July 21–Keystone Gas Corporation has succeeded in convincing the Payne County Board of Equalization to lower its business property tax bill for 2018 but owner Rick Sellers says he isn’t done fighting.
Sellers has been protesting his company’s assessments since 2015 because they rose dramatically after Payne County hired Total Assessment Solutions Corporation to help it locate and assign a value to oil and gas property.
TASC has been credited for increasing county tax revenues by locating undisclosed oil and gas property in a reported 44 Oklahoma counties, as well multiple counties in Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico.
Sellers says TASC didn’t find anything he wasn’t already reporting but the county’s $4.8 million valuation is still almost double the figure the pipeline company calculated.
Keystone submitted a list of all its taxable property, which is known as a rendition, with a total calculated value of just over $2.9 million for 2018.
Sellers says he has always been honest with the county and reported property when he’s not sure others would have. Prior to hiring TASC, the county commonly accepted Keystone’s rendition without question, he said.
The pipeline company convinced the three-person Board of Equalization to override TASC’s value after Sellers explained the cost basis his company used to determine the value of its pipeline system.
Keystone filed a petition in Payne County District Court on Dec. 29 that is asking the court to order a similar revaluation of its tax bills for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Sellers says the figures for those years are also unrealistically high.
“I’m a little company with old pipe that serves stripper wells and they treated me like I was TransCanada’s Keystone,” he said.
In addition, Sellers has concerns about how the tax revenues are being apportioned to school districts based on where his lines are mapped.
He says the maps he’s seen are way off.
During a July 10 meeting of the Board of Equalization, Jerry Wisdom of TASC defended the assessment his company developed using information he said was provided by Keystone.
After agreeing there had been communication problems, the three parties agreed to meet and come up with a solution, according to the minutes of the July 10 meeting.
Sellers says that meeting never happened.
Wisdom was not present when the Board of Equalization met Friday and County Assessor James Cowan told the board he was still waiting for information from him.
The Assessor offered to rework the numbers himself but noted that real estate is his area of specialty, not oil and gas business property.
The Board of Equalization ultimately granted Keystone’s request and lowered the valuation for 2018 to $2.9 million.
DCP Midstream has also appealed its property valuations in recent years by filing petitions in Payne County District Court.
That company and Payne County compromised at $7.9 million for 2016 and $9.4 million for 2017, which lowered the company’s valuation by about $2 million each year.
Sellers said he isn’t just concerned about the increase in his company’s tax bill; He is concerned because his financial people couldn’t replicate the math TASC used to arrive at the assigned value and he hasn’t been able to get documentation of the calculations from the company.
They stumbled across what they believe are problems with the school revenue apportionment while they were reworking those numbers, he said.
“A lot of small companies just aren’t sophisticated enough to do the math,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to have a couple of guys who can.”
Sellers says he’s concerned the problems his people found could be more widespread than the county realizes and he insists he’s not out to get the County Assessor.
He just wants each school to get what he believes it has coming to it at a time when school funding is a critical issue.
“I’m not the only one the contractor dealt with,” he said. “I don’t think anyone else caught this … I’m not the Assessor police, I’m nobody. If they did this to me, who else did they do it to and what was the effect on the schools?”
Wisdom was away from his office and unavailable for comment Friday. The News Press had not received a response to a message left with his assistant by press time.
Keystone’s petition in Payne County District Court remains active as Sellers seeks to get his tax valuations for previous years reduced.
Associate District Judge Stephen Kistler will consider motions to continue and to grant more time to respond in the matter at a hearing set for 9 a.m. Friday.
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