Stillwater News Press

Local News

May 13, 2012

Road tax divides Payne County Commissioners

Commissioner Jim Arthur defends decision to give District 1 more money

STILLWATER, Okla. — The debate over how Payne County’s road funds should be split boils down to should the money be divided by population or road use.

District 1 Commissioner Zach Cavett thinks population should be the guide, District 3 Commissioner Jim Arthur supports road use.

Monday, commissioners voted 2-1 to distribute sales tax funds between the county’s two road districts unevenly with District 3 getting 65 percent and District 1 35 percent.

Previously, that money had been divided evenly.

Arthur and District 2 Commissioner Gloria Hesser voted to change the split while newly elected Cavett voted against it after unsuccessfully attempting to table the item so he could have time to study the issue.

Arthur said following the meeting that the new sales tax split is designed to reflect where the traffic, population growth and sales tax is generated.

“I don’t feel I’m being unfair,” he said. “I have to have dollars to take care of these roads.”

Payne County has three districts. District 2 is within Stillwater city limits, and those roads are maintained by the city of Stillwater.

After the federally mandated Census redistricting in 2011, Payne County District 1 gained a few roads adjacent to southeast Stillwater, but the district largely encompasses the county’s eastern half including Glencoe, Ripley, Cushing and Yale.

District 3 surrounds the majority of Stillwater, covering the western half of the county and Perkins.

Each district is required to have a population within 5 percent of one another, but Arthur said that doesn’t take into account the fact the roads he maintains are heavily traveled by Stillwater residents who live in District 2.

“The population is here, and these roads are run heavy,” he said. “Things will change, but the growth will always be over here.”

Arthur said he recently conducted a 24-hour traffic count on Western Road south of 32nd Avenue near Stillwater and nearly 5,000 vehicles used that road.

He also said District 3 has dirt roads that get as much traffic as asphalt roads in District 1.

District 3 recently completed eight miles of asphalt roads east of Stillwater, Arthur said, which went to District 1 during redistricting.

He also said his district helps the Payne County Expo Center and the sheriff’s department regularly, which both have facilities located within his district.

“Everything is on this side of the county, and we take care of it,” Arthur said.

Arthur said the 65/35 split amount seems appropriate to him, but added commissioners could re-evaluate the division to make sure its fair.

“Maybe in a year we need to look at the tax deal again,” Arthur said.

Of the 77 counties in Oklahoma, Payne is one of three counties — along with Noble and Comanche — that has just two road districts. Commissioners decide how road funds are divided, according to Oklahoma laws.

Randy Robinson, a transportation engineer for the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, said that the number of counties that divide road funds equally between districts numbers in the 60s, but he said dividing it unequally is not unusual.

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