OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ At least $7 million in Oklahoma County tax revenue that was held in escrow because of protests will be released to area schools and libraries this summer, according to a published report.
The money had been sitting in escrow for about 25 years when The Oklahoman asked the county about $10.6 million in taxes and interest paid under protest.
County Treasurer Butch Freeman said his office, the Oklahoma County Assessor, the state Auditor and Inspector's Office and the Oklahoma Tax Commission have concluded that the funds accumulated during angry responses to tax increases in the mid-1980s.
Freeman said protested tax payments usually aren't released until the protests are settled in court or by the county's board of equalization.
``We're the caboose on these matters,'' Freeman told The Oklahoman for a story in its Sunday editions. ``But in this particular case, we're going to the engine and asking, `What is this? This money has been sitting here for several years _ so what is the story?'''
Until a few years ago, residents only needed to notify the county that they were paying taxes under protest for the money to be placed in escrow. Schools, libraries and local government couldn't receive the revenue until the dispute was settled.
A new evaluation system enacted in 1987 led to extensive property tax increases, and about 15,000 residents paid their taxes under protest, Linda Rogers, chief deputy with the assessor's office, said.
``If there were five people who didn't get upset, they must have been out of the country,'' Freeman said.
The equalization board declared an across-the-board, 15-percent reduction. But that angered taxpayers who already had received lesser cuts.
Attorneys tried to combine the protests into a class-action lawsuit but the Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed the case in 1992.
Now, protests must be followed up by an appearance before the equalization board or the filing of a lawsuit in district court.
Freeman said he wants a change in the county's handling of the payments.
``What we're asking our lawyers at the district attorney's office is, `Do you concur with us there are no cases with these payments? Why are we withholding it?' By releasing it, we might be taking some risk,'' Freeman said.
But the risk is low for releasing at least $7 million to schools, libraries and county government, Freeman said.
``We now know what the total pie is, we know what was paid under protest and what the status is with interest,'' Freeman said.
``Now we have to decide what will go to each school district, and how much money they will get with interest.''