When we think of a clerical error, we think of some niggling problem that messes up an account by a few cents here or a few dollars there.
Not so in Wasatch County, Utah, where a mammoth error recording the value of a home led the county to value the property at nearly $1 billion, projecting a huge increase in the total tax base that did not really exist.
Tax rates are determined based on the value of the property in the county.
In this case, budgets for schools and other public services were developed using these rates.
When the error was finally caught, that meant that the rates — set using the wrong value — were not going to provide as much revenue as expected.
The ramifications of the mistake are such that when the Wasatch County Council was meeting to deal with the mistake, Council Chairman Danny Goode uttered a brief prayer.
“Dear God, help us all,” he said, according to the Deseret News.
The Wasatch County School District is going to be about $4.4 million short in revenue.
District spokesman John Moss said the damage is less than it could have been.
“Fortunately, when news of the projected one-year 21% increase in overall property value for Wasatch County was received, the district chose to remain somewhat conservative in building the 2019-20 school district budget,” Moss said in a statement to the Deseret News. “Because of these conservative projections, the impact of the lost funding will be managed by the district over the next few years, even though there will be some significant negative impact felt in select areas.”
Fixing this fiscal fiasco won’t be easy, as taxpayers will be paying in the coming years for the mistake.
In fact, officials think taxes over the next three years might have to be higher than they would have been otherwise just to deal with the ramifications of one mistake.
That mistake was a whopper.
A 1,570-square-foot house built in 1978 on two acres of land was recorded as having a market rate value of more than $987 million, which using county taxation formulas would have meant a taxable value of roughly $543 million. Its actual taxable value was $302,000, the Deseret News reported, citing county records.
Exactly how the mistake was made is a mystery, and that irks some officials
“An abnormality of almost $1 billion is a big deal, and it should have been caught,” County Manager Mike Davis told the outlet. “There are checks in place that it should have been looked at. We will modify those in the future and do a better job.”
County Assessor Maureen Griffiths called the error “horrific” and “bizarre.”
“I’m thinking it was a data entry that would be something like they dropped their phone on the keyboard and it kicked out all these numbers without verifying,” she said. “That’s how crazy it was.”
The error made it appear that the county’s overall property value grew by 21 percent, but even that did not send up a red flag.
“Nobody was surprised the values were going up. Nobody,” she said. “But we’re going to check it moving forward, that yes, the values are going up, but are they going up that much?”
“It’s very unfortunate,” she said. “We’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt our people again.”
The mistake was likely made in May, but not discovered until October when Clerk-Auditor Cal Griffiths was examining a list of top taxpayers.
“I saw this humongous number, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty big,’” he said.
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