County may owe state money

-A A +A
By David Giuliani

San Miguel County may owe the state more than $200,000 it collected in penalties and interest from delinquent taxpayers that was supposed to have gone to the state in the first place.

But county officials are hoping that the state will forgive the debt. Apparently, nearly all other counties have made the same mistake with penalties and interest.  

A few months ago, an official from the state Property Tax Division couldn’t reconcile the numbers when auditing the treasurer’s office. He then discovered that the county never complied with a law that took effect in 1991, which required the county to give a greater portion of penalties and interest to the state.

The county recently learned the amount it owed the state: $205,000. But County Treasurer Alfonso Ortiz said the state informed him that it was only a fraction of the real number because of problems in auditing.

“I’m hoping they’ll forgive,” the treasurer said. “I don’t get the impression that the state will say, ‘Pay it up.’ They’ll work with the county in trying to resolve this financial problem.”

The state has recommended the county get a new computer system for the treasurer’s office that can more easily apply the penalties and interest on late property tax payments.

“The urgency of the system can’t be overstated,” Ortiz said.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez said he, too, is optimistic the state will come to an agreement in which the county won’t have to pay the $205,000.

“I, for one, would like to make it very clear that Mr. Ortiz had no fault or blame for any of this underpayment. The Property Tax Division had acquiesced in the county’s interpretation (of the law); now they differ,” he said. “I was tempted to challenge the matter in court.”

Ortiz said nearly all other counties were not in compliance with the state’s interpretation of the state law for penalties and interest.