By Joyce May
Killeen Daily Herald
As the Coryell Tea Party makes final preparations for its lawsuit against the Coryell County Appraisal District, it has been revealed that the group's organizer has a pending lawsuit against him for delinquent county and school taxes dating back four years.
Dick Butler, who spearheaded the formation of the Coryell Tea Party to protest a dramatic increase in property values in 2006, confirmed he is in litigation over 2003 and 2004 tax bills from Coryell County and Gatesville Independent School District.
Tax records indicate that Butler has paid his 2006 taxes in full on his homestead, but there is a total of $4,655.94 in taxes, penalties and interest, and attorney's fees owed on that property for 2003 and 2004 to Gatesville ISD and Coryell County.
Another property owned by Butler with a mobile home on it has taxes due from the same entities for 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 (2006 wasn't due until Wednesday) totaling $1,237.36.
He also has another piece of property with $169.09 in taxes due from 2003 and 2004.
Butler said that in the years in question, the tax-assessor collector's office – then headed by Barbara Thompson – sent part of his tax notices to the mortgage company that handles one of his rental properties, and the mortgage company paid it out of escrow.
Surprised at the low tax bill, Butler said he questioned a clerk in the tax office at the time he was initially billed, but was informed the amount was correct.
He said the company did not catch the mistake until a couple of months later, and then demanded a refund from the tax office.
Seven months later, he was notified of the problem and told he would have to pay the penalties, Butler said.
"I went in there, and me and Ms. Thompson had words," he said. "I said I wasn't paying penalty and interest from the time you guys screwed up. They said, Yes you are.' I said, Let my lawyers talk about it.'"
Butler said he then received a notification from McCreary & Associates of Dallas, who handles delinquent tax accounts for the county and Gatesville ISD threatening to foreclose on his $1 million ranch.
Butler said Harker Heights attorney Scott Stevens is now handling the matter for him.
Representatives from McCreary & Associates did not return phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday.
Butler said he has notified the Tea Party's steering committee about the matter, and it has not called for his resignation.
He said he also has talked to current Tax Assessor-Collector Justin Carothers, who took office in August after Thompson's resignation in July, regarding the matter.
"I said, Do we really need to go to court?'" Butler said. "If he is willing to just allow me to pay my taxes for interest and penalty, we are ready to write the check."
Carothers said the suit was filed in 2005, and records show several properties that have back taxes owed. He said he is not familiar with all the details of the case because the matter occurred before his time.
"I have spoken with Mr. Butler last week," Carothers said. "He is going to try to come in and get me up to speed on what happened in the past and see if we can get it resolved."
Butler said the matter was minor compared to what is going on in the county and the revelation was an attempt to discredit him and his cause.
He said the Tea Party's mass action lawsuit against the appraisal district is prepared, but not enough plaintiffs have signed on for the documents to be filed.
About 40 plaintiffs have committed, which is not enough to file, so the steering committee is mobilizing to contact members who have been affected by changes in appraisal methods regarding flat-site improvements, he said.
Butler said the group is shooting to have 150 plaintiffs in order to file, but was told by attorney Marc Levin that 700 to 800 claimants are needed if the lawsuit is to proceed. The suit can be amended after filing, he noted.
The group is planning meetings at 7 p.m. Monday at the Copperas Cove Veterans of Foreign Post 8577 in Copperas Cove and at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Gatesville High School auditorium, but Butler said he hoped to contact members before then.
Contact Joyce May at email@example.com