Stillwater News Press

Government

May 22, 2012

Payne County commissioners hold firm on reduced road taxes for District 1, despite opposition

STILLWATER, Okla. — A passionate crowd Monday called on two Payne County commissioners to undo their decision to unevenly divide road funding, but in the end the appeal gained no ground.

Commissioners voted May 7 to divide sales tax money given to the two road districts 65/35 in favor of District 3 instead of the 50/50 split that had been in place since the tax’s creation. District 1 Commissioner Zach Cavett objected but was unable to table the measure and was outvoted.

On Monday, the county commission’s meeting room was packed with residents and official representatives from District 1 communities who let commissioners know loudly and often that they weren’t pleased with that change.

“This vote doesn’t leave us much,” Yale Mayor Terry Baker. “This split ... it stinks. It should stay at 50/50.”

Baker was one of the District 1 city officials who showed up to protest the move.

“We feel like this wasn’t fairly evaluated,” said Glencoe Mayor Jon Kuhn.

In February, Payne County voters approved extending the county 3/8-cent sales tax, 53 percent of which goes to fund county roads. Kuhn warned commissioners that when much of the county voted to extend that tax the split was 50/50, and he said the recent change could doom any future extension.

“You worked too hard to get this sales tax reenacted,” Kuhn said. “Your actions that you guys took last week will kill this thing next time around. We don’t want to shoot everybody in the foot.”

Three hours later, Cavett again found himself on the lonely side of a 2-1 vote not to change the 65/35 split.

Payne County roads are funded from the 3/8-cent sales tax and other state taxes. The county receives a share of a number of state funds, including fuel and excise taxes. That money is divided evenly between the two road districts on a monthly basis. The share of the 3/8-cent sales tax is divided once at the beginning of the county fiscal year. That means the change to the sales tax division would happen July 1, effectively for the entire fiscal year.

Jimmie Cook served as District 1 commissioner in 1994 when the sales tax was enacted, then as a half-cent tax. Cook said it was always anticipated that the tax would be split evenly between the road districts.

Cook also told commissioners that a majority of sales tax for the roads is generated in Stillwater but residents from all over Payne County travel to shop and eat in Stillwater and are part of that money. Cook said while District 3 Commissioner Jim Arthur’s district covered a majority of the roads outside Stillwater city limits where there has been significant growth, Cushing is also seeing heavy traffic from oil rigs and construction equipment that could match that stress.

Cushing was well represented Monday. Chamber of Commerce Director Brent Thompson said maintaining the roads traveled by heavy equipment is key for the economy of Cushing and reducing available road repair money could be devastating.

Cushing Mayor Evert Rossiter accused Arthur and District 2 Commissioner Gloria Hesser of trying to take advantage of Cavett’s recent election.

During the May 7 meeting — Cavett’s third since his election —  Cavett made a motion to table the decision to alter the tax split, but he did not receive a second on that motion, which meant it died without a vote. Rossiter said failing to allow Cavett to study the item was in line with Robert’s Rules of Order but a disrespectful move.

“Any time in our city council meetings ... any one of the commissioners asks to table an item that we can discuss (and) can take a vote on later, we table it out of respect for that commissioner,” Rossiter said. “I just wonder if maybe we got a couple of county commissioners who are taking advantage of the new kid on the block.”

Arthur has consistently said the change in road funding is necessary because of the growth and traffic in the western half of the county.

 

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