Routt County To Get Late $1M Payment From Bankrupt Coal Firm

Photo: Darci Mohr, South Routt County Schools (AP Photo)
Darci Mohr, front, superintendent of the South Routt County School District, makes a point while Tim Corrigan, a county commissioner from Routt County, Colo., listens in during a meeting of the Colorado Board of Education Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Denver.

A tiny school district in northwest Colorado should soon get more than $1 million it's been waiting on since June.

The 300-student South Routt School District has been in financial crisis since coal giant Peabody Energy stopped paying taxes to Routt County. Peabody's Twentymile Mine near Steamboat Springs employs about 300 workers

Peabody filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, which prevented it from making payments to counties in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Indiana.

But on Wednesday the company received court approval to pay $30 million in taxes to the counties.

Perhaps the biggest question now is when South Routt can expect payment. Peabody says it was pleased by the ruling and intends to "move quickly," but officials aren't holding their breath.

“I’m excited about this potential. But I’m not going to be able to count on it until we’ve cashed the check,” said Superintendent Darci Mohr.

The district received a $1 million in emergency funds as a stop-gap measure from the state earlier this month.

“We’ve received no signal as to when these taxes might be paid,” said Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan. He added that he think the payment will take place “sooner rather than later.”

In addition to the South Routt School District, Peabody’s unpaid property taxes caused problems for the fire protection district, library and South Routt Medical Center. Corrigan said the county will loan the Medical Center $55,000 to help bridge the gap in the short term.

Outside Colorado, counties in Wyoming and New Mexico have also been impacted by Peabody’s unpaid property taxes. But the headaches don’t seem as severe as those in Colorado. A business manager for Campbell County School District No. 1 in Wyoming told the Associated Press that property taxes were a small part of the overall budget.

In New Mexico, McKinley County is seeking $1.5 million in unpaid property taxes. On Wednesday, Chief Deputy Treasurer Robert Griego said that there is just one school district in the county, and it has several revenue streams.

“It hasn’t caused quite that much turmoil here,” he said. “At least not yet. Next budget year it could be a problem. I’m sure like in Colorado, our budget is being squeezed tighter and tighter.”