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Pennies used to protest tax bill

County says it will accept coins under ‘reasonable standards'

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Ron Spears

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:00 pm

CLE ELUM—A penny for your thoughts?

How about 33,000 pennies to pay your past due personal property tax bill?

That's what Cle Elum's Ron Spears toted into the Kittitas County Treasurer's Office in buckets on a hand truck Tuesday to pay a past due bill for $330.

Spears, a businessman who owns Spears Interiors in Cle Elum and who also serves on the Cle Elum City Council, says like many other small business owners he's been struggling to stay afloat in a down economy. Spears ignored a personal property tax bill for $34 that was due in April.

"It was my fault," he said. "To be honest I just didn't have the money."

Late payments are subject to interest and penalties and personal property taxpayers are sent three notices before risking a type of foreclosure called distraint that can cause a taxpayer to lose his property.

Deanna Panattoni, Kittitas County treasurer, says when Spears didn't pay his taxes in April he received a delinquent notice in June and a second notice in July. When he didn't respond, her office mailed a notice of distraint on Aug. 6.

By then, his $34 tax bill increased to $330.

Spears said a letter he got from the county demanding payment by Aug. 30 specified that he could pay with cash, a cashier's check or a money order.

Spears chose cash - only it wasn't the kind the county had in mind.

He went to a Cle Elum bank, got machine-rolled rolls of pennies and took them to county Treasurer Deanna Pannattoni's office.

"I did it as a protest," he said. "I think charging 10 times the amount you owe, almost all of it in fees, is outrageous."

Spears said a clerk in Panattoni's office began counting the rolls of pennies but then Panattoni came out and said she couldn't accept the rolls of pennies.

This is where the two stories separate.

"She told me there could be ‘plugs' (which would make them appear to be full rolls when they weren't) and that she couldn't accept them," he says.

Options offered

Panattoni, who says she doesn't have the resources to have her staff count 33,000 pennies, says she offered him options, including unrolling and counting the pennies there. She says she also offered to accompany him to a bank to have them counted or to have a security guard accompany him to a bank to be counted.

Spears says he told her they'd already been counted by the bank where he'd gotten them. Panattoni, in a prepared release, says Spears "angrily refused these options creating such a disturbance that he had to be removed by a security guard."

Spears says he didn't raise his voice.

"That makes me mad," he said. "That is so inflated."

Spears went to the prosecuting attorney's office where a staff member met with him. Panattoni says the staff member explained "that a government agency has reasonable discretion to determine how payment is received."

The issue of whether a government agency must accept pennies as payment was the subject of a "featured inquiry" at the http://www.mrsc.org/askmrsc/featuredinq.aspx?inq=266" target= "_blank">website for the http://www.mrsc.org/askmrsc/featuredinq.aspx?inq=266" target= "_blank">Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MSRC) published on July 23 of this year, Panattoni said in her prepared statement.

"The opinion states that a city or county may set reasonable limits on the acceptance of loose coins in payment of amounts due," she said in her prepared statement. "Several Washington jurisdictions will accept no more than $2 in coinage as payment of citizen obligations."

Spears says he meant his act as a citizen protest. But the whole thing would have been avoided if one of two things had happened, he says.

"As far as I've been able to figure out, pennies are still legal tender," he said. "If there had been a footnote on that letter saying they would not accept coins then I wouldn't have even bothered doing it."

He says if Panattoni had taken the time to explain that there'd been an opinion about under what conditions and how much coinage a county had to accept, that would have been different. He says she didn't do that.

Panattoni says the incident doesn't mean her office won't accept coins in payment, just that a taxpayer has to "conform to reasonable standards" such as those offered by her office.

"I can handle four or five rolls," she said in a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon. "But if somebody brings coins in on a hand truck I can't handle it."

Spears, who says he risks losing the tools he needs for work, says he will pay the bill in more a conventional manner by the deadline.

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  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Eastside posted at 6:21 am on Wed, Sep 1, 2010.

    Eastside Posts: 583

    Ron actually got elected to the council twice I think, that is more than the rest of the council can say. The rest were "selected" to fill vacancies or ran unnopposed. Not one person on the council has filled out a candidate statement so its pretty hard to know what anyone stands for. I can assume the rest of the Council supports Ron in his tiff with the County. Mr. Spears did get his day of fame with 168 papers picking up the story.

