Downtown assessment fees owed for many Tulsa property owners
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
1/03/12 at 7:46 AM
The city of Tulsa has failed to collect more than $460,000 in fees from downtown property owners whose assessments were meant to finance the construction of the downtown baseball park.
More than 300 invoices totaling $467,131.53 are still unpaid by property owners, many of whom could face foreclosure proceedings by the city if the debts remain unpaid.
The city of Tulsa initiated foreclosure proceedings in Tulsa County District Court in late December against one property owner, Carl J. Morony, who it says failed for the past three years to pay improvement-district fees for two downtown buildings he owns.
The city is considering filing lawsuits against other property owners with unpaid assessment fees, said Bob Edmiston, senior assistant city attorney.
The city filed dozens of liens against downtown property owners in November after bills for improvement-fee assessments went unpaid.
The city can initiate foreclosure proceedings in court if a lien is not satisfied within one year of filing, Edmiston said.
Upwards of 93 percent of stadium improvement-district fees are paid on time by the property owners, he said.
The city has collected about $3 million in each of the three years the stadium assessment has been in place.
About 90 property owners have unpaid improvement-district fees.
Blue Dome district landowner Michael Sager, who owns properties that have liens, said he doesn't worry about foreclosure.
"We have no fear," Sager said. "We are getting ready to do a bunch of cleanup at the end of the year, and we will be bringing our stuff current."
Sager, a proponent of the improvement-district fees when they were proposed in 2009, said in some cases it has taken time for leases on property he rents to renew so that the fees can be included in the new leases.
"It's been burdensome initially for us and I'm sure other property owners who did not have that kind of tax built into their leases," he said.
City councilors voted in June 2009 to require property owners within the Inner Dispersal Loop to pay an annual fee of 6.5 cents per square foot of land and structure for 30 years.
The fees are related to an assessment district that was created to help fund the construction of ONEOK Field, the home of the city's Double-A baseball team, the Tulsa Drillers, as well as to pay for upkeep and maintenance of the area.
Of the 6.5 cents per square foot, 4.3 cents are repaying a $25 million bond that was issued to help cover the $39.2 million construction cost of the 6,200-seat stadium.
The remaining 2.2 cents are to be used to pay for downtown services such as landscaping and sweeping.
About 100 parcels are more than a year in arrears on the payment of the fee and could face foreclosure proceedings.
Of the total amount owed in liens, about $76,500 is owed from fees levied in 2009. Another $138,400 is owed from assessment fees levied in 2010.
Edmiston said the city will wait until an appeals court rules on the fee legality before initiating foreclosure proceedings against a group of property owners who challenged the assessment fee.
Some of those challenging the fee have not paid their assessment fees.
But Marc Price, who owns downtown property and is challenging the fee, has paid his assessment.
"We are paying them under duress, but we are paying them," said Price, who expressed sympathy for those who are not paying them.
"I would hate to see them foreclose on anybody's properties, especially if they can't afford to pay an illegal assessment," Price said.
"I basically paid mine out of fear if they start stacking liens up on it - which I'll die with this property, but what if my kids inherit it and the liens are more than it's worth?" Price said.
He contends that the warehouse and other properties he owns in the far southeast corner of the IDL have not benefited from the stadium.
Original Print Headline: Property fees owed by many owners
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471
ONEOK Field, home of the Tulsa Drillers, is illuminated during a lighting test. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file