Abound’s unpaid taxes leave many in bind

Abound Solar’s unpaid property taxes have left library, fire and recreation district officials in Weld County anxious about their budgets.

Abound Solar failed to pay nearly $1 million in property and equipment taxes for the 2011 tax year before it went bankrupt in July. That amount could roughly double if Abound’s taxes go unpaid during the 2012 tax year, reaching a total of $1.8 million, according to the Weld County Treasurer’s Office.

Before its bankruptcy, Abound Solar had drawn down $70 million on a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Taxpayers are expected to lose $40 million to $60 million in the collapse of the company, the energy department has said.

In Weld County, library, fire and recreation districts that rely on Abound’s taxes will not see any of the dollars owed to them unless the county can recoup the money in bankruptcy court, county Assessor Chris Woodruff said.

The county alone would lose more than $180,000. That’s a tiny amount considering the county’s $204 million budget, and it could easily offset such a loss with its $12 million rainy-day fund. Nonetheless, the county would like its money.

“I don’t think it’s fair to allow students and teachers and firefighters and librarians to be left on the hook for (DOE’s) failure to properly leverage and protect the taxpayers on this loan guarantee for Abound,” County Commission Chairman Sean Conway said.

The county has sought to collect in bankruptcy court, but Weld is just one in a long line of creditors, including the U.S. Department of Energy.

Others, meanwhile, cannot bail themselves out with cash reserves.

The Mountain View Fire Protection District stands to lose nearly $130,000 from its $12.5 million budget.

The fire district covers 184 square miles in Weld and Boulder counties. It staffs five fire stations with a total of about 80 full-time employees.

As a result of the loss of tax revenue, the fire district may cut some non-essential services, including educational programs such as CPR classes, Fire Chief Mark Lawley said. It would have to spread out the cuts, so it also may forgo buying a new $4,500 handheld radio this year.

“It definitely has an impact,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”

The nearly $36,000 that the High Plains Library District could lose equals half the amount the library paid for its electronic books subscription service this year, library Director Janine Reid said.

The projected loss may not seem like a great deal of money compared with its $10 million budget, but the library needs all of the dollars it can find to serve its 20,000 library-card holders.

It spends an average of $28 for each new print fiction book and $35 for each nonfiction book. It runs 11 libraries.

The library spends $35,000 alone to fuel its book mobile, which makes stops at elementary schools in rural Weld County. Its summer reading program cost $50,000.

“It could affect something like that, where we’d have to cut back on summer reading in the future,” Reid said.

The Carbon Valley Recreation District may forgo the purchase of a $25,000 truck used to care for its baseball fields and BMX track, Executive Director Renee Witty said.

“We have a truck, but it would be nice to get a new used one,” she said.

The recreation district stands to lose more than $72,000 of its $4.3 million budget. It already faces a more than $100,000 loss from lower Boulder County property tax revenue this year.

The St. Vrain Valley School District could lose almost $520,000, according to the Weld County Treasurer’s Office.

Terry Schueler, chief financial officer, said the district expects to collect the taxes when Abound’s property is sold. Even if the property sits in foreclosure for several years, the district would eventually recoup those taxes.

“We don’t do our accounting on a cash basis,” she said. “It shows up as money that is owed to us: It shows up as an asset on our books until it’s either written off or paid.”

State law also allows the district to set an “abatement” mill levy to recover losses, she added, meaning other taxpayers would end up having to cover for the deficit caused by Abound’s collapse.

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