Woman wants faster action on oil and gas audit
PARACHUTE – A local tax activist and former county assessor accused the Garfield County Assessor of dragging her feet on an important oil and gas audit at the Garfield County School District No. 16 board meeting Tuesday night.Joan Savage has won a case against Williams production at the county and state appellate levels that’s still pending in the state supreme court. In that case, the courts found that Williams underreported its profits when it came time to pay royalties. Savage contends Williams, and maybe other companies, did the same thing when it came time to pay taxes.Instead of paying regular property taxes, gas companies are taxed on 87.5 percent of their profits minus certain approved expenses. Savage argued that Williams may have exaggerated its expenses to decrease the profits on which they had to pay taxes.Savage appealed to the Garfield Re-2 school board last Tuesday and this Tuesday approached District 16 to encourage the boards and audience members to push the assessor’s office for action.”A penny here and there can amount to a lot of money,” Savage said. “All we’re asking now is that they get off the dime and get this done.”Savage warned that there is a statute of limitations on tax issues – six years.”We already lost any money from 1998,” Savage said. “This has to get done. I don’t want us to lose 1999, too.”The County Commissioners contracted Mary Ellen Denomy, a certified public accountant who specializes in tax and royalty accounting, to work with Shannon Hurst, the county assessor in October 2005.Denomy said she hasn’t been able to work on the audit because she hasn’t been invited into the assessor’s office.”I don’t know why,” Denomy said Wednesday. “I’ve made every offer to come in and do what needs to be done.”Hurst said Denomy has been involved in training Sean McCourt, the oil and gas appraiser for Garfield County, to help with the audit.Savage, who employs Denomy full time, said Denomy hasn’t spent a single day in the county courthouse since she was contracted.Hurst laid the groundwork for the audit in October 2004. At that time, the county assessor’s office found discrepancies in Williams’ reports.”You have to have a reason to conduct an audit in the first place,” Hurst said. “You can’t just request to look through books.””We started the audit last year,” Hurst said. “We requested information. The company sent us some information. We consulted with Mary Ellen Denomy and needed more information. They’ve made a request for an extension.”Hurst said the assessor’s office is not stalling or intentionally dragging its feet. It’s waiting for documentation from the gas company it’s auditing.”It’s been more than a year, and she’s still saying the same thing,” Savage said on Wednesday. “There’s more to this than just waiting for documents. We have a big question of why she doesn’t want to do this audit.”Hurst contended that Savage, as a private landowner, may not understand the different liabilities the county faces.”This is a really sensitive issue because these documents are confidential,” Hurst said.In fact, the confidentiality and Denomy’s involvement in the audit are concerns for Williams, according to the company’s spokeswoman, Susan Alvillar. “We feel like we’ve been fully cooperative with the county assessor’s office,” Alvillar said. “But we need to take the time, for our own protection, to assure ourselves that that third party is bound by the same confidentiality statutes as the county because this information is proprietary to our business.”County Commissioner Larry McCown said that some of the correspondence between Williams and the county assessor’s office concerns the legality of involving Denomy, a contracted consultant and not a county employee, in the audit. He said the county attorney, Don DeFord, is reviewing the legality of Denomy’s involvement.That’s not all DeFord has to look at. He’s reviewing a couple of boxes of documents Savage dropped off for Hurst to see if they are admissible for the audit, according to Hurst.Savage dropped off the documents used in her lawsuit against Williams because she argues Hurst can use those documents as the “best information available” for her audit if Williams won’t send information over.”Now she has it,” Savage said. “She can get started.””The audit clearly is started,” McCown said. “It’s under way. We don’t plan to stop the audit. If they say Mary Ellen can’t look at the documents, we can move forward without her.”
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