Efforts to help citizens has statewide reach

When the work day ends, Dennis Semler wants to see that taxpayers are well-served in Tulsa County.
The Tulsa County treasurer, who will seek his fourth term next year, said efforts to serve reaches beyond county borders to the entire state. The County Treasurers Association lobbied the legislature for changes in the state property tax laws.
The office received a perfect score when no deficiencies in the books were noted during the last audit by the Oklahoma State Auditor’s office.
Semler said the score reflected the attention to detail by the staff as they handled thousands of transactions and millions of dollars.
Another is the transparency of the local government and release of reserve funds to local school districts.
Singularly or collectively, these events during the past year have been key to helping people, Semler said.
“I was extremely pleased to be able to release $1.2 million in county reserve funds for school districts,” he said.
The Oklahoma legislature created the reserve fund in the event of a budget shortfall, adding the option to release funds.
“I released about 36 percent of the funds,” Semler said. “I held some back in the event the economic slide continues.”
The treasurer said he also is proud of the transparency of county government for citizens. Tulsa County is one of five in the U.S. to earn the A+ rating and the only one in Oklahoma.
Another feeling of pride comes from his role in changing the law extending the time for property owners to pay ad valorem taxes.
“I don’t ever like having to sell someone’s home because they failed to pay property taxes,” he said. “Our goal is to collect the taxes and have property in the hands of private ownership.”
It took the work of the County Treasurers Association to get an eight-month extension on those payments, Semler said. Now taxpayers have a full three and a half years to catch up on payments before they lose their property.
On the other hand, when necessary to sell the property — sales being every June — the county becomes the owner if there are no buyers.
Everyone loses when that happens because those parcels come off county tax roles.
As a result, an aggressive effort is made to sell the property rather than have it accumulate under county ownership, he said. Currently, the county has 16 properties in the books for failure to pay taxes and lack of buyers.
That’s not bad when one considers there are more than 250,000 parcels of real estate in Tulsa County, Semler said. Still, the real goal is to have county ownership at zero, something that has occurred only once in more than 10 years.
Semler is hopeful that changes are ahead for the new year and beyond.
“If we are not at the bottom of the economic tank, we are close,” he said. “I also see greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies and other government services.
“Parks are one area where an effort is being made to consolidate services as government belt-tightening continues.”

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