The Tulsa County Treasurer’s Office estimates that a $50 million judgment against the county would increase property taxes by about $38 for a property owner whose home is valued at $100,000. Judgments are paid off in three years.
The public didn’t pay much attention when Elliott Williams died in 2011, but it might if it’s determined that the county was responsible for his death.
That decision will be made by the federal court jury in the civil rights lawsuit filed on Williams’ behalf against Tulsa County, former Sheriff Stanley Glanz in his personal capacity, and Sheriff Vic Regalado in his professional capacity .
Williams, 37 died Oct. 27, 2011, in the Tulsa Jail after languishing in his cell for five days with a broken neck. The state Medical Examiner ruled Williams was dehydrated when he died of “complications of vertebrospinal injuries due to blunt force trauma.”
A jail video showing the last 51 hours of Williams’ life has been a central focus of the trial.
Jurors began deliberations Friday after the plaintiffs’ attorney, Dan Smolen, asked for $51 million in compensatory damages. If the jury decides that jail officials were deliberately indifferent to the medical care of inmates in the jail, it could award compensatory and punitive damages. And Tulsa County property owners would pick up the tab.
The Tulsa County Treasurer’s Office estimates that a $50 million judgment against the county would increase property taxes by about $38 for a property owner whose home is valued at $100,000.
Tulsa County pays judgments through its sinking fund over a three-year period. The sinking fund is funded through property taxes.
An “indemnity clause” exists in the contract between Tulsa County and the jail’s medical provider, but Tulsa County representatives said the clause does not absolve taxpayers of liability should a judgment be handed down.
An “indemnity clause” is a contract provision that would allow one (or both parties) to compensate the other for harm or liability. Doug Wilson, an assistant district attorney for Tulsa County, told The Frontier on Monday he’s not aware of any insurance that the county has for judgments.
County Clerk Michael Willis said the same thing.
“There’s a limited amount of indemnification in the operation of a jail because there are so many facets in running a jail,” Willis said. “We would love it if the taxpayers didn’t have any exposure over this, but we don’t have any type of insurance coverage over something like this.”
It’s unclear whether Tulsa County could sue the former jail medical provider to cover the cost of whatever judgment might be levied against the county.
“This is America,” Wilson said. “Anyone can sue anyone for anything.”
Steve Blue, chief deputy at the Treasurer’s Office, stressed that there is no definitive way to determine how much a future judgment would affect an individual property owner’s property tax bill.
“Percentage increases would depend on the value of your property and also on the tax rate within the school district in which you live,” he wrote in an email. “ To even begin to answer your question requires numerous assumptions such as the total taxable value of the county and the post-judgment interest rate.
“The Oklahoma Supreme Court sets the post judgment interest rate each year. The current rate is 5.75% and that is the rate used below.”
Blue did agree, however, to give estimates of how much property taxes would go up for residential property owners should the county be hit with a large judgment. The estimates assume the properties are in the Tulsa School District and are based on the current taxable value of the county, which would likely change before any judgment in the Williams case becomes final. The estimates also assume there is no cap on the taxable value of the property and no homestead or other exemptions.
The estimates are for only the first year of the judgment. Costs would likely decrease in the last two years because of a decrease in interest costs.
The estimates are based on a residential property with a taxable value of $100,000. For homes costing more or less, the estimate would increase or decrease proportionately.
Any remotely substantial judgment against Tulsa County would be unprecedented: Over the last 10 years, the county has never had to raise more than $185,000 in a single year to cover judgments.
- $5 Million Judgment
First-Year Property Tax Increase: $3.82
Blue said the first year payment on a $5 million judgment (one third of the principal plus one year of interest at 5.75%) would be $1,958,823.93. Using the current taxable value of the county, the necessary millage to produce that amount would be .347 mills. On a $100,000 home, the tax amount resulting from .347 mills is $3.82
- $10 Million Judgment
First-Year Property Tax Increase: $7.62
The first year payment on a $10 million judgment would be $3,917,647.87, Blue said. The millage necessary to produce that tax amount would be .693 mills. On a $100,000 home, using the same assumptions as above, the tax amount resulting from .693 mills is $7.62
- $20 Million Judgment
First-Year Property Tax Increase: $15.24
According to Blue, the first year payment on a $20 million would be $7,835,295.74. The millage necessary to produce that tax amount would be 1.385 mills. On a $100,000 home, the tax amount resulting from 1.385 mills is $15.24.
- $50 Million Judgment
First-Year Property Tax Increase: $38.00
According to Blue, the first year payment on a $50 million would be $19,588,239.35. The millage necessary to produce that tax amount would be 3.47 mills. On a $100,000 home, the tax amount resulting from 3.47 mills is $38.10.
A final, important point: Jurors may well reject the plaintiffs’ claims in the Elliott Williams case, and no damages would be awarded.
Or jurors may find in the plaintiffs’ favor but hand down a judgment in the tens of thousands of dollars, rather than in the millions.
In that case, not a property owner around would notice the small increase on his property tax bill — if there were an increase at all.
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