The Eastern District Appeals Court upheld the decision of a lower court on the dismissal of a lawsuit between the city and Terry Copeland, who is serving his second term as the city collector.
The opinion of the 20th District Circuit Court was affirmed by the appellate court Sept. 5.
The suit claimed that city ordinances reducing the collector’s salary and removing all duties of the office conflict with state statute. The ordinance was approved in 2009 as a cost-savings measure.
At that time, the city contracted collection services with Franklin County.
Copeland was first elected collector in 2010, six months after the city stripped the duties of the collector and contracted with the county.
By state statute, aldermen can set the salary of an elected position but cannot eliminate the position without a vote of the people, according to city officials.
In early 2016, a federal judge dismissed the first suit filed against the city by Copeland.
United States District Judge Carol E. Jackson said that Copeland did not lose any salary because he was not in office when the salary for the collector’s position was reduced.
A new case was then filed in the Franklin County Circuit Court 20th division and dismissed before being appealed to the Missouri Appeals Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling on the dismissal.
The civil suit did not indicate a specific amount of damages but rather requests the city pay punitive damages “in an amount that is fair and reasonable, and grant other proper relief,” and attorneys fees.
“At this point, the city’s position has been affirmed in three courts now,” said City Administrator Russell Rost. “We still feel confident in our position, but we understand his right to have access to the full process.”
Rost said he’s hopeful the suit — and the expenses of defending the suit — will be resolved soon.
Copeland can still request that the Missouri Supreme Court hear the case.
County Collection History
The county collector’s office began collecting for municipalities in 1998 when it started collecting for Washington.
In 2010, Union contracted with the county to collect its taxes. Each of the cities the county collects for is assessed a charge for the service.
The county charges the city about 2 percent of the total taxes collected. One and one-half percent of the total charge goes to the collector’s fund and one-half percent goes to the assessor’s fund.
That money goes to the general revenue fund and offsets the extra costs in each office.
In addition to the collector and assessor charges, the county collector and clerk each get a $2,000 commission for their services. This is because both are held personally accountable for the accuracy of their offices.
The benefits and payments to the city’s insurance provider totaled $60,398 for the city collector prior to contracting with Franklin County.
Another benefit to cities, officials told The Missourian when the case was filed, is that the county is better able to collect on delinquent bills.