$1.3 million tax break a clerical mistake

EUGENE, Ore. — The top taxpayer in Lane County briefly got a big break on its property taxes.

County Assessor Mike Cowles said an employee entered an incorrect value for an account belonging to International Paper Co., which owns and operates a Springfield mill. The clerical error reduced its property tax bill by $1.3 million — from $4 million to $2.7 million.

It was International Paper that alerted Lane County about the error. A spokesman for the company declined comment.

Cowles said there’s always a small chance for error when county staff members enter tax data into the computer system manually. In a typical tax year, he said, his office will see a few mistakes later identified by property owners or through audits.

“It happens to be a high-profile account,” he told The Register-Guard newspaper. “The bottom line is we strive for the most accurate tax roll within the constraints of human nature and the computer system.”

Cowles said he viewed the gaffe as a “learning experience” and the worker who made the error was not disciplined.

According to state law, International Paper can’t be billed for the tax owed until this year’s tax statements go out in late October. Public agencies counting on the money for their current budgets must wait.

Bob Duey, finance director for the city of Springfield, said the error will temporarily cost the city about $400,000. That money goes to pay for day-to-day government operations and levies that provide additional funding for the fire and police departments.

But Duey said his staff had been conservative when estimating the amount of property tax it would receive. Even without the owed tax dollars, Duey said, property tax collections to the city have so far matched what it projected to receive.

“The actual hit wouldn’t be as great as if we were counting on the high return, or the higher amount of property taxes, this year,” he said.

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