Julie Couch

Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmers’ daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.

I’m guessing you recognized that chorus from Oklahoma.

If you watched the Tax Incremental Financing District (TIF) public hearings, you know why I mention those lyrics. I remembered them after observing the disagreement among the various City/County entities about this TIF.

Background: For this project, Stillwater hired Dan Bachelor, an Oklahoma City attorney who specializes in developing public financing projects. He charged $125,000 for his contract ending June 18.

The Stillwater Downtown/Campus Link Project Plan Committee included Mayor Will Joyce, Planning Commissioner Mike Buchert, three members – Jeremy Bale, Matt Keys, and Matt Streeter – selected from a list of seven names Joyce submitted and representatives from four other entities receiving ad valorem revenue – Stillwater Schools, Meridian Technology Center, Payne County Health Dept. and County Government.

The committee met eight times from October through March. In the first meeting, Dr. Doug Major, Meridian Superintendent, and Dr. Marc Moore, Stillwater School Superintendent, brought up specific issues.

In the Oct. 12 meeting, the final comments from the committee “supported the need for a plan to benefit all the taxing jurisdictions and the citizens in the short run and well as into the future.”

In the Oct. 28 meeting, Major presented a formal list of Meridian’s concerns as well as modifications to make the TIF acceptable to Meridian. In the Feb. 22 meeting, Moore asked the committee to consider the district’s sinking fund reduction over the life of the TIF.

The committee met for the last time on March 15, a day after the Stillwater School Board voted to support the proposed plan. The school district comes out ahead with the TIF. The amended plan adopted “grants the SPS a 12 percent distribution from the TIF funds ….with an additional $5.7 million to be distributed to SPS for loss of projected bonding capacity.”

On the final vote, County Commissioner Chris Reding commented “the intent of the local development act was not being carried out in the form of this investment plan. Mike Buchert responded he felt the intent of the law was embodied in these plans.” The vote was 6-2 with one abstention. Reding and Major voted no.

At the April 23 Council hearing, Joe Williams, a retired Ag-Econ professor and a Meridian Board member, summarized best the concerns about the TIF. Williams who said he wasn’t speaking as a Board member commented, “You have the legal right to do this…., but you’re not bringing the community together to do so. I don’t see a positive outcome….. Further, you may not be imposing new taxes, but you are redirecting taxes the public voted on….”

At the June 4 meeting, many speakers had thoughtful comments for and against the TIF. Both Shirley Weeks, neighborhood activist, and Robert Williams, Eskimo Joe’s Director of Restaurant Operations, had the most sensible advice essentially stating, “Table this issue. Answer the concerns. See if this plan can be worked out better for all the entities.”

Despite the Councilors’ claims this is a win-win for everyone, the perception’s the opposite with the City and the school district as winners and the other entities as losers.

It’s important to remember no one’s against economic development, but there’re many concerns/questions that need answers. Why not try to devise a more equitable plan?

Folks in Payne County Territory need to stick together. Maybe even be pals.

Julie Couch is a longtime Stillwater resident.

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