County judge rules against Cave Springs on mill­age money

Coun­cil to con­sider ap­peal to cir­cuit court

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - TOM SISSOM AND DOUG THOMP­SON

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County Judge Barry Moehring de­nied Cave Springs’ re­quest Mon­day to col­lect nearly $400,000 in prop­erty tax rev­enue.

Moehring said Mon­day he ruled in fa­vor of the county of­fi­cials who are with­hold­ing the money: Trea­surer Deanna Rat­cliffe, Col­lec­tor Glo­ria Peter­son and County Clerk Tena O’Brien.

“They never voted,” Moehring said of Cave Springs’ City Coun­cil’s ac­tions re­gard­ing the mill­age.

Cave Springs can ap­peal Moehring’s de­ci­sion to Ben­ton County Cir­cuit Court. The coun­cil will meet at 6:30 p.m. to­day at the Amer­i­can Le­gion, 168 Glen­wood Ave., to con­sider ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion, Mayor Travis Lee said.

“Surely the coun­cil will vote to do an ap­peal,” Lee said. “I can’t imag­ine why they wouldn’t.”

Coun­cil­man Larry Fletcher said he was dis­ap­pointed

in the rul­ing, but added he un­der­stands the ar­gu­ments on both sides.

“We have to re­assess our po­si­tion on whether or not the coun­cil wants to ap­peal that de­ci­sion,” Fletcher said.

The rul­ing was an­other re­cent set­back for the city. Ben­ton County Pros­e­cu­tor Nathan Smith an­nounced last week he has asked the Arkansas State Po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged fi­nan­cial wrong­do­ing in Cave Springs re­ported in a re­cent leg­isla­tive au­dit.

O’Brien was con­tacted in March by some­one who claimed Cave Springs hadn’t adopted a mill­age for 2016, ac­cord­ing to fil­ings.

Ci­ties and school dis­tricts must ap­prove and then no­tify the county each year of the prop­erty tax mill­age they in­tend to levy. All the mil­lages are in an or­di­nance adopted by the Quo­rum Court in Novem­ber.

O’Brien found the doc­u­ment pro­vided to her by Cave Springs was a copy of the city’s 2015 mill­age res­o­lu­tion. The only dif­fer­ence be­tween the 2015 res­o­lu­tion and the 2016 res­o­lu­tion sub­mit­ted by the city was a hand­writ­ten res­o­lu­tion num­ber.

The three county of­fi­cials asked for the County Court to de­cide whether the city prop­erly adopted the mill­age and the amount, to de­ter­mine what they should do with rev­enue al­ready col­lected and to dis­miss them from any li­a­bil­ity to the city. Moehring pre­sides over county court in his role as county judge.

The county sent the city $ 10,907 in 2016 pay­ments be­fore the dis­crep­ancy was found. The county has held tax re­ceipts pend­ing the res­o­lu­tion of the case.

Justin Eich­mann, city at­tor­ney, said in a hear­ing in County Court on Fri­day the mill­age would bring in an es­ti­mated $400,000, which is about one-quar­ter of the city’s bud­get.

Eich­mann ar­gued min­utes of City Coun­cil meet­ings de­tailed dis­cus­sions of a pro­posal to lower the mill­age showed the coun­cil in­tended for it to re­main at the 2015 level of 5 mills. He said the city’s bud­get, which shows rev­enue from the mill­age at

that rate, was an­other in­di­ca­tor of the coun­cil’s in­tent.

Eich­mann said Fri­day state law doesn’t re­quire an or­di­nance or a res­o­lu­tion, only the coun­cil “make out and cer­tify” the tax levy, and the min­utes and bud­get show the coun­cil wanted it to re­main the same.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion that Judge Moehring gave to this is­sue,” Eich­mann said. “I dis­agree with the de­ci­sion, how­ever, as I be­lieve that the city met the ba­sic re­quire­ments of the law.”

Ge­orge Spence, county at­tor­ney, ar­gued the coun­cil had a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity. Spence said at Fri­day’s hear­ing the coun­cil had to vote, that vote had to be recorded and that record sub­mit­ted to the county in order to meet the re­quire­ments of the law.

Moehring said he had asked Spence, as the pre­vail­ing at­tor­ney, to draft an order that he will re­view and sign.

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