Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

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January 23, 2014

County focus is on tax measure

bporterfield@pvdemocrat.com — One longtime Garvin County official really isn’t sure how voters will react to two totally separate tax proposals being on the same ballot when election time rolls around in a handful of weeks.

Johnny Mann, now serving for more than two decades as the county’s commissioner for District 3, is instead focusing his attention on better educating the public about a half-cent county sales tax up for renewal on March 4.

Earlier this month city of Pauls Valley officials met the filing deadline to get their own half-cent tax measure on the ballot for the very same election day.

PV’s tax plan, if approved by voters, would go to support the ongoing operation of the local hospital — a tax those same city officials have already said is essential to keeping a hospital open here.

As for the county tax, Mann said during a recent meeting of the Pauls Valley Rotary Club the hope is to renew a tax plan first approved with big support by Garvin County voters back in 2007.

“What we’re looking at is renewing our half-cent tax we’ve had for seven years,” Mann said.

“We’re not asking for any more money, just to renew what we have in place right now.”

Since the tax has been in place it’s generated nearly $10 million for three earmarked areas — renovations to the county courthouse, a supplement to the sheriff’s office budget and improvements to the county jail and county roads.

According to the commissioner, revenue going to each of the areas has been a big deal with a whole laundry list of needed upgrades made to the courthouse building, including some vital renovations to the jail facility.

In fact, Mann said the jail was actually out of compliance until the tax revenue allowed for the improvements over the past few years.

“Right now our jail inspections are nearly perfect,” Mann said.

“I’m proud of the sheriff’s office and proud of our jail. People still don’t like being there but it’s a better place,” he said, referring to jail inmates.

Undersheriff Jim Mullett told Rotary members the revenue from the tax is essential to the office.

“If the half-cent tax isn’t renewed it would definitely hurt our budget,” Mullett said.

Mann is quick to add the sheriff’s office would lose some deputies without the revenue from this county tax.

The county’s new plan, also set for seven years, again earmarks one quarter of the revenue for the sheriff’s office.

Another quarter would again go for county roads, which Mann said is split among the three commissioners and mostly pays for the fuel for county road crews.

New to the county tax is 12.5 percent would be earmarked for the county’s 911 emergency dispatch center, which he said continues to battle decreasing revenue in part due to the public’s massive switch from land lines to cell phones.

“For me the top priority with this sales tax is 911,” Mann said.

Mullett, who helps to oversee the 911 center, agrees.

“Right now 911 is barely maintaining itself,” Mullett said.

Revenue from the tax, he said, is essential to providing the 911 system with more stability by way of more competitive salaries for dispatchers, many of whom are trained here but leave for other places because of better pay.

There’s also what both Mann and Mullett call state-of-the-art 911 equipment that needs the revenue to be upgraded over time.

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