Costly City of Tulsa Settlements Could Impact Property Taxes

Wednesday, September 1st 2010, 6:47 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- The City of Tulsa has made some costly settlements in court lately, and the impact on property taxes is beginning to worry elected officials.

Just this week, the city paid out $60,000 in judgments to settle court cases, but year to year, it's in the millions. That comes directly out of property taxes.

It's routine for the City Council to sign off on court settlements, but the Council's role is just to verify the City has the money to spend.

The most recent case: a settlement approved this week to the Sixth Church of Christ Scientist. The Church, which is next door to Fire Station 14, sued because a fire truck damaged their parking lot. The city settled for $25,000, and the legal department said it was less than the cost of the damage.

8/31/2010 Related Story: City Of Tulsa To Pay Church $25,000 

City Councilors are just beginning to realize the scope of how many payouts the city makes.

"The last thing I want is for the City of Tulsa to become an easy target to get judgments out of and at some point we have to draw a line in the sand and say no we're not going to do this," said Bill Christiansen, Tulsa City Councilor.

The payments come out what's called "The Sinking Fund" at City Hall.

Right now the City of Tulsa "Sinking Fund" has a balance of over $24 million, but most of that is used to pay on bonds, not court settlements.

Since April first, the City has paid $260,000 in judgments, but that's just the new settlements. For 2009, the total was $6.3 million.

See a list of who received payments from The Sinking Fund

"Every little dime adds up, every settlement adds up and it could affect the property tax," said Chris Trail, Tulsa City Councilor.

The money in the sinking fund comes from property taxes, which go up to match the cost of the settlements.

See how Tulsa property taxes compare surrounding areas

At City Hall, the concern is that the police corruption scandal could lead to new, million dollar payouts, that would make property taxes go up.

"It could be real expensive, we just don't know what it's going to be and how much it's going to cost, and right now we don't have that kind of money budgeted," Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said.