Small Typo, Big Problems in Carver County, Minnesota

accounting.gif You may have seen the small typo problem in Georgia where Joe Martins recently closed his account at Wachovia Bank, paid off an outstanding check, and then got a letter about the account closure and his final balance -- a minus $211,010,028,257,303.00. Wachovia apologized to Martins, and promptly blamed the letter and the erroneous amount on a word processing error - the number supposedly owed actually matched the gentleman's bank account number.

A similar computer typo problem, but with real side-effects happened last week in Carver County, Minnesota. Eric Mattson received a real estate assessment notice stating that his 4,400 square foot vacant lot was being assessed at a market value of $189,000,000 (or $42,955 per square foot) and would he please fork over the $2.5 million in property tax he owed. Since is about 10 times the value of prime property in London, which is the most expensive property in the world ($4,585 per square foot), Mattson had a good laugh and called the assessor's office about the obvious error.

The assessor's office wasn't laughing. It was indeed an error, but the County had already budgeted and spent the money.

According to the story in the Minnesota Star Tribune, there was change in the property's status which required a change in its tax status. In August, a "clerk filled in the $18,900 proposed valuation, but then mistakenly hit the key to exit the program. The computer added four zeros to fill out the nine numerical spaces required by the software, thus indicating the value was $189,000,000."

Several officials questioned the windfall, but the tax office assured everyone that it was true; that is, until Mattson complained.

Now the County is trying to figure out how to make up for the shortfall, like cutting back on services to raising taxes. The issue will be debated at a meeting on Tuesday.

The tax folks say they have instituted new procedures to ensure this problem never happens again. Of course.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City