County sales tax input the focus

Garvin County's three commissioners got their first wave of public feedback this week on a county sales tax and how its revenues are spent.

Supporting ambulance services in the county, possibly even calling for a separate tax measure just for emergency management services (EMS), was at the top of the priority list for many coming to a weekly commissioners' meeting Monday.

All the discussion centers on a half cent sales tax in place in Garvin County since 2007 as voters have previously approved the measure twice in stretches of seven years each time.

Now the tax is set to expire in June as the county group is clear about its intention to again take it back before voters at some point and ask for a renewal, possibly on a permanent basis.

“The commissioners have to first look at if they want to renew the tax and second when that election would be,” said Assistant District Attorney Carol Dillingham.

“They also need to identify the categories of things to be covered by that tax. The commissioners need to look at how the sales tax has worked over the last seven years and decide what it should go for this time. It would be up to them to shift the sales tax money to where the needs are.

“The ballot will list each of the categories. They have to give those categories but not the percentages.”

That's in contrast to seven years ago when the same tax went to election day with the specifics right there on the ballot.

That included specified percentages of where revenues generated by the tax would go as voters did wind up passing the measure.

Since 2014 the tax revenue has gone to the county's 911 dispatch center, specifically 12.5 percent, along with other portions going to the sheriff's office and county jail, the commissioners for county roads and upgrades to the county courthouse building in Pauls Valley.

District 3 Commissioner Mike Gollihare did say plans are to add at least two more areas to that list.

“We're going to add ambulance services and senior citizens to this one,” Gollihare said about the upcoming push to renew the tax, possibly in April.

Former commissioner, Johnny Mann, who attended this week's meeting in support of Stratford EMS, said he believes support of ambulance services in Garvin County will be a key part of this particular tax renewal effort.

“EMS need to know how much they're going to benefit from this. That way they will know how they will be campaigning in support of the tax,” Mann said, adding the support should be for the five ambulance districts in the county right now.

“We need to have guidelines of where this money is going to go.”

Garvin County's emergency management director, Dave Johnson, said adding EMS is not the only important thing about this tax.

“A part of the sales tax has gone to the 911 call center,” Johnson said about the center dispatching for the countywide 911 system.

“It's important to remember not to just talk about EMS here. If we don't have that money to pay salaries then we don't have a 911,” he said.

“We absolutely have to have EMS, but we have to remember what good we've done in other areas with this tax.”

One other idea offered up is to use some of the tax revenue to help the agency that works to support things like FFA and 4-H programs in Garvin County.

“I would like to entertain the idea that the OSU Extension be supported by this tax,” said Extension Director Melissa Koesler.

“It would allow our office to be fully staffed and all the programs to be covered.”

Those attending the meeting were reminded a totally separate county tax already in place, a quarter cent sales tax, benefits all 12 fire departments in Garvin County – 10 of which are volunteer departments.

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