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Routt County Must Treat Taxpayers Equally

Every day, fellow community members who face hard times come to the Treasurers
Office and ask for a break on the interest and fees from non-payment or late
payment of taxes. Some dont have money to buy groceries for their families. The
county is not authorized to offer them special relief.
Why should the Treasurers Office treat a company differently? Thats exactly what
Peabody Energy is asking of Routt County. Its unlawful and unfair.
Peabody Energy recently declared bankruptcy and did not pay its property tax bill of
$1.8 million. Peabody got permission from the bankruptcy court to pay its taxes, but
Peabody will pay only if Routt County reduces it by $91,723.
According to state law, the Treasurers Office is not permitted to reduce or waive
taxes, fees, or interest for amounts greater than $50. Peabody requested that the
Routt County Treasurers Office ignore state statute to cut the company a special
deal.
This law exists for good reasons. As officers entrusted with collecting taxes, we must
treat everyone equally. For this office to cut deals for some taxpayers while
making others pay in full would be unfair and would erode public trust.
Fortunately, Peabody has money to pay its taxes. The company recently received
permission from the bankruptcy court to pay executives $16 million in bonuses. Im
disturbed that the company is playing hardball and demanding special treatment at
the expense of Routt County citizens.
Because Peabody has money to pay its taxes due, this issue boils down to whether
the county treats everyone equally regarding tax collection, or whether larger and
more politically-connected taxpayers are held to a different standard.
Peabodys delinquency creates a cash crunch and the Treasurers Office is working
hard to find a solution. The good news is that we will get paid with interest and fees.
In bankruptcy court, property taxes are the first items to be paid. While in
bankruptcy, Peabody must pay tax bills, including interest and penalties on time.
For delinquent taxes, Routt County can speed up the process. First, the county will
ask the court to tell Peabody that it authorized the company to pay all of its
delinquent property taxes, not just a portion. Second, the county can ask the court
to allow the county to proceed with its normal fall sale of delinquent taxes. That
way, the county receives the funds as in other tax cases and Peabody will pay the
buyer at the end of bankruptcy. The county already has interest from potential
buyers.
Finally, other sources may help county services cover any short-term financial gaps.
The South Routt County School District received an emergency, zero-interest loan
from the state to cover costs. And Routt County has $10 million in cash reserves, so
the county might be able to loan those funds to others as the bankruptcy proceeds.

I am committed to working with our community members to resolve this quickly and
equitably. Routt County citizens deserve a government that treats citizens equally
not one that bows to politically-powerful entities.
Our countys citizens repeatedly have told me that they appreciate that I will stand
up for them against a large corporation pulling political strings. Unfortunately,
Peabody is not the only one facing tough times, but the company must pay its bill
just like everyone who loses a job, faces a bankruptcy, or faces financial issues.
By law, if this office cant offer a tax break to a single mom who worries about
feeding her children, Im not going to offer one to a corporation that just received
permission to pay executives $16 million in bonuses.
Brita Horn, Routt County Treasurer