County Assessors Breaking the Law

Wednesday, March 2nd 2011, 5:50 pm
By: News 9

Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A discovery by a state senator troubled him so much, he told the Oklahoma Impact Team all about it.

"That just seems baffling to me," said Senator Jim Reynolds, (R) Oklahoma City. "To me they're willfully not doing their job.

Reynolds is talking about nearly 50 counties that are not properly adjusting the taxable market value, county wide, each year. That means, in some counties people are not paying their fair share of taxes.

"You always want to feel like you are being taxed at the same amount that others are being taxed equally," said Reynolds.

State law requires county assessors to raise the taxable market value 5 percent every year, if the homeowner is paying taxes based on a value that's lower than what the house is really worth.

Read the Attorney General's opinion regarding this law.

But, not all counties are doing it. Reynolds wants them to comply, immediately. He said the state is losing out on millions of potential tax dollars.

Read tax commission audit results for counties not properly adjusting unsold property values.

"Those dollars could be, the vast majority of it, over 50 percent would be making it into the schools. The assessors not doing their jobs are stealing from the kids. They're stealing money right out of the classrooms," said Reynolds.

The OIT talked to around 10 county assessors and only one said that she refuses to raise rates during these tough economic times. Most said they don't have the technology to do it, there aren't enough sales to come up with comps or they're short staffed.

"We follow the law to the very furthest extent that we can," said Randy Wintz, Lincoln County Assessor.

Wintz said he only adjusts the taxable market value when a house sells, improvements are made or if his staff visually inspects it, once every four years. He does not rely only on a computer to make adjustments to every property yearly, like other counties do, even if the law calls for it. He also points out, the values he set were within 2 percent of the sales price for homes last year.

"Personally, I have a difficult time increasing a value on a property, we haven't gotten to look at in the last three or four years," said Wintz.

Senator Reynolds argues that the law is the law and everyone must follow it.

"I want to see forced compliance. If an assessor refuses to do his job, I think action should be taken to remove that assessor from office," said Reynolds.

The county assessors are audited every year. If this is the only thing they fail to do correctly, they pass the audit. Senator Reynolds wants that to change so assessors face consequences.