Oneta Power valuation saga finally ends for Broken Arrow Public Schools
By Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer
Broken Arrow Public Schools (BAPS) Board of Education President Steve Allen was one of several people to thank Wagoner County Assessor Sandy Hodges for her role in resolving litigation with Oneta Power during the board’s regular meeting Monday night.
The Wagoner County power generator protested their taxes and valuation for the last 3 years following an increased valuation from the county assessor’s office, tying up millions of dollars owed to the school district in the process.
“We appreciate you very much, not giving up. Because that would’ve been the easy thing to do,” Allen said.
“I take my job very seriously. And I do know every bit how important these dollars are. Especially to our school system.”
-- Sandy Hodges, Wagoner County Assessor
“Basically back in 2019, they were sold to another company and so that triggered a reassessment of their valuation,” explained BAPS Chief Financial Officer Natalie Eneff. “And so Wagoner County, because it’s a public utility company that is highly complex, actually employed a third-party consulting service to do the valuation for them because they specialize in that area of expertise.”
Eneff said that outside company was the one that provided the recommendation for the valuation. Oneta Power then protested the increased valuation of their machinery, equipment and other tangible personal property from $282,021,000 to $399,245,277.
During court proceedings, the company said its personal property was worth $218 million.
Oneta Power not only protested the tax increase but sought a judicial ruling as to whether the Wagoner County assessor was legally able to levy and assess ad valorem tax on their property following the McGirt ruling. The company is located on the Muscogee Creek Reservation.
Mike Hunter, the Oklahoma attorney general at the time, made a motion to intervene in April 2021, stating McGirt only impacted criminal matters, not civil. The company dropped the McGirt angle of its lawsuit this past July.
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Hodges, a former Broken Arrow High School history teacher, said it was an honor to go to bat for the city.
“I take my job very seriously,” Hodges said. “And I do know every bit how important these dollars are. Especially to our school system.”
Oneta Power has been paying the undisputed tax amounts during the court proceedings, placing the disputed amount in an escrow account.
Eneff said an agreement was reached regarding the increased valuation earlier this fall.
“The district did receive a portion of the funds last week but we’re not the only taxing entity in Wagoner County, obviously, that gets those ad valorem dollars,” Eneff said. “We are a major recipient of that but there are other people in Wagoner that get those dollars.”
She said protests like these are much more common in the western part of the state due to the wind farms.
“For us to get through this in three years was actually quite fortunate,” Eneff said. “Some of these protests have gone on decades.”
Hodges said large corporations have a lot of attorneys and oftentimes consultants who help them wield their perceived power in circumstances like these.
“Especially over a community that’s not as large as Tulsa, not as large as Oklahoma City, as far as county-wise,” Hodges said. “And they’re pretty used to coming in and saying ‘What for?’ But it’s my job to value every parcel equitably and according to market. And I know as a small business owner myself you don’t tend to elaborate on your value according to the assessor’s office but we sure want everyone to be honest and straightforward.”
Eneff said had not gone through a tax protest like this in the 12 years she has been with the district.
“A couple of pieces of legislation did go into effect last year that will hopefully help school districts not be handcuffed into just waiting for years to get their money,” Eneff said. “We budget year by year on the students we have. That money is supposed to benefit current year students. But when things like that happen the current year students are not getting the benefit of those dollars.”
Court records show the next court date involving Oneta Power and the Wagoner County is set for Dec. 12 at 9 a.m.
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Other reports received praise during Monday night’s school board meeting, as well.
The district’s most recent Popular Annual Financial Report highlighted district diversity and other interesting facts.
The district’s annual independent audit and Annual Comprehensive Financial Report found the district to be in financial compliance (Item #8 in the Regular Meeting Public Agenda).
A Fine Arts Honors and Updates report was also presented.
In other school board meeting news, nearly $25,000 in BAPS Foundation grants were approved for Broken Arrow teachers.
Salary increases were approved for non-administrative staff, child nutrition staff, security and parking lot attendants, behavior coaches, and paraprofessionals for the remainder of the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
And bond sale dates were set for the sale of $8 million Building Bonds and $25 million Taxable General Obligation Combined Purpose Bonds to be held at noon on Jan. 18, 2023 and February 15, 2023, respectively.