• WQTC 102.3

Dropped phone on keyboard = $6 million tax error

Residents of one Utah county are looking at an unexpected increase in property taxes -- all because someone probably dropped a telephone on a computer keyboard.

At least, that's the only explanation anyone can come up with for how a gross over-estimation of one property's taxable value happened -- a mistake that's resulted in Wasatch County being stuck with a massive tax revenue shortfall this year.

As reported by the Deseret News, it all begins with a modest, 1,570 square-foot home built in 1978 on two acres in an unincorporated corner of the county.  Its 2019 value, assessed for taxes last May, should have been around $302,000.  But somehow, its value was entered into the books as more than $987 million dollars -- a 3,268 times over-valuation.

And nobody noticed.

Here's the problem with that.  That single property's grossly over-inflated tax assessment affected the county's expected tax revenue for the year.  They were expecting a tax windfall of more than $6 million, and they approved county budgets accordingly.

It wasn't until October that the error was spotted, when a county auditor was looking at a list of the county's top 25 taxpayers that he noticed the #1 taxpayer was paying way the heck more than anyone else.

So how did it happen?  According to County Assessor Maureen Griffiths, "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. That’s how crazy it was.”

The error was corrected, but far too late.  Now the county has to figure out how to make up that $6 million income shortfall.  That'll mean both budget cuts -- the county schools will take the biggest hit -- and higher taxes on county residents.

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