August 3, 2011

Kiowa County officials ask for lost funding

BY MEGAN ROLLAND, The Oklahoman, 3 August 2011

Officials in Kiowa County are holding out hope – despite months of rejection – that they will be able to recover $733,000 in tax revenue lost due to a paperwork error.

“We’re still pursuing this. It’s a long way from being over,” said Kiowa County Commission Chairman Tim Binghom. “It would just cripple the county. You take $700,000 and you try to put that on the taxpayers, it would be devastating.”

The lost tax revenue is actually the property taxes due on a wind energy farm in Kiowa County.

The owners of the wind farm, Horizon Wind Energy, applied for and were granted a tax exemption. The Houston-based company didn’t have to pay the $733,000 in property taxes in 2010 for the wind farm.

The granted tax exemption falls under a state law that encourages manufacturing and energy companies to locate or expand in Oklahoma.

Normally the state reimburses counties for tax revenue lost due to state-granted exemptions, but an application for the reimbursement was either not submitted on time by the Kiowa County assessor or it was misplaced by the state Tax Commission.

“From the Tax Commission’s standpoint, we don’t feel like we have the authority to do anything,” said Tony Mastin, administrator of the Tax Commission. “The statute says that any application that doesn’t get to us by June 15, the commission shall declare it null and void.”

Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, said he’s tried every angle and argument to get the funding back for Kiowa County.

“We’re totally back to some new game plan,” Russ said. “We were asking the Tax Commission, the commissioners, to allow an emergency rule that would allow them to go ahead and make the final payment to the county and the school in the spirit of the law and the best interest of the public, regardless of the strict language they were relying on.”

Mastin said an emergency rule – a document that would be approved by both the governor and the commissioners – is outside their authority.

“It’s going to require some sort of law change before the commission could do anything,” Mastin said.

Russ said he’s planning on proposing just that when the next legislative session begins.

Feeling the brunt

Hit hardest by the lost funding is the Mountain View-Gotebo School District. The district lost more than $400,000, which is about a quarter of the small school district’s budget.

But Binghom said he is also concerned about the hit to county services, particularly emergency medical services.

“They’re already short-funded,” he said. “That’s a very big concern. We run a tight budget.”

Both the school district and the county have threatened lawsuits over the matter.

Mastin said his researchers found two other cases where a county didn’t turn the proper paperwork in on time for a tax exemption reimbursement.

“They asked if they could turn it in late … our response was no and the issue was just dropped,” Mastin said.

He said the difference in the cases is likely the amount of money in question and the size of each county’s budget.

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