Tulsa Public Schools district's budget missing millions due to unpaid Tulsa County property taxes
2:14 PM, May 20, 2013
1:32 PM, Jun 24, 2013
TULSA - A big chunk of the Tulsa Public School district's budget comes from property tax.
2NEWS Investigators poured over property taxes owed in Tulsa County for 2012. We found businesses and/or individuals who owe money on 18,000 properties.
We continued looking back even further, going back through 2009-2012 delinquent property taxes there's enough money owed to make up $20 million in cuts that the district has received over the past five years, according to records from the Tulsa County Treasurer's Office.
It's money that is supposed to go to schools and could help hire more teachers. In fact, enough money is owed in Tulsa County to pay the salaries of dozens of teachers in Tulsa Public Schools.
More teachers would mean smaller class sizes for teachers like Tielsa Amundson, who the students call Mrs. A. Her classroom is packed to the max.
"People don't talk about the physical environment and the physical limitations as well when you have 25 to 30 students. I've had multiple kids bonk their heads with each other when they're just trying to scoot out their chairs," said Mrs. A.
Across town, there are open seats at a movie theater at 103rd and South Memorial. Starworld 20, like many other businesses, are helping fund schools through property taxes. Except the country treasurer says this theater didn't pay up in 2012.
The company that owns the movie theater, Spirit Master Funding, is owned by Thomas H. Nolan. Spirit owes $126,000. It's the most owed in the county for last year alone. We called the Arizona-based company but they didn't return our calls.
Records show number two on the list is Resource One. It's a direct marketing firm in Tulsa and owes $122,000 in property taxes for 2012. They too didn't return our calls.
Then there's Eton Square at 61st and South Memorial. It's former owner, Transcontinental Realty out of Dallas, owes $107,000 for 2012, according to the treasurer's office. It's CEO didn't call us back either, but again, that's just 2012.
We've listed the top ten delinquent property tax balances at the end of this story.
Our investigators dug deeper. We found the Starworld 20 Theatre actually owes another $10,000 in interest, making its grand total $136,000.
Plus, records show that Resource One did not pay in 2012 or in 2011 either. It actually owes a grand total of $286,000.
Eton Square's total goes up quite a bit. It owes more than half a million when you add up its back taxes and interest dating all the way back to 2009.
But we didn't stop there, we found one business owes taxes on 100 properties. Brightside Properties owns and rents out dozens of homes. It owes $201,000 in taxes for the past three years. The owner, Rod Spurlin, didn't answer the door or return our calls.
We wanted to know what happens to these violators so we went to the Tulsa County Treasurer's Office.
"If they're not paid, they begin accruing interest at the rate of 1 and 1.5 percent per month," said Steve Blue with the Tulsa County Treasurer's Office.
For the properties owners here and the thousands of others who still owe for last year, that interest started accruing May 15.
After three and a half years, if the property taxes and the interest are not paid, "The property will be sold for non-payment of taxes," said Blue.
Eton Square is one of those properties ready to be sold for back taxes. However, we talked to the new owners, U.S. Acquisition Properties XIII out of Denver, and they are planning to pay $146,000 of those back taxes by the end of this month to keep it from being sold. It also told 2NEWS it plans to pay the rest of the taxes owed by the previous owner over time.
In a statement, Assets Manager of the U.S. Acquisition Properties XIII Jeff Peshut said, "We just took title of the property in the past 30 days. We have been getting our arms around the property and what needs to be addressed."
But for the rest of the property owners who owe back taxes, every dollar not paid can't help the services it is supposed to fund.
Fourty-six percent of property taxes go to county services, the library and the health department. The other 54 percent all goes to schools, that means just the money owed in property taxes for 2012 -- the money that would go to schools -- could pay the salaries for 200 TPS teachers.
For Mrs. A, that solution could mean fewer students in her classroom, more room for the children and more room to learn.
"You'd think that at some point in time, I don't know if it's getting community, parents involved that we recognize the ramifications of these large class sizes on our students," said Amundson.
Tulsa County 2012 Top 10 Property Delinquent Tax Balances