  • whatatrip posted at 6:59 pm on Tue, Aug 31, 2010.

    whatatrip Posts: 2151

    This behavior says a lot about Spears as a businessman and as a city councilman. It is no wonder he is failing as a businessman. The last thing Cle Elum needs is a public servants who serve on the city council and such bad decisions.

  • an observer posted at 7:58 pm on Mon, Aug 30, 2010.

    an observer Posts: 38

    Good for him, my god, start protesting today, why wait for the taxes to start in January. The Government is about to rape the entire middle class so, the 50% who pay nothing can live in luxury. He should of paid it off in Canadian, or Euros!

  • WaltBrg posted at 2:30 pm on Mon, Aug 30, 2010.

    WaltBrg Posts: 1

    By the time the story got here (Louisiana) and was printed in the local paper, the penalty was not mentioned, just that the county treasurer had declined to acept 33,000 pennies to settle a $34.00 tax bill. My thought was "Anybody owes me 34 bucks and wants to pay with 33,000 pennies, bring 'em on!". A few minor details can change everything. I do think a 10X penalty for a a few months is outrageous. If Ron needs $34.00 next year, he can call me for a loan.

  • Just The Truth posted at 3:32 pm on Fri, Aug 27, 2010.

    Just The Truth Posts: 16

    Yes, the $330 seems high. It doesn't warrant this behavior. A reasonable person would have tried to pay on time. A reasonable person who felt the late fee was excessive would appeal administratively if improperly charged or would take it to the county commisioners to as to settle for a reduced amount..

    Not only did mr. Spears waste the time of treasurer's office with this childish tantrum, he wasted the time of employees at his bank. It's a slow news day and this has been carried by the national press. He'll get his 15 minutes of fame and everyone will know him for this Jack@ss stunt.

    Note to mr. Spears: If you find yourself in arears on your federal income taxes don't repeat this stunt unless you'd like to get audited every year for the rest of your life. Also, next time at your bank - apologize to the teller for waste of time :-)

  • isabella posted at 2:37 pm on Fri, Aug 27, 2010.

    isabella Posts: 20

    Here's a thought...I know it's gonna sound kind of crazy, but, how about just PAYING THE BILL ON TIME? Seriously dude, you couldn't have borrowed $34?

  • hawkfan8812 posted at 9:33 am on Fri, Aug 27, 2010.

    hawkfan8812 Posts: 76

    Since Suncadia has not paid their 2009 property tax bill, I assume their penalties and interest are also 10 times the amount of their original bill.

    Is that correct Kittitas County Auditor's office?

  • Eastside posted at 8:51 am on Fri, Aug 27, 2010.

    Eastside Posts: 583

    Something is missing here on the story. I would like to know exactly how $34 became $330 in four months. The late fee interest is only 12% annually at 1% per month. On top of that their is another 3% that is charge on the amount due on June 1st. Taxes for the whole year arent due until October 31st. Its really amazing that the Treasurer's office would move into foreclosure procedings after only three months for a $34 tax bill and then tack a $290 penalty onto a $34 tax bill. I seriously doubt this would happen in King County or any of the other larger counties in the state. Maybe after three years and a notice being posted in the paper this type of penalty would be appropriate.

  • Doc O posted at 4:12 am on Fri, Aug 27, 2010.

    Doc O Posts: 4

    Seems that long, long ago in another galaxy someone in Seattle tried that and was informed that pennies, while in general use, were not considered legal tender. What was he thinking? Oh well, a penny for your thoughts. [wink]

  • West County posted at 11:17 pm on Thu, Aug 26, 2010.

    West County Posts: 478

    All for $34.00? Idiot! [smile]

  • Thousand Sun posted at 7:54 pm on Thu, Aug 26, 2010.

    Thousand Sun Posts: 30

    So let me get this straight, Ron Spears went to a bank and got $330 dollars worth of pennies to be a jackass while paying his bill. He is then told that the treasurer's office can't accept the pennies as is and the pennies need to be either counted out by Spears or at the bank. Sounds like Panattoni was a jackass right back. You got everything you deserved out of that situation Ron Spears. I agree that ten times the amount in late fees is outrageous but the solution for payment was equally asinine. Treat others as you expect to be treated yourself. Imagine if a customer of Spears had a problem with interior renovation work and decided to pay a $3500 bill in pennies; Spears would probably be pretty angry about that. I for one will not be considering Spears Interiors if I ever have any renovation needs.


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