Coupeville schools stuck with $158,000 mistake this year
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
May 12, 2010 · Updated 8:23 AM
Coupeville school officials were disappointed to learn Island County Assessor Dave Mattens won’t be able to resolve an error this year that cost the district $158,000.
In response, school officials are talking to local banks about a line of credit they can tap should the need arise. The loan will be available until the assessor’s office can correct the error by collecting an additional $158,000 from taxpayers next year.
Mattens’ office erred earlier in the year when a staff member inadvertently doubled the levy rollback the school board approved. The rollback is necessary to ensure the school district collects no more than the legal limit for its maintenance and operations levy.
A contrite Mattens attended Monday’s school board meeting and expressed regret about the error.
“I feel that I’m to blame,” Mattens said, noting that he is working with state agencies to make sure such an error doesn’t arise again.
When the error was discovered, school and county officials looked for some sort of loan to help the school district. However, the only statutory solution available is to collect the amount from taxpayers in 2011, Mattens said.
In a letter, Mattens suggested the school district dip into its own reserves to cover the error.
Superintendent Patty Page described that suggestion as disappointing. The school district generally keeps a minimum $600,000 balance to ensure there’s cash available in months where revenues are lower than expenses. Officials have been building up reserves recently to make sure the district can retain teachers and other staff when revenues from the state declines.
School board member Don Sherman said the school district has worked hard to build its reserves and he hated to see them depleted by an assessor’s office error.
The school district will likely file a claim with the county to get reimbursed for all costs associated with the assessor’s error and the line of credit.
Page said the school district wants its money back for the attorney fees, interest associated with the line of credit and the interest the school district would have earned on the $158,000.
“The school district doesn’t want to incur any costs as a result of the mistake,” Page said.
County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson attended the meeting but wouldn’t commit to whether the county would approve a claim. She said the commissioners would first need to see hard numbers and the parameters outlining what would be reimbursed.
The assessor’s error comes at a time when school officials are working with declining revenues, although the school district isn’t planning any layoffs for the 2010-2011 school year.
The county assessor’s office, too, is dealing with declining revenues. Mattens said recent county budget cuts caused a 19-percent staff reduction.
The school board approved a proposal allowing district staff to obtain a line of credit. Once the school district has numbers available on the costs associated with the levy error, officials will work with the county on a way to reimburse the school district.Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.