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Pott Co., Uncopiers tax dispute takes an unexpected turn

By The Mercury

Businesses seeking property-tax abatements in Pottawatomie County will likely receive closer scrutiny in the future.

County commissioners Monday heard an update on Uncopiers, Inc., a Manhattan area business which, for nearly a decade, has been at odds with the county over property taxes.

“This has just been an ongoing problem,” Appraiser Lois Schlegel said of Uncopiers. Schlegel, Treasurer Lisa Wright, and Counselor John Watt reviewed with commissioners the current status of the company, which operates in the Green Valley Business Park east of Manhattan.

The Uncopiers website says the firm’s mission is “to develop environmentally responsible solutions to critical problems” using a process called “liquid fracture.” The goal appears to be to remove toner from copier cartridges, rendering them environmentally safe for disposal. The firm, which has received federal grants, has been in existence for about 10 years. Although little information regarding the firm’s principals is available on its website, it appears to be run by KSU professors.

In the most recent property tax hearing, the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals (COTA) uncovered a statute which, in effect, extended Uncopiers’ tax abatement another year, back to 2004, according to Watt.

“That caused everybody to have to reinvent the wheel on what was owed and for what period of time,” Watt told commissioners.

Currently, the company owes a total of $16,827 in back property taxes — real estate taxes for 2007, and personal property taxes for 2007-11, according to Wright.

In January of last year, the commission revoked the property tax abatement for Uncopiers for not meeting the requirements of the abatement. The commission also threatened foreclosure proceedings against the company for unpaid property taxes dating back to 2004.

At the time, however, Watt advised that potential foreclosure was an issue separate from revoking the abatement, and something that should be addressed later.

After the recent COTA ruling, county officials will send an amended tax statement to the attorney for Uncopiers, specifying the new amount owed.

Meanwhile, commissioners expressed frustration with the ongoing tax saga.

“This has been going on the whole time I’ve been here and it’s disgusting,” said Commissioner Stan Hartwich. “I’m glad everyone in the county doesn’t operate like Uncopiers. They’re costing other taxpayers a lot of money and I’d like to do whatever we can to stop it.”

Schlegel noted that the county is getting more and more requests for economic development exemptions coming through the cities.

“Right now I am going to stay on top of these things. I am not going to let this happen again,” Schlegel said, suggesting that she and Wright be kept apprised of any future requests for tax abatements.

In other business Monday, the commission:

• Adopted a resolution for condemnation proceedings to acquire property for the Crown C project near the Manhattan Commission Co. east of Manhattan.

The state-funded project will extend the frontage road along the south side of U.S. Highway 24, and allow easier access to businesses in the area via the traffic light at Heritage Square.

• Received no bids for the Timber Creek bank stabilization project in Blue Township. Leu Lowrey, public works director, said there had been interest in the project by a couple of contractors, but no bids were submitted as of the official bid opening at 10 a.m. Monday.

• Adopted a resolution to spend approximately $250,000 as the county’s portion to replace Flint Rock Bridge, which was damaged during spring flooding last year.

The county received $220,500 from FEMA for assistance with the bridge replacement, but is required to publish notice of an intent to spend more than $200,000 in county funds.

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