By John Filonow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Payne County voters will decide if a 1/16-cent sales tax increase to help fund fire departments in Payne County will be approved or rejected in the Nov. 6 election.
The tax would start April 1, 2013. It would be authorized for five years and require another vote to extend the tax.
County Commissioner Gloria Hesser said revenue from the tax would be divided evenly among the fire departments in each city in Payne County. Those fire departments include Cushing, Glencoe, Perkins, Stillwater and Yale.
Drumright will receive a smaller share of the tax revenue because it is located in Creek and Payne counties. It’s share will be approximately a fourth of the other fire departments’ shares.
County commissioners decided in August to put the 1/16 cent tax on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Assistant District Attorney Lowell Barto said in August that if the tax is approved, it would provide approximately $610,000 a year to area fire departments.
County Clerk Linda Hatfield said the total sales tax percentage in Stillwater is 8.75 percent with 3/4 of a cent tax coming from the county.
If the proposition passes, the Stillwater sales tax would be 8.8125 percent.
Stillwater residents are charged $8.75 per $100. It would increase to approximately $8.81 per $100.
Payne County Emergency Manager Jeff Kuhn called the tax essential.
“It’ll make all the difference in the world for what our county fire departments can do,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn also is battalion chief for Glencoe’s volunteer fire department. He said the town receives $15,000 to $16,000 a year for the department.
He said the 3/8 cent sales tax re-approved by county voters in February has helped in Glencoe, but more money is needed to buy and update equipment and provide in-house training. Five percent of the sales tax collections from that tax go to fire departments.
Kuhn said it costs about $1,500 to outfit each firefighter with a breathing apparatus.
Oklahoma State University’s Fire Services Training classes help train volunteer firefighters, but it is often hard for volunteers to attend because of jobs or other obligations, he said.
“Most of the training we can do is in-house,” Kuhn said.
In early August, wildfires burned approximately 2,000 acres and destroyed at least 17 homes northeast of Stillwater.
“I think (the tax) is essential in light of the past two summers,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn said because the measure is a sales tax, it will gather revenue from residents and visitors to Stillwater. The tax is a minimal increase.
“I don’t think people will even notice it,” Kuhn said.
Stillwater Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Lisa Navrkal said the sales tax increase wouldn’t deter businesses from locating in Stillwater.
“New business can be assured that Payne County is working to ensure operations and equipment is up to date at countywide fire facilities,” Navrkal said.
Kuhn said a free fire prevention, safety and recovery program will be offered by Payne County OSU Extension in partnership with Payne County Emergency Management at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Payne County Expo Center.
It will provide an overview of fire damage in Payne County, information on redcedar management, fire insurance and the 1/16-cent sales tax increase for fire department funding.