By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
What are the city of Stillwater’s priorities and responsibilities?
That question pretty much sums up the discussion by proponents and opponents about the three “Our Stillwater” propositions on Tuesday’s ballots during an hourlong League of Women Voters of Stillwater forum Wednesday night at the Stillwater Municipal Building.
The forum, moderated by Gladeen Allred, was televised live on Suddenlink channel 23 and AT&T U-verse channel 99. It will be rebroadcast Thursday through Monday on both channels, Allred said.
Mayor John Bartley and Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Lisa Navrkal supported the propositions. Common Sense First for Stillwater representatives Hal Ellis and Becky Teague opposed them.
The forum featured opening and closing statements by both sides. The sides answered questions about each proposition submitted by the League of Women Voters of Stillwater members and those attending the forum.
Proposition One is a $20 million, 20-year bond issue to finance construction of a youth sports complex and Boomer Lake Park improvements. Proposition Two is a $7.5 million, 10-year bond issue to build and equip a fire station, purchase 25 additional police patrol vehicles and upgrade the emergency communication system. Proposition Three repeals a temporary half percent sales tax for specific road projects and replaces it with a permanent 1-percent sales tax that will repair and build roads, grow bicycle trails and pedestrian walkways, and possibly expand mass transit.
“I would simply remind you that the Romans built the roads before they built the Coliseum,” Ellis said.
Ellis and Teague focused on the city’s current and future water, sewer and road needs. Those should be the city’s priorities, not frills like an amphitheater and a youth sports complex.
“It’s the right thing to do for Stillwater to invest itself in itself. Now is the time for that,” Bartley said.
Bartley and Navrkal turned their attention to Stillwater’s future and the city’s ability to grow and attract industry.
On ad valoream tax increases and affects on senior citizens.
Bartley: “We are talking about tax increases on every property inside the city limits. This would impact seniors. It will impact businesses. It will impact non-senior citizens. ... It is a tax. It does impact everyone. The concept behind it is we are all citizens of Stillwater and we are all investing in Stillwater. ... It is not an age battle. It’s not an age question. There are plenty of people that are younger that would be classified as being on a fixed income. If you really want to look at it, every tax — no matter what level of government we are talking about — has an unfair aspect to it.”
Teague: “The senior freeze is when they freeze at the county assessor’s office, the value of that home. Instead of it going up 3 to 5 percent a year like our normal rates for homeowners do here. ... It does not freeze the amount of taxes you pay. That is based on a millage rate. ... Yes it will affect them. It will affect them like everyone else. It is a tax increase for them.”
On Oklahoma State University’s involvement in fire station relocation.
Ellis: “We do believe OSU should significantly participate in the fire protection needs of this community, especially as those needs are adjacent to OSU’s campus. We participated and still do participate in a significant allocation of use tax to OSU. Something on the order of $50,000 a year of use tax goes to OSU for the Gallagher-Iba complex. That tax will expire. Why don’t we allocate some of that money and use it for the fire protection in a cooperative venture with OSU sharing significantly in the cost of fire protection that benefits their campus?”
Bartley: “They don’t pay an annual fee to the city. They did buy one of the last fire trucks that we bought for the city of Stillwater. OSU participates in so many ways for the welfare of our city that to try and say ‘I’d just as soon have you write a check for fire’ and close off all the other benefits is pretty short-sighted. ... There are so many things that happen in our community because of OSU and they can’t be summed up with a ‘here’s a bill.’”