The Oklahoma Tax Commission must pay Kiowa County and a rural school district $733,000 in tax reimbursements denied because of a clerical error, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled.
“It's a big relief for everyone in Kiowa County,” said Andy Evans, superintendent of the Mountain View-Gotebo School District.
“We're not really going to have to scrimp by to make our ends meet. It takes our fund balance up by almost $367,000 and puts an additional $60,000 in our building fund.”
Tax Commission spokeswoman Paula Ross said the agency will not challenge the Supreme Court's unanimous opinion, which was issued Thursday.
“The Tax Commission is pleased to receive guidelines from the court to help resolve this matter,” Ross said.
The commission was following a strict rule in state statute that set a deadline for tax-reimbursement applications.
“We have to follow statute, so this is good that we have guidelines to help,” Ross said.
Evans learned late last year that because the proper paperwork hadn't been filed with the Tax Commission, the 250-student school district in southwestern Oklahoma stood to lose a quarter of its annual budget.
After many months of negotiations, Evans filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to rule on the case.
The money at issue, almost three-quarters of a million dollars, is the 2010 property taxes due on a wind-energy farm in Kiowa County.
The Houston-based company that owns the wind-farm received a manufacturing tax exemption from the state and didn't pay those property taxes in 2010.
Lawmakers pledged to reimburse local entities for the money lost because of state exemptions and created a reimbursement fund in state law.
For the past four years, Kiowa County has been reimbursed for the exemptions given to the Horizon Wind Energy farm.
But in fiscal year 2010, the application for reimbursement from the Kiowa County assessors office was not received by the June 15 deadline.
The Tax Commission's hands were tied, and the reimbursement was denied.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor wrote a short opinion that the wind energy company should receive its exemption, and Kiowa County should receive its reimbursement.
“The Kiowa County Assessor, while acting as the agent of the Oklahoma Tax Commission, failed to fulfill its statutory duties,” Taylor wrote.
While most of the money will go to the Mountain View-Gotebo School District, the tax reimbursement also will fund county operations, including the Caddo-Kiowa County Career Technology Board, that joined in the lawsuit.