KC family furious, confused after city comes calling for back taxes from 5 years ago

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- No one likes paying taxes. But how would you feel if you paid your city taxes on time, but then nearly five years later, learned the city never received payment and now also wants penalties and interest?

That's what's happening to a Kansas City family who's been fighting City Hall for months, saying they are victims of the city's own malfunctioning electronic payment system, and are stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire trying to get it resolved.

Charles and Mary Lee Trnka are not tax cheats, but try telling that to Kansas City's Department of Revenue. It claims the Trnkas owe Kansas City earnings tax for 2008 and even sent the Trnkas to collections.

But Mary Lee Trnka said she paid the tax online and even has a receipt to prove it. But the city says her electronic check bounced. But when Trnka checked her bank records, she saw no evidence of a bounced check or insufficient funds. She also saw that the more than four-year-old tax payment had never been debited from her account.

"It just never hit the bank," Trnka said. "I don't know why. It could have been an error on city's part. It could have been an error on my part."

Trnka offered to make the payment again. And that's when what at first appeared to be a simple dispute, turned ugly. She got a second letter. Not from the city's collection agency (like the first one) but from the Kansas City Finance Department, demanding not just the delinquent $475 tax, but $119 penalty and $272 for five years' worth of interest --- $300 more than what even the city's collection agency had demanded just a month earlier.

The Trnkas were furious. They made phone calls and wrote letters to the city wanting to know why they should be held responsible for late fees and interest on a tax that they have proof they tried to pay on time and in good faith. The Trnkas asked for proof from the city that the mistake was caused by them and not by some malfunction in the city's electronic payment system, but the city refused.

"Apparently all those records are closed and they can't get to it, so they can't tell me what happened," Trnka said.

The Trnkas finally called their councilperson who was able to get the $119 penalty waived, but not the $272 in interest. The Trnkas wanted to know why the city waited nearly five years to tell them they owed back taxes.

"Every month the interest went up," Trnka said. "This is just unjust."

FOX 4 Problem Solvers agreed and we contacted Kansas City, but were told the city couldn't discuss the Trnka's case because of privacy concerns involving taxes. The city spokesman also cited a city ordinance that he said prevented the finance department from ever waiving an interest payment.

But what if the missed payment was caused by the city's own electronic payment system? He assured us that could never happen. However, Problem Solvers has trouble accepting that the city can't make mistakes.

So we caught up with City Manager Troy Schulte at a public appearance, hoping to get his help. Schulte at first seemed sympathetic.

"If we've made a mistake, we'll look into it," Schulte said.

But then that same city spokesperson cut off the interview and that's the last we ever heard from Schulte. Despite his promises to look into the matter, the Trnkas have yet to hear from anyone from the city, leaving them frustrated and no closer to getting this problem solved.

The Trnkas have now paid the tax, but the city has threatened to sue them if they don't also pay the interest. Several attorneys FOX 4 Problem Solvers spoke with said that could be good news for the Trnkas. They might get more sympathy from a judge than they are getting from city officials.

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