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Calaveras County Owes State Millions

Calaveras County owes the state of California $5 million for keeping more than its share of taxes for more than 25 years, county Auditor Linda Churches said.

In 1978, Assembly Bill 8 was passed telling counties how to allocate property taxes between it and schools under Proposition 13.

“Almost every county had errors (in implementing the allocations),” Churches said. “We kept money we should have given to the schools.”

The schools weren´t hurt, she said. The state back fills money so schools maintain a certain funding level. The county simply kept tax money it should have passed on.

A state audit that covered Calaveras County´s finances from 1978 to 1992 revealed the error had not been fixed.

By that time most counties had fixed the errors and were forgiven by the state through legislation, Churches said.

But Calaveras County´s auditor refused to fix the error, Churches told the Board of Supervisors during final budget hearings last week.

In 1993, the auditor responded to the state´s audit by saying, “‘It´s unreasonable to expect us to go back and change these items that were 14 years old, when you should have come forward earlier to let us know we were doing it wrong,´” Churches said.

A second state audit from 1992 to 1997 pointed out the error again but Churches said at that time “our office was embroiled in a massive computer system implementation. … Getting to fix this problem from 1978 was not high on the priority list for me either.”

As a result, the county received in excess of $5 million more than it should have since 1978.

“I did mention to the (Board of Supervisors) several times over the years (that) eventually we would have to hire a consultant to do this or hire more staff,” Churches said.

This year, Churches´ staff finally went back and fixed the error, she said.

She said she´s contacted Assemblyman Dave Cogdill´s office, R-Modesto, to let him know Calaveras County would be coming to him soon asking for some sort of forgiveness legislation.

She´s waiting for the latest state audit, 1998 to 2003, which is nearing completion. The county will need to respond to the draft audit and wait for that to be incorporated into the final audit. That´s a few months down the road, Churches said.

Calaveras is one of the last county´s to fix the error, Churches said.

Tuolumne County was forgiven for its errors last spring, she said.

Calaveras is not a shoo-in for forgiveness since it was one of the only counties that refused to fix the error, Churches told the board.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click:calaverasenterprise.com