Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

December 5, 2013

Preview comes on county sales tax

Barry Porterfield
Pauls Valley Democrat — One Garvin County trio got an early preview this week on some concerns out there on a half-cent sales tax likely going before voters for renewal next spring.

All three county commissioners learned a major concern apparently centers on their plan to not earmark half of the funds if the county tax is given voter approval.

Instead, those funds are intended to give the county more flexibility in addressing needs that change over time.

Another question is over the length of the tax measure.

The seven-year tax is set to expire next summer. Commissioners have said they would like to see it passed on a permanent basis.

Pat Riddle of Pauls Valley said she couldn’t help herself when she spoke up at a meeting earlier this week to voice her concerns about the portion of the tax that wouldn’t be earmarked for specific uses.

“I think some people have already made up their mind on this tax,” Riddle said.

“They won’t vote for it because they don’t know where the money is going,” she said.

“The way things work is people don’t really trust where the money to going to be spent.

“People need to be better informed. They just want to know where the money is going.”

Another county resident, Paul Burton of Wynnewood, echoed those concerns by stating it was his opinion the tax would draw more support if 50 percent of the tax revenues are earmarked rather than going into the county’s general budget.

“I think if the money is earmarked the people talking to us would be a bit more supportive,” Burton said.

Listening to those concerns expressed were county commissioners Johnny Mann, Shon Richardson and Stan Spivey.

The trio have indicated they are looking at continuing a quarter of the tax for both the sheriff’s office and the county highway system.

The remainder of the tax has since 2007 been earmarked for much needed improvements and renovations to the county courthouse in Pauls Valley.

Taking the lead Mann, District 3 commissioner and member of a sales tax committee, stressed it’s a good thing not to earmark the remaining portion of the tax funds.

That, he said, allows the county to address the highest priority needs, which he said can change over time, instead of locking the money into specific uses.

The top area targeted for those funds, at least at the beginning, is to supplement funding for the county’s 911 emergency telephone system, Mann said.

“A good chunk of that 50 percent is going into 911 right off the bat,” Mann said.

Richardson added he believes it would be counterproductive to earmark the 50 percent portion, while adding the tax as a whole must remain in place if county services are to avoid a decrease.

“You can’t afford to earmark it all,” Richardson said about the 50 percent portion of the tax. “You need some of it in the county general.

“In my opinion it’s vital we get this,” he said, referring to the entire half-cent tax.

“We need it and I want you guys to support it. Services will have to be cut if this tax doesn’t pass.”

Commissioners did agree they could possibly include a “bucket list” of areas to be addressed by half of the tax even without those areas being earmarked.

The length of the tax could also be revisited in discussions, they added.

As a way to get more input from the public, members of a sales tax committee have scheduled an open meeting for 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9 in the commissioners’ office in the courthouse.