Appeals court sides with Cole County Commission

Assessor loses bid for control of funds

The Cole County Commission, not the assessor, controls how money in the Assessment Fund can be spent, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled Tuesday.

“We are gratified that the court agreed with the commission on this matter,” Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger said Tuesday afternoon.

For the second time in a month, the Missouri appeals court’s Kansas City district agreed with the three-member commission instead of an elected officeholder who had challenged the commission’s authority.

The appeals court’s 14-page opinion was released Tuesday. The April 2 oral arguments in the case came one day after a different three-judge panel of the Kansas City appeals court supported the commission’s authority to spend money from a law enforcement sales tax fund, which Sheriff Greg White had challenged.

This week’s appeals court opinion upheld the April 17, 2013, ruling by retired Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder that the County Commission does not need permission from the assessor to expend funds from the assessment fund.

“This case concerns the power of the Cole County Commission to sweep funds from a special fund, the Cole County Assessment Fund, to the Cole County general revenue fund,” Columbia attorney David G. Brown argued for Estes.

He argued the legislature had created an “overarching scheme, by which all of the county assessors perform this assessment function — assessing all the real and personal property — and it benefits the state as a whole, so they created a funding mechanism to pay the costs of that.”

But the appeals court opinion, written by Judge Cynthia L. Martin, said the statute in question “bestows no authority on the Assessor to make expenditures from the Assessment Fund or to determine which costs and expenses can be paid from the Assessment Fund. Instead section 137.725 plainly bestows this authority on the ‘County,’ which acts through the County Commission.”

The legal battle focused on the County Commission’s bills to Estes, seeking to transfer money from the Assessment Fund to general revenue, to pay the assessor’s share of the county’s computer and information system services (“Technology Expenses”) the county government provided.

Although Estes had objected to the county’s bills from 2008-11, he had paid them — then refused to pay the $39,411 bill sent in June 2012.

The legal battle began after Estes refused to sign that 2012 bill and the county turned the service off on Jan. 2, 2013. The services were restored after Estes sued the commission and got a temporary restraining order.

“This disagreement has gone on for too long and it is time for us to put it behind us and move forward,” Ellinger told the News Tribune.

“The law is now settled and the dispute is concluded.”

Estes’ attorney, Brown, didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

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