A paperwork error has cost one rural Oklahoma school district $480,000, or about 25 percent of its annual budget, leaving the
“We should be able to make it, but it's going to be very, very tight,” said Andy Evans, super
The school district was notified in April that it would not receive $480,000 because a legally required form was not filed by a June 15, 2010, deadline.
The sprawling district of about 240 students in southwest Oklahoma, isn't the only public entity in Kiowa County affected by the mistake.
The Caddo Kiowa Technology Center lost approximately $112,000 in funding and Kiowa County government is out $100,000.
“I am truly just not sure why somebody hasn't stepped up and said, ‘We messed up, and we will make it right,'” said Dennis Ruttman, superintendent of the Caddo Kiowa Technology Center. “It became real apparent, it was going to become a case of he said, she said all around. It doesn't really matter who's at fault, it just needs to get resolved.”
The paperwork error is the first of its kind in the 25 years that the state has been reimbursing local governments for funding lost due to large property tax exemptions offered to manufacturers, said Kenny Chuculate, deputy director at the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
What went wrong
The state offers property tax exemptions to major manufacturers for the first five years qualifying companies operate or expand in Oklahoma. In 2011 it provided companies with $33.5 million in tax exemptions.
However, lawmakers didn't want the exemption, created in 1986, to harm school districts or other local entities that would be missing out on ad valorem revenue, so it started a fund that promised to reimburse counties for the revenue lost due to the tax exemption.
For the past four years, Mountain View-Gotebo schools has received a reimbursement for the tax exemption received by a wind energy plant with 84 turbines in Kiowa County.
This year Blue Canyon II Wind Farm, owned by Horizon Wind Energy in Houston, received its property tax exemption as usual, said Vanessa Kellogg, the director of project development for the southwest region of Horizon Wind Energy.
Kellogg said they were taken off guard to learn the county might not receive reimbursement.
To receive the exemption, Horizon Wind Energy must file a form with the Kiowa County Assessor's Office before March 15 of every year.
The form is then sent to the Kiowa County Board of Equalization and, if approved, the Assessor's Office has until June 15 to get the form to the Oklahoma Tax Commission Ad Valorem office.
That's where something went wrong.
Either the former Kiowa County Assessor Letitia Stockton, who didn't run for re-election last year, failed to turn in the proper form, or the Tax Commission lost or misplaced it.
Regardless of who is at fault, the bottom line is the statutory deadline was missed and Mountain View-Gotebo Schools didn't receive the funding.
to pick up the tab
Evans said the district has pursued every option imaginable: petitioning the Tax Commission for forgiveness, talking to lawmakers, working with the state Education Department to adjust state aid, but in the end, nothing has worked.
His final resort is to sue the county, something he is still hoping to avoid.
A win in court for Mountain View-Gotebo Public Schools will be a loss for Kiowa County taxpayers, who ultimately will have to foot a bill that is ordinarily paid for out of funds from the state level.
“We support economic development, but this economic development can't be paid for on the backs of schoolchildren or retired people when we have a failure of the state agency to do their job,” Evans said.
I am truly just not sure why somebody hasn't stepped up and said, ‘We messed up, and we will make it right.'”