Even though “Vote Yes” signs are appearing everywhere, not everyone is a supporter of the city sales tax extension that will be decided by voters Tuesday.
The Mustang News received three letters to the editor in the past two weeks but the newspaper’s policy is not to run letters right before an election. Instead, the concerns voiced were provided to city staff for explanations.
In one letter, which was submitted anonymously, the writer focused on public safety, stating that on the surface the tax appears to be a “great move” but commented he believes the distribution of the $25 million is not in the resident’s favor.
The writer questions how 10 percent is enough money to pay for everything the city intends to do. The estimated $245,000 annually the writer says will go to public safety won’t be enough to cover new salaries, new equipment or a new building (sub-fire station and EOC) including buying the land and furnishings.
The writer also questioned having enough money to buy enough public safety vehicles to meet the city’s needs with the dedicated tax monies for public safety. He questioned the age of the fire department’s current equipment, reporting there are two 25+ years old.
“I don’t mean to squash the idea of extending the 1 percent sales tax, but if you look at this city’s needs, just from the public safety standpoint, $4 million is not nearly enough to bring this city to where it needs to be.”
Rooney said he 100 percent agrees with the writer on this point because the city will always have needs that needs to be addressed and the challenge is to find the way to do them all, or as many as possible.
In a second letter, submitted by Wayne Watts, he asks why the sales tax couldn’t be used to offset utility costs for residents, which he says are high.
Rooney answered a city’s utility services have to be able to pay for themselves, therefore residents pay for their services.
Watts also wanted to know why the $4.50 surcharge residents pay for capital improvements cannot be paid out of the tax.
This fee, as explained by Assistant City Manager Justin Battles during Tuesday’s council meeting, has funded numerous projects across the city since it was enacted in 2014. If it were to ever go away, he said after the meeting, the council would have to decide that.
Rooney explained that before he came on as city manager, the city’s public works was “bleeding to death” and the city was eating costs.
This led to water rates going up because the city’s infrastructure had not been properly maintained.
“There was no investment in our infrastructure for a long time,” Rooney said.
Still Watts said, “There appears to be no plan to eliminate the surcharge even though the sales tax initiative includes other capital improvements but no the capital projects for which the surcharge was imposed. Why is that? Mustang water rates are among the highest in the state. Why is that?”
Soon, Watts said customers will pay even more for city utilities when Oklahoma City raises the city’s rates. “These are increases for which we will be given no relief,” he said.
Finally, Watts also questioned why residents were not given a chance to participate in a citizen survey to give input on the tax extension.
Rooney said residents had opportunities to attend work sessions and council meetings to give their input before the projects were decided.
In a final letter, Larkin Hall called the Aug. 23 vote “an opportunity to perform a rare freedom by putting more money in our pockets and taking better control of our local government…”
He complemented city staff for having the original 1999 sales tax paid for early and he believes the tax is no longer needed to continue the city’s success.
Hall believes the city’s “strong” growth will be enough to provide the necessary funds moving forward. He also pointed out that is the proposed 1 cent sales tax for education passes, the city’s combine tax burden will be 9.85 percent.
Hall listed the additional money residents pay for utilities and other services, property taxes, bonds, vehicle tags and licenses.
“Very seldom does it happen that we get a chance to take money back from the government and I believe we should make it happen,” Hall wrote. “Whenever we, as individuals, have been forced to adjust to difficult financial times, we do what needs to be done. I believe our city can, and will, do the same with a lower tax income. It has been done in the past.”
Rooney answered that the election board only gave the city a few dates to call for the tax extension election. Those were Aug. 23 and then dates in November and in March.
The leader asked why the city shouldn’t be in front of the tax issue instead of waiting until it expires.
The Mustang Chamber of Commerce has endorsed a “Yes” vote on the tax extension. They say “the tax is important to the community in order to address continued growth demands and ensure that the quality of like that makes Mustang an attractive community in which to live, conduct business and recreate.”
The chamber board passed a resolution in support of the extension on Aug. 1.