TULSA, Okla. (AP) - More than 11,000 veterans and their spouses received state property tax exemptions last year, cutting property tax collections statewide by $7.3 million - nearly six times the original estimate, according to the state Tax Commission.
Veteran homeowners with a 100 percent service-related disability and their surviving spouses qualify for the exemption. It has become so popular that some officials believe the state should begin thinking of ways to provide relief for some counties.
The program has resulted in properties valued as high as $816,270 being exempted from property taxes. In all, homes worth more than $841 million have been removed from tax rolls.
State officials believe the number of properties qualifying for the exemption will rise as more veterans learn about the program, others become eligible for it and still others move here from out of state.
“Word is getting around,” said Jeff Spelman, director of the ad valorem division of the state Tax Commission.
In Tulsa County, homes with market values ranging from $1,500 to $483,000 came off the tax rolls last year after their owners qualified for the exemption. So far, 927 Tulsa County homeowners with properties totaling nearly $93 million in market value have been granted the disabled veterans exemption.
The tax waiver equates to a collective $1.1 million reduction in taxes for Tulsa County.
Six Tulsa County owners of homes with market values between $300,000 and $483,000 qualified for the exemption, records show. The median valued property receiving the exemption in Tulsa County was $90,400.
The across-the-board nature of the tax exemption - approved as a constitutional amendment by voters in 2004 - has some wondering if the tax break should have had some limits.
“I'm a veteran, and I'm strongly for it, but at the same time they might have caveated the law to put an upper limit on it,” Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel said.
When voters overwhelmingly approved State Question 715, state officials estimated the tax break would cost about $1.3 million per year and attract about 2,900 applicants.
But Tax Commission officials based that on broad estimates provided by veterans groups for a program that originally excluded surviving spouses.
About 20 percent of all exemptions granted statewide have been given to surviving spouses.
Tulsa County ranks No. 3, behind Oklahoma and Comanche counties, in the number and total tax value of homes pulled off tax rolls by the exemption, according to a Tax Commission report last June.
Oklahoma County has granted 1,645 exemptions on properties totaling nearly $190 million. Exempt homes in Oklahoma County range in value of $8,850 to $816,270, which equates to about a $9,000 annual savings in taxes for the latter valued home.
The exemption in Oklahoma County has resulted in an estimated $1,869,466 collective tax savings to veterans.
Comanche County, home to Fort Sill Army base, ranks ahead of Tulsa County in veteran exemptions.