Bed and breakfast owned by a state senator is on a tax-exempt eagle sanctuary
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2012
12/30/12 at 7:41 AM
RED OAK - Between Wilburton and Red Oak, off U.S. 270 and tucked into the hills of eastern Latimer County, sprawls what appears to be a 12,000-square-foot stone mansion. Called Rockland at Eagles Rest, it is operated as a high-end bed and breakfast and may or may not also be the residence of owners Larry and Karla Boggs.
Among locals, the place has been a topic of considerable discussion since construction began in 2001. A lot of that discussion has had to do with the fact that Rockland is exempt from property taxes.
"They brought in a stack of papers about a foot high," said current Latimer County Assessor Cyndi McKenna. "The assessor before me (Linda Jordan) sent them up to the Tax Commission. They looked them over and said everything was in order."
Rockland is on 10 acres the Boggses set up as a 501(c)3 nonprofit eagle sanctuary. Larry Boggs said the sanctuary also includes "ingress and egress acreage and a 1,000-foot radius of any bald eagle nest." Because the sanctuary is nonprofit, it and the buildings on it are exempt from property taxes.
McKenna said area residents "about drove us crazy" when the exemption became common knowledge.
"They'd say, 'I have an eagle flying over my house, why can't I get an exemption?' "
The grumbling has died down, especially since Nov. 6, when Larry Boggs was elected to the state Senate.
"I think it might be better just to let it be," said one area resident who had been critical of Boggs.
Even Boggs is reluctant to talk about Rockland, although it obviously was not enough of an issue to keep Boggs, a Republican, from being elected to the Senate from a heavily Democratic district that was once represented by the legendary Gene Stipe.
A former general building contractor who now considers himself mostly retired, Boggs has been a director of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and easily won the November general election in Senate District 7 over Democrat J. Paul Lane.
Boggs says the exemption is justified because the property is used to protect bald eagles and promote understanding of the birds through educational programs. It has had a nesting pair of bald eagles every year of its existence, and Eagles Rest has been involved with preservation efforts through Bartlesville's Sutton Avian Center; Sutton's assistant director, Alan Jenkins, was on the 501(c)3's board of directors until retiring and moving to Oregon about a year ago.
"We protect, defend, publicly educate and promote the welfare of the American Bald Eagle and its nesting habitat on Abbott Ranch," said Boggs. "That is exactly what Eagles Rest Sanctuary was set up to do and obtained a tax-exempt status for that purpose."
Abbott Ranch is a 700-acre tract held in Karla Boggs' family trust. The 10-acre sanctuary is leased from the ranch by the nonprofit.
Rockland's bed-and-breakfast operations are for-profit, Larry Boggs said, and comply with all applicable sales and income tax laws.
Privately, many locals say the Boggses also live at Rockland. Mail pieces circulated by a Democratic political action committee during the recent Senate campaign also made that claim, and a 2007 story in the Oklahoma Farm Bureau's magazine indicates as much.
Boggs, though, says he resides at another, much more modest house on the Abbott Ranch property. When asked in an email about the matter, Boggs wrote: "My primary residence is (one of the smaller houses). This address is one of several addresses/residences located on property in Latimer County known as The Abbott Ranch. Because part of my wife's duties involve caretaking (until a sale can be obtained), she utilizes two of these residences to maintain and operate Rockland and our cattle operation."
When asked again where he lives - and whether the entire ranch or just the Rockland acreage were for sale - Boggs replied, "I do believe I have answered your questions."
How much in potential tax revenue is at stake is unclear. Because of the exemption, the assessor doesn't attempt to assign a fair market value to the property. Current assessment ratios and millage rates for the Red Oak school district equate to $9,106.72 in real estate taxes for every $1 million in taxable value.
Boggs said he and his wife were originally advised to place the entire ranch property - more than 700 acres - in the 501(c)3, but decided not to do so. Latimer County records show the Abbott Ranch paid a total of $990 in real estate taxes in 2011.
According to Larry Boggs as well as the 2007 magazine piece, the Boggses started the project with several financial backers who subsequently backed out. The Boggses went on with the project alone.
Boggs says any controversy over Rockland at Eagles Rest was cooked up by his political opponents.
"This false, negative attack has been a talking point of (Lane's) campaign, and the trial attorneys that supported his candidacy," said Boggs. "It is simply not true and cannot be backed up by the facts."
Lane declined to comment for this story, but Latimer County Commissioner Roy Alford, whose district includes Rockland at Eagles Rest, indicated there is more involved than a brief political spat.
"We've had lots of complaints about it," said Alford. "Lots of people don't appreciate paying taxes on their property when someone else is not paying it on theirs."
Boggs, when pressed, says he can understand why some people may be upset "if they don't see the whole picture."
Original Print Headline: Mansion exempt from taxes
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
Larry Boggs: "We protect, defend, publicly educate and promote the welfare of the American Bald Eagle and its nesting habitat."
Screenshot from the website of Rockland at Eagles Rest.