Alva Review-Courier -

No location, no contact information – assessing grow houses challenging

 

August 13, 2021

Marione Martin

Discussing the difficulties in assessing the tax value of marijuana grow houses are Bob Seivert, Joe Shirley, Shelley Reed, Chris Olson and (back to camera) Renetta Benson.

Property valuations for Woods County are down compared to a year ago, said County Assessor Renetta Benson. She presented her report Wednesday to the Woods County Excise Board. Board members present were Joe Shirley, Bob Seivert and Chris Olson. County Clerk Shelley Reed was also present.

The new valuations are the basis for county taxes for 2021. Valuations for public service companies in the county, which are set by the state, are $41,716,244, down $2,247,846 from this time last year. Benson said the comparison is before any protests were filed last year.

The total county assessed value including TIF district taxes is $212,967,697, down $7,562,419 from last year. Excluding TIF, the value is $211,757,774, down $7,509.93. The total TIF assessed value is $1,209,923.

There are three protests on the 2021 valuations. The public service protest is Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Co. affecting Alva and Waynoka school districts with an assessed value of $3,797,236. Two oil and gas protests have been filed. DCP Operating with an assessed value of $1,442,385 affects Alva, Freedom and Waynoka school districts in Woods County plus one in Major County. The Targa Pipeline Mid-Con WestOK, LLC protest affects revenue for all three Woods County school districts plus one in Major County and one in Alfalfa County. The Targa original assessed valuation is $32,203,905.

Although the protested valuations affect county tax revenue, the biggest impact is on school budgets because school districts cannot count on the funds until the protests have been settled which can take years.

"That's why I always make sure and tell the superintendents, 'don't count on this much because you don't know what's going to happen,'" said Benson.

Benson said the decrease in county valuations comes from the rural areas of the county. The cities show an increase in valuations. She said the rural decreases are mostly due to oil and gas changes such as not being able to assess compressors and the results of protests.

The wind farm in southern Woods County is not included in the 2021 valuation because it was not operational Jan. 1. However, it will show up on next year's report. Benson could not predict what that value will be since it is owned by a public service company which is assessed by the state. However, the county added five new electric companies due to lines for the wind farm so school district #4 which is mostly in Major County received some benefit.

Trying to Find and Assess Grow Houses

"How about these grow houses?" asked Seivert. "Is there training available for you to learn how to assess them." Benson said yes, there is training.

"Well, there's a ton of them going in," commented Shirley.

"And I think that's the reason Capron's (assessed value) was up. They've got a little bitty one," said Benson. "I can't think of any other reason why Capron, the town itself, would be up."

Seivert said Woods County Commissioner Randy McMurphy told him about a grow house northeast of Freedom in the county that dwarfs the one going in next to Freedom.

"Really!" said Benson. "What I'm finding now is you get the information from the state. It gives us a name of who it is. They have many names. It's usually never a person's name. It's usually some business name, but we don't know location. You have to find them on your own."

Reed said when the county commissioners sign the paperwork, she tried unsuccessfully to get copies for Benson.

"When it first started, we had all the information. But then somewhere along the line somebody didn't like that information being out there and so somehow they got it stopped," Benson said. "They decided that was confidential."

"We need to know where these things are so we can assess them," said Reed.

Shirley said he thought they couldn't export the marijuana out of the state but apparently they can, according to what he is hearing. Seivert referred to an article published in the Freedom Call telling how many illegal grow houses have been closed down.

"They've got to be doing something. They can't use that much inside the state, and I don't think they can sell it outside the state," said Shirley. He said however, there's a law being discussed in Congress saying marijuana is not illegal anymore. "They skirted the issue; they just took it off the list of prohibited stuff," he added.

"It still isn't right that we're having to go out and try to find all these and get them on the tax roll when you and I have put our stuff on the tax roll," said Reed. "They need to be putting theirs on there the first year they are on instead of maybe four years later."

Seivert discussed a sale of property next to the Methodist Church and said it was LLC on top of LLC to get to some entity in San Francisco. He said his understanding is that this entity is operating it for the man with the money in China.

In further discussion, Reed said the county commissioners have to sign paperwork for the grow permits but she never sees it. She's asked about getting a copy for the assessor, she said, but so far hasn't been able to get that.

"I can't run them down if I don't know where to find them," said Benson.

Olson raised another question. He said he has a neighbor who got a permit to raise hemp. He said if that person's barn was assessed as ten cents a foot to store hay, "maybe you ought to have $15 a foot to raise hemp."

"And these grow houses have all that equipment. All that equipment should be on our taxes, on our tax rolls," said Reed.

Seivert said the grow house at the corner of his property is 103 feet by 50 feet and there are 11 of those on that property in Freedom plus the free-standing buildings.

"And that's not counting the ones they just converted out of somebody's barn out in the middle of nowhere," said Olson.

"We need to do something," concluded Shirley.

"What these guys have done to my water pressure, Stansberry's water pressure, anybody north of them ... you can't get good enough pressure out of the showerhead in my hall bathroom shower," said Seivert.

"That's rural water," said Shirley. "They do not have to approve them on there. That water board does not have to accept any new ones. I was on it (board) when we built it. I know what goes on there. If somebody wants water, they don't necessarily get it if they consider the system full. That might be a way to control a little bit of it."

Board members suggested this reporter write a good story.

"You've got to get the public involved to know what's going on. You know this is a lot of tax money involved here for the schools. It could be a lot," said Shirley. "You've got to be able to inspect it to assess it."

Benson said the last couple of years when she started receiving training on assessment of grow houses, "I was floored at the amount of money that was involved." Lights, irrigation equipment, the special soils and containers were mentioned.

"Well, if you're going to tax me for my bailer to bail hay," said Olson, "you need to be taxing them for every pound."

"Absolutely," said Shirley. "I guarantee those grow houses cost way more than my equipment."

Benson said she has a few on the tax rolls. "It's just hard to find them, and then it's hard to get in contact with them, and then to get them to come in and tell you anything. There again, how do you know they are telling you the truth unless you go and inspect them."

"Get the district attorney and sheriff to go with you," said Shirley.

"We'd probably have to on some of them," said Benson. She said that often the people working there don't speak English.

The board members decided it was time to move on and voted to approve the assessor's report.

Monthly Appropriations

Excise board members approved the following monthly appropriations:

District #1 Highway Cash $122,616.40

District #2 Highway Cash $122,825.32

District #3 Highway Cash $143,417.06

CBRI Fund-105 – D#1 $10,827.66

CBRI Fund-105 – D#2 $10,827.65

CBRI Fund-105 – D#3 $10,827.65

Enhanced 911 $12,282.41

Assessor's Fee $140.00

County Clerk's Lien Fee $1,099.30

County Clerk's Preservation Fee $2,340.00

Emergency Management $140.20

Treasurer's Resale $4,889.87

Sheriff Commissary $37.81

Sheriff's Service Fee & CHS $6,651.60

Mortgage Tax $140.00

Federal Rescue Plan Act of 2021 $421.77

Court Clerk Salary $8,605.52

Court Clerk RM&P $399.50

 

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