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July 10, 2012

Officials look to move ahead in road tax money debate

STILLWATER, Okla. — Payne County officials are looking to move forward on a road study intended to settle just how the county will divide the roads sales tax money, but there is still no consensus on the division or the study.

The Budget Board, which is made up of all elected county officials, approved a plan in June to give 35 percent of the 3/8-cent sales tax road money to the two county road districts. Under the plan, the remaining 30 percent would be divided when a road study was completed of the two districts.

This plan replaced a 2-1 vote in May by the County Commission to give 65 percent of the road funds to District 3, which includes most of the western half of the county. In late June, Commissioner Zach Cavett of District 1 suggested that rather than going to the expense of a road study, he and District 3 Commissioner Jim Arthur should do their own study of the roads to determine where the money should go.

Arthur agreed at the time but said at a Budget Board meeting Monday that doing a study themselves would be difficult to do while staying compliant with state law. Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act prevents a majority of any board, which in the Commission’s case is two, from discussing county business outside of a posted meeting.

Arthur said he felt the only fair way to decide the matter was to go ahead with the original plan for a road study, but Cavett had doubts about the value of such a study. He said that because there are so many factors a study could look at and time of year would affect the traffic counts, a comprehensive road study would be near impossible to do. Instead, Cavett suggested Payne County should use the same formula — based on road miles, land mass and population — the state uses to divide money between the counties.

“If we go by the way the state divvies the money to the counties, ... it won’t change very often,” he said. “If we did any other kind of study, it would have to be done on just about a yearly basis to keep it accurate.”

Arthur along with Commissioner Gloria Hesser and Treasurer Bonita Stadler said they thought it was best to at least get estimates on the cost of a study.

“I still think that’s the only fair way we can do it,” Arthur said. “I feel that we have to get off high center and go ahead and hire somebody.”

Cavett said he had reservations about spending money on a study that could mean less money for one part of the county.

“I’ve heard a lot of concern about us spending money on a road study,” he said. “If we spend money on a road study, it’s really not benefiting the entire county but just one district over the other.”

Arthur said a study would give both commissioners a lot of valuable information about the condition of the roads.

Stadler pointed out that if the cost of a study was too high, the county choose to look at a plan B.

The Budget Board eventually agreed to solicit proposals from engineers on a study.

One thing that still needs to be resolved is just what criteria a study should focus on.

Officials said they would look at study proposals from engineers and then decide whether they wanted to add or subtract items.

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