JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
When Assessor Chris Estes asked the Cole County Commission to reimburse the expenses he accrued during a trip to Camden County, one member called his request "an abuse of county funds."
“That’s just a disservice to the people of Cole County and we’re just not going to pay for those kinds of things," said Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle.
County assessors are required to complete the 32-hour training every two years per state statute, and Estes' deadline to complete it is in March. After attending the September course, Estes failed to obtain the certification and the commission denied any reimbursement of his expenses.
In a Nov. 20 meeting, commissioners questioned Estes about the expense report, which requested reimbursement for $1,476 in hotel costs.
The assessor's hotel bill indicates he stayed five nights in a double-grand suite and that he did not receive the reduced rate for attendees of the training course of $119 per night.
Estes said he did not know if he would be attending until four days before the training, thus the last-minute hotel reservation.
"I asked if I could get the assessor’s rate and they said, ‘No,’ that they didn’t have any more of those rooms available," Estes said.
When asked why he did not seek alternative lodging, Estes cited health issues.
“I’m actually considered to be disabled," Estes told ABC 17 News. "I’ve had some serious spine damage and several surgeries. I can’t sit for eight hours at a time, so there are times when I have to go and lay down. It wasn’t practical for me to get up and leave the hotel and go to another hotel and lay down and then come back.”
Estes also cited health reasons for missing the entire first day of the four-day training and parts of it on the following days. Attendance logs show the Cole County official was also absent the final day. Estes told ABC 17 News he forgot to sign in that day but did attend.
A Nov. 26 email sent to Cole County Collector Larry Vincent from an association official said Estes had failed to pay the course fees and was not registered for the training.
"To attend class the cost is $600.00 that covers the cost of hotel conference room rental, audio visual aids, refreshments and gratuities with the hotel. The IAAO instructor fees who can be hired from all over the United States.
Material fees, royalty fees, ect. The registration for class has a deadline, so that the proper amount of supplies can be ordered and planned for. Also some courses have rules on the maximum number of students, therefore registration is required.
Fees are to be paid BEFORE the beginning of class. Attendance is not allowed without payment. A bill has been sent to Mr. Estes, and payment has yet to be received ..."Part of an email dated November 26, 2019 from Missouri State Assessors Association to Cole County Collector Larry Vincent.
Missouri law dictates that the state's tax commission can withhold a county's per parcel fee, a large portion of the county's assessment fund if the county assessor fails to complete the bi-annual training.
Cole County Auditor Kristen Berhorst said in 2020, the county's per parcel fee will add up to $104,334.
The county commission denied any reimbursement to Estes for the September training and on Wednesday discussed requiring prior approval from commissioners for any future travel expenses for training purposes.