By Timothy Cox
Property tax bills that arrived in Mercer County property owners' mailboxes last week erroneously show the amount of taxes that go to the county's Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities (MR/DD) program.
The issue has MR/DD officials concerned because they plan to seek a new property tax levy in November and don't want taxpayers under the false impression taxes for the program already have gone up.
All numbers of the tax duplicates are correct, except for one of the tiny boxes in the lower left corner of the bill that shows the breakdown of where property taxes are distributed. The box marked CA School is where MR/DD tax collections are shown, but the figure is off because it also includes the 1-mill tax for the Mercer County Home.
The MR/DD program and the county home are separate entities but the new county home tax revenue has been reflected with the MR/DD money for the first two property tax payment cycles since the county home tax took effect.
"We thought it was going to be fixed, but then it showed up again," MR/DD Superintendent Mike Overman said. MR/DD officials are in the middle of a fiscal and programs analysis to help them determine how much money to seek as part of an anticipated levy attempt in November. The MR/DD board is expected to vote in July to ask county commissioners to place a levy on the ballot for the program.
Overman said he already has been asked by some people about the apparent increase in the portion of their taxes dedicated to MR/DD programs. Explaining away something that is written in black and white is not always easy, he said.
"I know we're going to spend some time explaining that to people between now and November," Overman said. "We have to let them know the extra they're paying under CA is actually going to the county home."
The tax bills are prepared by Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige, who is on vacation this week. Treasurer Doris Rutschilling, who collects the payments, said county officials are aware of the situation.
"I don't know if the computer program can break it out on its own," Rutschilling said of the county home tax. "That's the reason it was lumped together."
Some taxpayers have asked questions, wanting to know where the county home tax is reflected on their bill, she said.
Rutschilling said she would discuss the issue with the county's data processing department to try to reach a solution.
The MR/DD program has not sought any new revenue since 1999 when voters approved a 1.94-mill property tax levy to expand programming and meet the needs of a growing clientele. That levy was renewed by voters in May 2004 for another five years.
MR/DD employs about 60 part- and full-time employees who serve more than 300 developmentally challenged individuals ranging in age from infants to senior citizens.
A new levy is necessary, Overman said, to avoid cutting programs. In addition to other budget pressures, the agency will be hit with a $300,000 loss in annual revenue when a state Medicaid reimbursement plans lapses after today.