Oklahoma City plans to ease collection of delinquent sales taxes

The Oklahoma City Council is considering an amended city ordinance that would make it easier to go after businesses with delinquent sales tax bills.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Published: May 16, 2012
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Some slight changes to Oklahoma City ordinances could make it easier to collect about $17 million in delinquent tax payments from local businesses.

City staff proposed amendments to the city's sales and use tax ordinances at Tuesday's city council meeting, making it a Class A misdemeanor for a business to fail to report or pay its taxes to the city. The ordinance is set for a public hearing May 29 and a potential vote June 12.

The change, made possible by a change in state law two years ago that gave cities more power to enforce tax compliance, would reduce the potential municipal penalty for failure to pay sales and use taxes by making it a less serious offense. At the same time, the process to enforce it would be cheaper and less cumbersome.

“We're trying to motivate them to pay the tax,” city Finance Director Craig Freeman said. “The goal isn't to prosecute. The goal is to get the tax (money).”

Current Oklahoma City code makes it a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a stiffer penalty but is also more costly for the city to prosecute. Defendants charged with Class B offenses have the right to a jury trial because a jail sentence is a potential penalty.

If the council votes to approve the amendments, employees with the city treasurer's office would enforce the code. The city would start with letters to businesses accused of failing to report or pay their taxes. The next step would be a courtroom, but without the long road to a jury trial.

“A Class A offense, generally speaking, is (on) two dockets: arraignment and trial,” said Cindy Richard, head of the city attorney's Criminal Justice Division. “When you have a jury division, or a Class B, offense, there are many more dockets than that involved.”

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