisa Schlegel this year and in 2017. Schlegel claims Maskus is an obstruction to mailing tax statements more efficiently.
But Maskus said Tuesday she is not the hold up. There are many values needed to prepare the information Schlegel needs for the statements, Maskus said, and they come from a broad assortment of state and local entities outside the county that are not within the control of any county clerk.
“There are so many factors, we wait to hear back, because there are some levies and some values, from these outlying counties,” Maskus said. “Once we do get it — and last year it was early November — there’s still a detailed process. It’s not like you plug those in and you turn the tax roll over. There’s a lot of check and balance with the state. We work with the Property Valuation Department thoroughly.”
Ellis County Appraiser Lisa Ree’s staff worked Friday to update the tax roll to include the reduced values on the 37 oil properties, which are oil wells that produce less than five barrels a day. That information came from the State Board of Tax Appeals. And with more hearings to go, there are most likely more changes to come.
“She (Ree) said there’s probably 36 more, because they’re still waiting on the hearings,” Maskus said. “If there are any changes produced, then we process a tax roll adjustment.”
Schlegel took office in 2017 and at that time blamed Maskus for not getting needed data to the treasurer’s office so tax statements could be mailed earlier. Schlegel revisited her accusation Monday in a letter to the editor emailed to The Hays Daily News and printed on Page A4 of today's paper. On Tuesday Schlegel declined an interview and deferred to her letter.
“Kansas statute requires this information be sent by the Clerk’s office to the Treasurer by Nov. 1 every year, yet until I was elected no other elected officials made the public aware of what was going on, or in any way held the Clerk accountable for the consistent delinquency,” Schlegel wrote in the letter.
In her defense, Maskus said, Ellis and other counties throughout the state share a multitude of tax values and levies with one another to complete the needed information. Often one county is waiting on another, which holds up meeting the deadline.
“It is a complex situation,” Maskus said in an interview Tuesday. “We work with a lot of other taxing districts and counties to share that information and get it on the correct tax statements. We want those correct values and levies when they’re mailed out.”
Ellis County shares information with Barton, Rush, Russell, Rooks and Trego counties. The counties share different portions of various school districts, fire districts, cemetery districts, tax increment districts, rural housing districts, extension districts and other taxing entities that spill from one county to another.
The way the process works, Ellis County Appraiser Ree compiles the property values and provides them to Maskus’ office. The clerk’s office applies the taxable values and levies for each taxing district, and then the Treasurer processes and mails the tax statements.
“There are a lot of factors involved with the tax structure,” said Maskus, who’s worked in the clerk’s office for nearly 40 years. “We are very cautious with our process. Because we want those tax statements correct. They have to be correct.”
County clerks statewide are busy now gathering valuation data from all the taxing entities that affect a county’s mill levy, said Rooks County Clerk Ruthmary Muir, Stockton.
Many valuations go into the equation. Muir cited special assessments, big and small, like Rooks County’s Webster Irrigation District, for example, or fines that cities levy against individual property owners when they don’t mow their grass.
“You’re just always waiting on one thing or another,” Muir said. “Some clerks are waiting on schools. Everybody is always waiting on someone.”
She needs information from Ellis County for her values.
“I actually received Ellis County’s yesterday,” Muir said. “I haven’t sent mine out. I share with Graham, Osborne and Phillips counties too. I haven’t received anybody’s but Ellis County’s.”
Muir said she tries to make the November deadline, but usually gets hers completed within the first two weeks of November.
“I work with my treasurer and we work together,” she said. “It’s never really been a problem, my treasurer has never complained.”
Trego County Clerk Lori Augustine said it was the first or second week of November in 2017 before she had hers done. Augustine shares mostly school districts with other counties, but also other kinds of taxing entities.
“You can’t send anything to the treasurer’s office until you get all those levies,” Augustine said. “We want it to be right.”
But “there are all kinds of things that play into it that may make a county late,” she said.
For example, the Kansas Department of Revenue Division of Property Valuation determines the fair market value of public utility property such as pipelines and substations, then certifies to county clerks the amount of assessed valuation apportioned to each taxing unit. Augustine said that information is supplied the last business day of September, and no sooner.
“Every year we ask them to send them to us earlier,” Augustine said. “But they say no.”
Rushing to get valuations out can lead to added expense if tax statements turn out to be wrong.
“We had one year we rushed a county getting them to us,” Augustine recalls. “The clerk called and said after ‘My levy is wrong and you’re going to have to reprint your tax statements.’”
Augustine can sympathize with Maskus, now in her second four-year term.
“I had a treasurer who used to be the same way,” Augustine said of a previous treasurer no longer in office. “One year we had to rerun statements because she was in a toot. She didn’t do it again after that.”
David Lamb, immediate past president of the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials Association, is county clerk in Meade County. He also said it’s a problem at times to meet the Nov. 1 deadline because the counties have to wait on one another.
“I’m not positive I’ve ever gone past it,” Lamb said, noting that he only shares information with three counties. “I sit right on the state line, so I don’t have as many shared districts.”