Owasso officials don’t deny they received money that belongs to Rogers County’s E911 account.
But, at this point, Owasso’s City Manager Rodney Ray says the city’s hands are tied when it comes to writing Rogers County an $80,000 check to pay the money back.
“If we can find a way where we can pay, we will,” Ray said. “We’ll join Rogers County in a lawsuit if it comes to that. Rogers County deserves their money”
In May, Rogers County District 2 Commissioner Mike Helm discovered $80,675.86 missing from the county’s E911 account. After an audit was conducted by Thomson RIA/Tax Partners, the entity responsible for distributing the E911 fees, it was discovered funds owed to Rogers County from 2001 to 2005 were sent to the City of Owasso. The error, for which Tax Partners takes blame, was due to an internal address error.
Ray maintains Owasso is not responsible for the error, and places not only the blame but the financial liability on Tax Partners.
“We believe Tax Partners not only has a moral obligation, but a legal obligation to repay that money to Rogers County,” Ray said. “We have officially told Tax Partners to give (Rogers County) the money, and if you think we have a problem, then come after us.”
Ray said the money that was
misdirected to the Owasso was deposited into the city’s E911 account.
The E911 fees are collected by various telephone companies through phone bills from customers who use land line telephones. The money is then distributed by Tax Partners to the appropriate governmental entities for E911 services provided.
Owasso officials have cited a state statute that obligates Tax Partners to repay the funds to the county.
In a letter from the City of Owasso to Rogers County Assistant District Attorney Barry Farbro, City Attorney Julie Trout Lombardi states, “63 O.S. §2815 quite clearly states that the local exchange telephone company (or, presumably, its agent) shall not only remit all collected fees to the appropriate governing body in a timely manner, but that a 10 percent fee shall be imposed for a failure to do so.”
She also states that the city “is unaware of any waiver of liability which would exonerate Tax Partners from the duties imposed by this statute.”
Farbro, the county’s legal counsel, has not given a public response to the latest exchange between the city and county.
Helm maintains the problem began prior to 2001, back in the 1990s when E911 services were first issued.
Claims against the city that precede the current fiscal year, according to Lombardi, are void due to legislation that does not allow payments for encumbrances not presented 90 days after the close of the fiscal year. She states in the letter, “We do not believe the City of Owasso has the statutory authority to now make payment upon these stale claims.”
Although Farbro sent a letter to Owasso asking for the funds to be returned, Helm said he (as the County commissioner) previously contacted city officials with the request.
Ray said, to his knowledge, that was not the case.
“You can ask anyone at the city offices, we did not hear from him,” Ray said. “If we had gotten the call and had the opportunity, we would have worked this out.”
Helm said he made contact through emails with individuals involved in the city’s E911 services.
“All contact was through emails,” Helm said. “And Rodney knew about it. He brought it up in a meeting.”
In fact, Helm was sent a copy of an email from Tax Partners that was sent to a City of Owasso employee that included the audit results. In the email, Diane Pouliot, of Tax Partners, states, “Per our last conversation, I know that you’ve been anxiously awaiting these results. You also indicated that you would work directly with Mike Helm, Rogers County commissioner, to refund these payments to the county.”
Both the Owasso and the Rogers County officials have indicated they desire a resolution.
Contact Krystal J. Carman at firstname.lastname@example.org.