State of Oklahoma owes Tulsa County almost $2 million in property taxes

It's almost school time again. Property taxes help your child's classroom, paid by property owners, like Robertson Tire.

"We have 17 properties in Tulsa County and five in Rogers County and one in Wagoner County," said Diana Triplett, the office manager for Robertson Tire's corporate office.

In all, they pay $150,000 a year in property taxes for their 23 locations.

Triplett says the company always pays on time and is glad to know where the taxes go.

"We have to take care of our schools. Our schools are extremely important," said Triplett.

While Robertson and many businesses across Green Country pay their bill on time, thousands are late.

In May, the 2NEWS Investigators exposed some companies that own hundreds of thousands of dollars.

RELATED STORY - Tulsa Public Schools district's budget missing millions due to unpaid Tulsa County property taxes (http://bit.ly/166dA67)

This time we went digging for the worst offender; the one that owes the most in unpaid property taxes for Tulsa County.

That offender? The state of Oklahoma.    

We went to the Oklahoma Tax Commission to find out why. We talked to Jeff Spelman, of the property tax division.

Spelman confirmed the state does not have a deadline on when that money is due.

"I just don't know how they can get away with that," said Triplett.

The 2NEWS Investigators poured over delinquent property taxes and found the state of Oklahoma still owes $1.7 million to Tulsa County. Meanwhile, millions are still owed to other counties.

RELATED LINK - Breakdown of the more than $46 million owed to counties for the 2012 tax year (http://bit.ly/2012taxyr)

"The state is providing the money, and we could not be constitutionally in position to make that payment if there are no funds available," said Spelman.

The fund he's talking about pays the property taxes for hundreds of Oklahoma businesses.

Some manufacturing businesses, such as Holly Refinery, get a tax break for bringing jobs to Oklahoma. In turn, the state pays their property taxes. Statewide that's a $46 million dollar tab.

It comes down to a math problem. The state owes more than 50 counties a total of $46 million. The fund to pay for those property taxes only gets $20 million in it a year, that's half of what it needs. So the state is left searching for the other $26 million.

Spelman says it causes a delay in payment.

"Usually that money will be available by January of the following year," he said.

January of the following year, that's a year after your taxes are due.

The Tax Commission say its hands are tied, and it can only reimburse schools and counties once it gets more money.

"The State of Oklahoma can't pay any money to the counties they don't have. That's part of the budget balance amendment so we have to wait until there's money available," said Spelman.

Meanwhile schools continue to wait for the money.

At her State of the State Address July 12, Governor Mary Fallin proclaimed education was one of her top goals.

"We've tried in my budget over the years to protect education," said Governor Fallin.

Knowing her mission is to fund education, we wanted to ask the Governor why the state takes so long paying it's tax bill to fund schools.

For weeks we tried to set up an interview to get answers from the state's top government official, but her office repeatedly turned us down.

Finally, we caught up with her at the State of the State and asked her about the delay in payment. She said a fix is up to the legislature.

"I'm always happy to look at any issue. It's hard to make a judgment call on legislation until it's written, until the issue is thoroughly discussed. I'm certainly open to listening to any type of suggestion of how we can improve our communities and certainly education," said Fallin.

That's not good enough for state Senator Sean Burrage.

"We definitely have to find a way to pay our bills on time. We owe that to the citizens," said Burrage.

After what we told him, Burrage is working on a legislative fix.

"I'd like to talk to the senate leadership both democrat and republican. We need a legislative fix. Some way to maybe ease the pain on these school districts and get these bills paid on time," said Burrage.

Now we'll just have to see if the Governor takes a look at it, as promised.    

Meanwhile, schools are dealing with a smaller budget for text books and larger class sizes, there are fewer resources and individual attention for each child.

From the starting bell, to the one that ends the day, it takes money to make sure schools survive.

Since the 2NEWS Investigators started asking the state why it isn't paying property taxes, it's paid an additional $300,000 to Tulsa County.

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