Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

December 16, 2013

More to come on tax earmarking

Barry Porterfield
Pauls Valley Democrat — Although nothing’s set in stone just yet it does appear a Garvin County sales tax might have another contender for the areas set to receive earmarked revenues if the measure is renewed next year.

Joining the short list is the 911 center, and more specifically emergency communications and the need to get salaries for 911 dispatchers up to a higher and more competitive level.

In recent days a handful of open meetings have given some area residents the chance to voice their opinions and concerns about a seven-year half-cent county tax set to expire next summer.

All three county commissioners have been clear about their intention to seek a renewal for the tax during an election next spring.

The real question comes down to how to split up the tax revenues if the measure is again given the thumbs up by voters.

One area now getting serious consideration is the county-wide 911 system.

During a meeting this week before members of a sales tax committee Sheriff Larry Rhodes asked for one-eighth of the tax revenue to be earmarked for what he described as “emergency communications.”

That, he said, is to bring salaries for dispatchers up to a level that provides more stability for the county’s 911 center here.

“We need consistent, predictable funding for that center,” Rhodes said.

“I’m advocating for a portion of that tax to be earmarked for communications services.”

The half-cent has generated nearly $10 million for the county since it began in 2007.

Half the tax was earmarked to address a long list of needed improvements and renovations at the county courthouse building in Pauls Valley with many already completed and others still on the way.

A quarter of the tax has been split between the operation of the sheriff’s department and upgrades to the county jail.

The remaining quarter has been split equally among the three commissioners to go toward county roads.

In recent weeks commissioners have indicated they were looking at continuing a quarter of the tax for both the sheriff’s office and the county highway system with the remaining half placed in the county’s general budget rather than be earmarked as a way to address changing needs over time.

One commissioner, Johnny Mann of District 3, has said from that 50 percent not earmarked there could still be a specific list of needs sure to receive some of the tax revenue.

They could include the emergency communications and 911 dispatchers, a roof over the courthouse annex, a courthouse boiler, upgrades to a former armory building in the local Wacker Park now owned by the county and renovations to the courthouse’s fourth floor, which many years ago was used as a jail.

“We’ll have what I call a bucket list of what we need. 911 — that’s going to be the top priority out of that 50 percent,” Mann said.

“It’s a month to month battle now — keeping dispatchers,” he said. “My biggest concern is 911. I know we’re in trouble down there.”

Open discussions like the one earlier this week shows there appears to be support for including the county’s emergency communications, possibly 12.5 percent, as another of the areas set to receive earmarked funds.

Another of the opinions expressed to the sale tax committee was to put a set time limit on the measure, possibly another seven years, rather than push for it on a permanent basis.

Ultimately the committee will make recommendations to all three county commissioners, who must finalize the specifics of the tax plan before an election date can be set.