OKLAHOMA CITY – Cimarron County has more than twice the land owned by the Commissioners of the Land Office than any other county in Oklahoma, participants noted in a legislative study today.
A large portion of that approximately 225,000 acres provides funding for several of Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, according to Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office Harry Birdwell. There is a total of 236,000 acres in land owned by the state in Cimarron County, according to county officials.
State Rep. Casey Murdock said he requested the study to provide his colleagues with insight into how that land lowers the amount of ad valorem taxes available to Cimarron County and its school districts. There is also a significant negative impact on the local millage rate and bonding capacities of the school districts and county.
“For the cash-strapped school districts in that county, ad valorem tax revenues are a big deal,” said Murdock, R-Felt. “The residents and county and school officials of Cimarron County would like to see some way for them to recover that lost money. After working with the Commissioners of Land Office, I think we have several ideas, but have not yet fully vetted them.”
It is unlikely that the Commissioners for Land Office could simply remit the money lost, because of laws regarding how they operate their trusts. Other states have dealt with the issue though.
“Any solution we choose would not just be for Cimarron County, but we are using them as our example because the impact is so much higher there,” Murdock said. “We have to explore if some of the options we are discussing meet state constitutional standards, but if they do, we will pursue them in the upcoming legislative session.”
Although the Commissioners of Land Office provides revenues for schools and higher education, not all institutions receive funds equally, according to Birdwell. The agency owns 224,993 acres, of which 62,801 acres are set aside for school districts.
The three counties containing the greatest proportion of CLO land are Cimarron County (19.78% of the county is CLO land), Pawnee County (7.07%) and Kay County (6.4%), according to the CLO Real Estate Division)
CLO distributes to school districts based on their average daily attendance, a figure provided to them by the state education department
The estimated impact of CLO on Cimarron County includes about $72,897 in ad valorem taxes, a reduced bonding capacity of about 20 percent and reduced millage rates