Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus on Monday evening defended her office once again against accusations that she and her staff caused 2019 tax statements to be mailed out late.
As in 2018, the accusations come from Ellis County Treasurer Lisa Schlegel, this time in a Treasury Newsletter delivered to mailboxes the past few days with 2019 tax statements.
Maskus, as she did in 2018, said Schlegel’s accusation isn’t true.
“I feel that making attacks on other people or departments is absolutely uncalled for,” Maskus said in her statement to the Ellis County Commission during their regular meeting Monday evening. “Taxpayers do not need to pay for misleading information that attacks others, now or ever.”
Maskus explained Monday what she has said previously, that the delay occurs when her office is forced to wait on information required by law from other taxing entities, particularly those outside the county.
“We did have to wait on a taxing district to get us tax information before we could go any further with the tax process,” Maskus said on Monday. “The treasurer was informed of this fact.”
Maskus told the commissioners that her office was in daily contact with Schlegel’s office on the tax roll process. Despite that, “false information was included in the tax statements in the form of a newsletter,” she said.
Schlegel in her November newsletter put blame squarely on the clerk’s office.
“The Clerk said she had all the outside entity’s information on Nov. 1,” Schlegel’s newsletter read. “However, I am disappointed the tax roll was delivered by the Clerk to the Treasurer late again this year. Taxpayers called asking how much they owed, and again they waited. Since 2012 the tax roll was received between two and three weeks late each year.”
Maskus in her comments to the commission said the tax rolls were delivered Nov. 8 to Schlegel in both 2018 and 2019. State law requires they be delivered Nov. 1, but clerks around the state acknowledge missing the deadline when one overlapping taxing district has to wait on another for data, including, sometimes, from the state of Kansas.
That was the case this year as Maskus’ office carried out verification with the state’s Kansas Property Valuation Department.
“The Kansas Property Valuation Department is made up of two new staff personnel, and the one PVD staff that could handle our question was on vacation the entire week, which halted our progress in completing the tax roll,” Maskus said.
Schlegel relies on information from Maskus’ office to prepare each county resident’s property tax statement.
“Receiving the tax roll on time gives citizens the ability to pay earlier before the holidays and allows me to invest those funds longer before distributing them to local tax entities in the County,” Schlegel wrote in her newsletter. “That translates to extra interest income for Ellis County, but more importantly, more notice and time for taxpayers.”
Maskus, a 40-year employee of the office and more recently the elected official, has explained in the past that her employees key tax data into Computer Information Concepts Inc. software to calculate the different mill levies for all the various taxing districts in Ellis County.
The data is gathered from many different counties and other taxing entities, as well as the state of Kansas. It includes values related to real estate, personal property, utilities, oil and gas, special assessments and others.
Ellis County shares data with Barton, Rush, Russell, Rooks and Trego counties. The counties overlap various school districts, fire districts, cemetery districts, tax increment districts, rural housing districts, extension districts and other taxing entities.
After listening to Maskus’ comments, Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst commended Maskus and her staff.
“I will tell you, I have not received my taxes in Russell County yet, so yes, you are definitely ahead of our neighbors across the county line,” Haselhorst said.
Commissioner Butch Schlyer said he’d received his tax statement in the mail and noted that the county’s year-long effort to cut costs and accommodate a huge budget shortfall had paid off.
“I received my real estate taxes this week, like most of us did,” Schlyer said. “My taxes went up a dollar.”
Haselhorst said he’s heard numerous comments from taxpayers who are happy the county didn’t have to raise taxes to solve its budget crisis.
“People were so excited, their taxes went down,” Haselhorst said. “One guy said, ‘My taxes went down 50 cents.’”
“That’s what it takes,” said Commissioner Dustin Roths.
“On a list where you don’t want to be No. 1, you want to be No. 105, we are No. 105 in all the counties in the state,” Roths said. “It’s nice to see we keep our property taxes, per valuation, the lowest in the state.”
Haselhorst mentioned County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes, who throughout the year-long budget process has kept the county’s budget crisis in the forefront, presenting options for bringing costs in line with revenue.
After three years with Ellis County, Smith-Hanes is leaving for a new job as administrator of Saline County, where he and his family will be closer to his mother.
“You did a great job, you got us where we need to be budget-wise,” Haselhorst told Smith-Hanes. “You are truly going to be missed … you did an awesome job and you’re going to be tough to be replaced, but you never know, someday you may venture back to Ellis County, and if that happens I think you’d be well received to come back.”