By Kelly Rogers
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Cleveland County Treasurer’s office was awash with whispers Monday morning as a surprise unfolded to help a veteran’s widow.
With proposed legislation under way, property tax exemptions could be a rule set in stone for future spouses of veterans in need of assistance.
Overwhelmed with information, Jennifer Hunt said her first time in the treasurer’s office was one that left her with too many unanswered questions after her husband was killed five years earlier.
Specialist Jason Hunt died in the 2009 base shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas. Eleven others also were killed. These changes not only accumulated emotional weight for her and her three daughters but technical issues, as well, Jennifer said.
Unexpected bills in the mail contradicted what she was hearing about the rules of tax exemptions for widows, stirring stress and fears of potentially losing her house, she said.
“I was told in the beginning that I was exempt,” she said, “but I found out later that that was not the case for me.”
Cleveland County treasurer Jim Reynolds said he learned of Jennifer’s situation two and a half months ago and quickly took action.
“We’re going to do something,” Reynolds said.
With the help of his brother, Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, and the Senate author of the bill, Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, the three constructed House Bill 2621. The bill outlines rules and exemptions for widows with spouses who have been killed in the line of duty.
Reynolds said if the bill passes, widows like Hunt will not have to pay property taxes.
Upon searching for donations, three prominent benefactors have donated money to contribute to Hunt’s account, paying off $5,600 in property taxes from 2011 to 2013.
“I am so glad that we can do this and that people stepped up,” Jim Reynolds said. “It’s not us; it’s others who were able to give and contribute.”
On Monday, Vickie Sanders, second deputy treasurer and back tax department supervisor, presented an unsuspecting Hunt with the receipts of her property taxes, paid in full.
“I think anything we can do to help our veterans or their spouses, we should do,” Sanders said. “They’ve given the ultimate sacrifice.”
With teary eyes, Hunt examined the black and white figures that meant a huge financial burden had just been solved for her.
“I’ve never had help before,” she said, “but this bill isn’t just for me; this is for other people.”
Though the exemptions are in place for widows in other states, the current bill drafted by Mike Reynolds and Bercheen could put Oklahoma on the map along with those other states, including Florida, Washington, Texas and Arizona.
The classification of the event as an act of workplace violence and not an act of terrorism played a part in the difficulties of determining concrete exemptions and rules in the Fort Hood situation.
“Nothing is ever going to be better unless you work toward it,” Hunt said. “All of the things that are in effect now are because of people in the past that brought it to attention.”
Hunt said she hopes this bill is a step to getting help for other widows enduring the same problems.
Despite receiving some negative feedback from people in the community on social media and other websites, Hunt said she plans to keep spreading the word.
“I’m very thankful that Jim and everyone else could come together and help me with this,” she said. “I just hope that the rest of this will work out for the future.”
Though the bill has not been heard yet, it is scheduled for the last week of session.
Reynolds said he hopes the bill can help future situations.
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