Canadian County officials consider joining national lawsuit

Canadian County has been invited to join a federal class action lawsuit that would require the federal government to make payments on property it owns in the county.

The lawsuit was originally filed by officials in Kane County, Utah, in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for payments in lieu of taxes that were underpaid over several years by the federal government on land it owns.

In 1976, Congress enacted a program meant to compensate local governments for the loss of tax revenues resulting from the tax-immune status of federal lands in their jurisdictions.

The law directs the government to make a payment each fiscal year to each government body in which entitlement land is located.

However, in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, Congress failed to appropriate sufficient funds to pay the bill in full.

The lawsuit claims that $451.6 million was owed to governmental entities across the nation at the end of fiscal year 2016.

A federal judge issued a declaratory judgment against the government on March 20 and certified the issue as a class action lawsuit in April.

So far, hundreds of counties across the nation have joined the lawsuit, including 10 counties in Oklahoma.

In Canadian County, there are approximately 10,000 acres of land owned by the federal government.

County Assessor Matt Wehmuller said that he doesn’t place a value on the property because it is exempt from taxes. However, in the future that property may have a value placed on it so that if the property does sell, there is a way to determine its value.

County Treasurer Carolyn Leck said since 2014, the amount of payment in lieu of taxes received from the federal government has fluctuated.

In 2014-15, the county received $380 in funds related to the federal correction center in El Reno and $18,120 for tribal land.

Beginning in 2015-16, the prison number jumped to $453, but the tribal payment dipped to $17,400.

In 2016-17, the federal government paid $439 for the prison property, but the tribal payment dropped to $15,920.

And in 2017-18, the tribal amount increased to $16,560, while the prison payment was $439.

The three county commissioners said Monday they wanted an opportunity to review the lawsuit before making a decision.

The deadline to join the case is Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, the county commissioners approved an agreement with Canadian Valley Technology Center to provide two deputies to the facility as school resource officers.

The CareerTech center will pay $48,860 to the county for each officer. That is about 75 percent of their salaries. The county will cover the remaining 25 percent. The deputies will work normal shifts when school is not in session.

Also approved by the commissioners was an agreement for the El Reno School District to provide educational services for the Fort Reno Adolescent Center and the county’s juvenile detention center, both of which are located at the Gary E. Miller Children’s Justice Center.

An agreement that would have made the El Reno district the lead provider of educational services at the facility and agreements with El Reno and Yukon to provide alternative education services were tabled after an error was found in the contract.

In other action

The commissioners also:

  • Approved an agreement with Ezells Refrigeration to replace an air conditioning unit at the county assessor’s office. The cost is $9,236.10 and was the lowest of three bids;
  • Approved the renewal of a contract with Otis Elevator for monthly maintenance services for the courthouse and the health department;
  • Approved the purchase of recycled asphalt shingles from Southern Grind for $21 per ton. The shingles are used for dust control during road projects;
  • Approved permanent installation permits for OneOk Field Services;
  • Approved an agreement with Rogers County for detention services at the children’s justice center;
  • Approved an agreement with Dewey and Grant counties for bed space at each county’s jail;
  • Awarded a contract for road oil to be picked up at the plant to Vance Brothers. The bid was higher than one from Coastal Energy for the same product, but the closest pickup location for Coastal Energy was in Missouri. Vance Brothers has a plant in Oklahoma City.

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