By C.L. Harmon
On an agenda, it’s simply known as Item 10, but most would call it something else. Possible even a few colorful expletives might be used to describe the array of words on the Creek County Commissioners’ Agenda of this past Monday. For political correctness, it is written as follows: Discussion and possible action to consider signing and taking action on a resolution authorizing and directing the calling and holding of a special election in Creek County, Oklahoma, for the purpose of submitting to the registered, qualified voters of said county the question of levying and collecting a one-third of one percent (.333%) sales tax for the following purpose: Constructing and maintaining roads, bridges and improvements to the county highway system, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness incurred by or on behalf of Creek County for such purpose, including refunding such indebtedness.
Such words as taxes, levying, collecting, voters and roads used in the same body of text usually grabs the attention of those who read them. Having read it, I thought it prudent to ask a few questions to District No. 2 County Commissioner Rick Stewart.
He explained that there is currently a one-third sales tax in place that is split three ways between the districts for County Highway Maintenance. Of that, two-thirds is permanently in place and one-third is temporary, which is due to expire in December. Initially it was proposed as a simple renewal of that tax. However, it is now being proposed to make that temporary tax permanent.
Stewart said that he was initially opposed to this as were several citizens who attended the County Commissioner meeting and spoke out against the tax. In part, he explained that by state statute there is supposed to be a record showing what the county highway system em compasses.
“They don’t have it,” he emphatically stated. So simply put, the money that is to be renewed and specifically allotted for county highway maintenance is not actually defined so the voters can verify their tax dollars are being spent on what they vote it in for. The people that came to the meeting were displaying concern that if a tax is going to continued, possibly permanently, for the county highway system, then what exactly is that system, Stewart explained.
“Historically, it’s been the good ole’ boy system where a commissioner will say yeah, I will work on that road for you or no, that’s not a county road and so I can’t.” He went on to say that this practice needs to end and the system needs to be defined. This is what the voters who spoke out on Monday want. They want an expiration date on the tax and a defined system where every penny is being spent on exactly what it is being collected for.
Stewart said that some of those people present were even holding signs with ‘Vote Yes’ and ‘Vote No’ signaling their intention as to which one they will be using depending upon the outcome of how the commissioners decide. Due to further indecision, the subject has been tabled for the second week in row.
“Everyone in this county deserves to know what the county maintenance system is,” Stewart said. In other words, commissioners should not get to decide which roads they will work on, but it should be defined so that all roads get equal consideration for maintenance, he added.
Districts No.1 and No. 2 have finished a preliminary draft of what they believe defines the roads in their districts. District No. 3 has not, Stewart said. He believes that once this is completed and if the commissioners can agree on whether or not the tax should be permanent or temporary, they can move forward. He is of the mindset that it should remain temporary so if the commissioners are not using the money wisely, it can be “shut off”.
He said that the other two commissioners Newt Stephens and Lane Whitehouse were “resisting pretty heavily” on the topic of keeping the tax as a temporary tax. This is what has kept the commissioners from moving forward to approve considering signing and taking action on the resolution authorizing and directing the calling and holding of the special election needed to address their tax issue, Stewart explained.
The Mannford Reporter contacted both Whitehouse and Stephens by email for input on this article, but neither email was returned.