(Update: The ZOOM link for the Jan. 6 hearing now appears at the end of this story.)
Glacier County officials will be back in the courtroom on Jan. 6 to continue the hearing on Glacier County’s motion to spend a portion of the money being held in the Protested Tax Fund. The time allotted for the hearing on Dec. 16 limited the hearing to opening comments by both sides and the testimony of one witness.
District Judge Kaydee Snipes Ruiz continued the hearing to Jan. 6, starting at 8:30 a.m. Plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2017, are Jeff Gottlob, Elaine Mitchell, James Childress, et al with the defendants listed as Michael DesRosier, Ron Rides At The Door, Tom McKay, John Overcast, Galen Galbreath, Don Wilson and Glacier County.
At the Dec. 16 hearing, Glacier County Attorney Terryl Matt, Glacier County Commission Chair Mary Jo Bremner and Special Counsel Kirk Evenson appeared in person before Judge Ruiz in the Hill County District Court. Commissioners Michael DesRosier and John Overcast attended the hearing via Zoom from the Glacier County District Court. Great Falls attorney Lawrence Anderson and Elaine Mitchell also appeared in person before Judge Ruiz. Members of the public were in attendance in both courtrooms.
During the two hour hearing, Matt argued Glacier County officials should be allowed to spend a portion of the $2.4 million in protested taxes currently being held. The amount, $223,184, was determined by Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Chancy Kittson.
Anderson pointed to Glacier County’s audit “deficiencies” and “material weaknesses” as well as “misstated” financial statements and the repeated overspending of funds among the reasons for questioning the county’s “methodology” for determining the amount “excess” amount of protested taxes they should be allowed to spend at this time.
“Each audit says the county is not able to reconcile cash in the protested tax fund…how can you deal with a motion to spend what is in the fund?” asked Anderson.
Matt countered the auditors pointed to a discrepancy in the protested tax fund “that has to be accounted for and the county has done that.”
CFO Kittson was the first and only witness called by Matt during the Dec. 16 hearing. Kittson explained the process he used to determine the “discrepancy” in the protested tax fund, which Matt said was $223,184 and Kittson agreed.
Ed Street, a certified public accountant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was hired by Glacier County and “verified” Kittson’s findings.
On his cross-examination of Kittson, Anderson introduced Glacier County’s audits dating back several years, highlighting many of the findings by the auditors, including those related to the protested tax fund and violations of state law.
Anderson also challenged Kittson’s methodology for determining the “discrepancy” amount in the fund. At one point Kittson responded, “I guess at this point, reading it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense…”
Anderson asked Kittson if Street was asked to reconcile the county’s protested tax fund or evaluate Kittson’s calculations, to which Kittson responded, “No.”
Anderson pointed out that Mitchell, one of the named plaintiffs in the tax protest case, was not listed on the county’s report prepared by Kittson. Mitchell originally protested the second half of her 2014 taxes in May 2015 and then filed her first lawsuit against the county within 90 days as required by state law.
Anderson asked Kittson if anyone “double checked” the information on protested tax reports and the completed spreadsheets. Not that he was aware of, responded Kittson.
Anderson cited other discrepancies where taxpayers who paid taxes under protest were not listed in Kittson’s report, concluding to the Court the system used by county officials was flawed.
With several witnesses left to testify from both sides, Judge Ruiz set the continuation date for the hearing on Jan. 6, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Due to a conflict with scheduling, attorneys from both sides agreed to split the cost of hiring a court reporter for the hearing.
The public may attend the hearing in person in Hill County District Court, Glacier County District, or via Zoom. Those attending via Zoom are reminded to mute their microphones.
Here is the zoom link for the hearing:
Meeting ID: 943 0849 4718
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