The Warren County Commission and the Warren County Collector of Revenue have been engaged in a legal battle for almost a year now over whether the commission can order late fees to be waived from a 2017 tax bill.

We think it’s time for this lawsuit to go away, and for Warren County residents to be freed from these growing legal bills.

The matter started in early 2018, when a taxpayer came to the county commission asking for relief from late fees on a 2017 tax bill she said she mailed on time. She said she mailed the check along with another tax payment, and that the collector’s office must have lost the check or accidentally thrown it away.

The taxpayer did not present bank records to show the transaction in question ever happened. Collector of Revenue Julie Schaumberg has disputed the taxpayer’s claims that the payment had been lost or thrown away in the collector’s office. The county commissioners faulted Schaumberg’s bookkeeping methods. They ordered Schaumberg to waive the late fees for this taxpayer and accept a new check for the original amount.

Schaumberg refused, arguing that Missouri law requires her to collect penalties on all late payments, and that the taxpayer had no way to prove she mailed a payment on time. The commissioners filed a lawsuit in April, seeking a judge’s order to force Schaumberg to comply with their ruling.

We still are waiting for the judge’s ruling, with a trial scheduled in June 2019.

Meanwhile, the taxpayer the commissioners have been defending, who started 2018 owing a $93 late fee, relented and paid her bill at the end of 2018. By then the late fee had grown to $238. The county commission has spent more than $26,000 in attorney fees to defend a taxpayer who originally owed less than $100 in penalties.

At $330 per hour, the commission spends more on its attorney for a half day of work than this taxpayer owed on the entire bill that was in dispute.

Add to that, the collector’s office has more than $10,000 in attorney fees waiting for clearance to pay out of a special fund maintained by the county, to be used at her discretion as the county collector. Schaumberg has threatened a counter-lawsuit if the same county commission that is suing her doesn’t allow her to use the fund to pay for her legal defense as the collector.

We don’t know how the situation escalated this far, or if this battle is more about personal conflicts rather than professional arguments. Whatever the cause, it seems to us that no one will be victorious in the end, and it’s costing Warren County residents the most.

We think it’s been long enough, and too costly. Our elected officials need to drop this lawsuit and work together for the betterment of all of Warren County’s citizens. And, just as important, they should agree to enforce our written tax laws equally and impartially.

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