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Under the radar: For Coloma, money withheld

Some townships slow to report finances

ROCK FALLS – Coloma Township is failing to report its financial affairs to the public on a timely basis, documents show. It's the only township among 44 in Whiteside and Lee counties that appears to have such problems.

Whiteside County is routinely withholding its property tax distributions for Coloma Township because the township fails to publish its financial statement in the newspaper.

At one point, the county treasurer's office held back money from three tax years, including all of 2010. The total withheld was $410,942, which the township received in early September 2011 after it published its financial statements from 3 years.

The problem persists. The county has yet to get this year's certificate of publication from Coloma, among others at this point.

Many government entities fail to get their certificates of publication to the county clerk's office in time to get their last tax distribution of the year. But most get the problems settled more quickly than Coloma so they can receive their money.

The situation with Coloma Township is unusual, Treasurer Darlene Hook said in a recent interview.

Another reporting problem

This is not the only issue with Coloma Township. It also is the only government entity in Whiteside County that has yet to turn in its annual financial report to the state comptroller's office. The 21 other townships have done so, all but one of which are smaller in population.

Such statements give details on the governmental unit's expenditures and revenues.

Coloma, which is based in Rock Falls, hasn't turned in an annual financial report the past 3 years, according to the comptroller's office.

In March, Sauk Valley Media reported that Coloma and Morrison-based Mount Pleasant townships – the county's second and third largest – failed to comply with this requirement. At that time, Mount Pleasant had last submitted one in 2008, but since the story, it has filed the reports.

The March story also reported that Lee County's Harmon and Ashton townships hadn't submitted their annual financial reports since 2009.

Since then, Ashton has filed reports, while Harmon, one of Lee County's tiniest townships, has not, according to the comptroller's office.

Coloma Supervisor Debra Burke said in March that her township had submitted its reports every year, turning in the one for 2012 late.

"I don't know why they [state comptroller's office] don't have the records," she said at the time.

Burke said she would resubmit the reports and check that the comptroller's office received them.

She couldn't be reached for comment for this story.

Peggy McFadden, who joined the Coloma trustees earlier this year, said Burke had asked for an extension to turn in the annual financial reports to the comptroller.

"We've been getting our books audited. [The auditor] wasn't quite done with the audit," McFadden said. "That's something that needs to be done. Take my word for it."

In March, the comptroller's office reported that 95 percent of entities submit their annual reports. As of May 1, the office had the authority to start penalizing entities that don't comply – a $5-a-day fine for the first 15 days, $10 a day for the 16th through 30th days, $15 a day for the 31st to 45th days, and $20 a day for every day after the 45th.

If the comptroller levied those fines, they would total $2,990 for Coloma as of today. A spokesman for the comptroller's office didn't return a call for comment on when fines are levied.

Situation 'straightened out'

As for Coloma's withheld tax distributions, former township Trustee Bob Sondgeroth, who resigned from his post over the summer, said he knew about the problems. The treasurer sent letters to trustees about the situation.

"We were working with the supervisor to get the proper reports in," he said, adding that Burke had some computer-related snafus. "We made sure the proper forms were filed, and the money was released. Those were some of the things we straightened out before I left."

A government entity is supposed to send in its certificate of publication within 6 months of the end of its fiscal year. Coloma's fiscal year ends March 31, so it must submit its certificate by the end of September, which it hasn't done.

The Whiteside County treasurer's office sent out reminder notices to 38 taxing bodies on Sept. 26 – those that have not sent in their certificates of publication. Already, about half have done so.

"Some of them had published their financial statements, but hadn't sent in their certificates," Hook said.

Tax payments are seldom withheld. Last year, the county held payments to seven entities for a time – Coloma Township, Morrison Hospital District, Village of Tampico, Erie Fire District, Sterling Fire District, Union Grove-Coloma Multiple Township Assessor District, and Mount Pleasant Township.

Coloma and Mount Pleasant townships have been on the list 4 years in a row.

'I haven't gotten an answer'

So how did Coloma survive without the more than $400,000 in property tax distributions?

"I have asked the same question," Trustee McFadden said. "I'm new here. So far, I haven't gotten an answer. I wasn't aware of it until I got on the board. I'm trying to find out different things."

In Lee County, Treasurer John Fritts said entities often are late with their certificates, but rarely has he seen a situation such as Coloma's.

About a decade ago, Amboy Township didn't publish its financial statement for a year, he said.

"I informed the trustees that they had to get it done. They just didn't get it done," Fritts said. "We kept their money all year long until the following year. How they operated in this time, I don't know. It stumps me."

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