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June 4, 2013

Tornado hits pocketbook of Moore school district

NORMAN — Moore Public Schools could lose millions in ad valorem tax dollars as a result of the May 20 tornado, county officials said Monday.

Lost structures mean less dollars collected in property taxes, Cleveland County Assessor David Tinsley said.

“By using our aerial photography, we have identified 1,273 homes destroyed and 1,438 homes with minor to substantial damage,” Tinsley said.

The aerial photos used by the Cleveland County assessor are taken by Pictometry, a national company that does identification of property from the air. In 2008, Cleveland County contracted with Pictometry for an assessment. That contract includes additional assessment following disasters such as the recent tornadoes at no additional charge, Tinsley said.

How those damages will compute to tax dollars collected has not been calculated yet, but Moore schools will be most affected by the loss of ad valorem. Other entities affected will be Cleveland County and the Pioneer Library System.

Cleveland County’s general fund is 90 percent ad valorem taxes, County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said.

Losses in Little Axe also will affect the county’s general fund, but Moore schools are most likely to feel the pinch.

Oklahoma schools are funded based on ad valorem, but a state formula is applied to funding to equalize the dollars each school district receives. That formula may help ease the pinch for Moore schools.

The positive side of the reduction in ad valorem is that homeowners who have lost their homes will not have to pay property taxes on a home that no longer exists.

Tinsley said county assessors across the state were moved by the plight of homeowners last summer who lost homes in wildfires. Under state law, those homeowners still had to pay property taxes, at least for that first year.

Tinsley said Oklahoma assessors looked for a way around making property owners who lost their homes in the fires pay taxes on those homes but were told the law did not allow them to exempt those homeowners in the first year. The County Assessors Association of Oklahoma asked state lawmakers to allow for exceptions in disasters.

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