By JOHN M. WYLIE II, Editor
Rogers County voters will decide Tuesday whether to again renew the penny sales tax for county roads and bridges.
The tax has been in effect since 1988 and voters have renewed it for five-year intervals ever since.
County Commission Chairman Kirt Thacker said the results speak for themselves—almost all roads in the county are paved, deficient bridges are being replaced and roads are being maintained.
Grass that can obstruct drivers’ vision is mowed in the summer, while ice and snow are plowed off in the winter, he added.
Losing the tax would mean layoffs of road workers in all three commissioner districts, and the ripple effects would harm services from other offices.
Thacker cited the lease-purchase of 20 new patrol cars for the Rogers County Sheriff’s office last week. Loss of the penny road tax revenue might mean that some general fund revenue would be required for a scaled-back road program. That, in turn, might leave the county unable to make the lease payments on the new patrol cars.
Some individuals have expressed opposition to the tax, citing primarily a tight economy and, ironically, the current good condition of the roads.
A committee called Citizens for Rogers County 2013 registered with the Oklahoma State Ethics Commission late last year and has been promoting the tax extension with signs, on-line advertising and newspaper ads. The county’s three legal weekly newspapers plus a new weekly in Catoosa have all been supportive of the tax.
Information from proponents is available at www.roads2013.com . The tax has won handily every five years since 1988, but if it fails it can be again be presented to the voters for reconsideration before it expires in October.
Opposition to the tax has come from the Claremore Chamber of Commerce board of directors, which issued a statement essentially calling for restructuring the tax so that some of the funds could be used for city streets and bridges in Claremore’s city limits.
An Attorney General’s opinion issued by Drue Edmondson and which has never been overturned prohibits use of county road and bridge money for city streets and bridges.
Claremore already levies a penny tax for roads and bridges, although part of that money can be diverted for other capital needs in the city.
All who shop within the Claremore city limits pay one cent for city roads and one cent for county roads regardless of where they live.
While Claremore city officials often talk of the 55,000 people living within the Claremore fenceline, only those who live in the city limits are entitled to city constructed and maintained roads. Roads outside the city limits but inside the Claremore fenceline are maintained by the county.
The chamber board issued a statement announcing its decision to urge a no vote on the bond issue until more money is allocated to Claremore capital projects.
The Claremore Progress also urged a no vote.
The other county newspapers–Oologah Lake Leader, Chelsea Reporter, Inola Independent and Catoosa Independent–have all endorsed the road tax renewal.
Voters go to their regular polling places from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday to cast their ballots unless they have already voted absentee. Final unofficial counts should be available by mid-evening Tuesday through the Election Board.
Approval requires a simple majority of votes cast.