Assessor, Collector Spar Over Tax Bills - The Missourian: County

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Assessor, Collector Spar Over Tax Bills

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Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2014 11:00 am

Franklin County Assessor Tom Copeland this week accused County Collector of Revenue Linda Emmons of violating state law, saying she adjusted or abated the taxes of certain taxpayers.

But Emmons said the county assessor’s office prior to Copeland’s tenure “screwed over” taxpayers by inflating their property values. Moreover, Emmons said she was told by an official in the assessor’s office prior to Copeland’s tenure that she had the right to make refunds if the assessor’s office had overcharged someone.

But Copeland said Emmons did not have such a right.

“Missouri statutes are quite clear regarding the process and methods available to taxpayers to have their tax assessment reviewed or mistakes addressed,” Copeland stated in a news release. “The collector’s office has absolutely no part in the process.”

The controversy comes after draft recommendations from the county’s outside auditor, Nichols, Stopp, VanHoy of St. Louis, were released by the county commission this week.

Tax abatements in the collector’s office have been occurring without following the proper approval process, according to the draft audit findings.

“I have in my possession documents and reports which clearly show that Mrs. Emmons adjusted or abated the taxes of certain taxpayers,” Copeland stated in a news release issued Thursday.

But Emmons maintains that she committed no wrongdoing and that Copeland is trying to paint a picture that she adjusted bills for whoever asked.

Tax Bill Changes

Copeland alleged that there were a few instances of adjusted or abated taxes that stood out including abating all the taxes owed by Emmons’ family member on a motor vehicle; and not forcing a former employer of Emmons’ husband to pay taxes on a 2007 Cadillac Escalade.

Emmons said she was unaware of the situation with the vehicle of her husband’s former boss until the auditor brought it to her attention. She said it is untrue that she would have abated taxes to help her husband’s former employer.

After the situation was brought to her attention, she said she called the former boss, who said he had given the vehicle to his daughter.

The daughter thought her dad had paid the taxes and he thought the daughter had paid the taxes. The confusion has since been cleared up, and the bill has been paid, Emmons said.

As for the family member having all taxes abated on a vehicle, Emmons said that case involved her sister and was handled the same way as it would have been for any taxpayer.

Emmons said the vehicle that taxes were abated on did not run and was unlicensed. Taxes on such vehicles do not have to be paid until they are repaired, she said.

Emmons said she has not made any tax bill adjustments for the purpose of benefiting friends, family or herself.

Copeland added, “No one is alleging that Mrs. Emmons has engaged in criminal misconduct. No one has ever said she personally benefited from these actions.”

Values Skyrocket?

Emmons acknowledged that she adjusted real estate tax bills after the assessor’s office prior to Copeland’s tenure implemented a new software system that resulted in taxpayers’ property values skyrocketing.

At the time, the assessor’s office would not help the taxpayers even though it was known the bills were wrong, she said.

“They (assessor’s office) wouldn’t correct them,” Emmons said.

She said she was told by an official in the assessor’s office prior to Copeland’s tenure that she could make a refund if the assessor’s office had overcharged someone.

Copeland said, “I submit that improper conduct engaged in by Mrs. Emmons was ongoing before I took office. No one from the assessor’s office under my watch ever told Mrs. Emmons that she had the authority to change property values or taxes.”

He added, “Mrs. Emmons never asked me about the practice nor did she ever discuss the practice with me. Mrs. Emmons claims that she has the authority to adjust taxes when a written request is made. Such claim is entirely erroneous, she has no such authority.”

Emmons said she asked for something in writing to say that she had the authority to write refunds to “cover my backside.”

Now she says, “Looking back today and all the problems it’s caused me I wish I would have gotten an attorney’s opinion.”

Emmons said she listened to the official and now she is in trouble for what she did because “someone in my office reported it to the auditors.”

She said she approved the tax bill changes and the county commission signed off on them.

Political?

Meanwhile, Emmons said she thinks the controversy is an attempt to have her defeated in the primary election, which is less than two weeks away. She said she thinks the release of this information was planned by a few people.

Emmons said she does not know how many bills she adjusted or the total value that was changed.

First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said thousands of dollars of real estate taxes were abated improperly, according to the draft audit findings. But Emmons said that was money the county should have never had to begin with.

The draft audit findings also said that there is a lack of computer software compatibility between the assessor’s office and the collector’s office.

Copeland said all of the alleged problems could have been “prevented or detected earlier if the software programs utilized by my office and Mrs. Emmons were compatible.”

He added, “I have tried to get Mrs. Emmons for several years to address this matter, but Mrs. Emmons balks at the idea and refuses to do so.”

Copeland also said Emmons “improperly accepts installment payments on tax bills from taxpayers.”

Missouri law only allows payment on an installment basis if approved by the governing body, which, he said, has not occurred in Franklin County.

Emmons said she does in fact allow some people in dire straits to make installment payments on delinquent taxes.

Copeland said it has taken his entire first term in office to develop a good rapport between his office and the county property owners.

“It is a travesty that an elected official can jeopardize this rapport through false allegations used to cover her wrongdoing,” Copeland said in the release.

Emmons said it is hard to take the criticism from Copeland.

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