On August 23, Jefferson County voters have an opportunity to vote on continuing a one cent sales tax that is currently providing funding for the Jefferson County Hospital. Hospital officials project their obligation will be paid off this year. Jefferson County Commissioners want to keep the one cent tax and use it to place the county in a better financial position. According to Jeffco officials continuing the tax will provide vital funding to meet mandated obligations and position the county to spend money on other important areas like rural fire, better roads and courthouse repairs as well as repairs at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
County officials are presenting a series of Town Meetings to answer questions and talk about how the county works and how funding and budgeting works for counties across Oklahoma. “Our initial One Cent Tax was passed by voters in 1992. It was slated for general county operations, and for the support of county civil defense, OSU extension, county law enforcement, county-wide rural fire protection and fair board maintenance and operations,” according to Bryce Bohot, District One Commissioner. “If you consider it’s now 30 years later and how the cost of everything has risen, that the limited dollars we have to work with can only be increased by sales tax, then it’s vital that this proposition passes. Having these dollars available means that we can actually accomplish all the items mentioned in the original proposal,” Bohot continued. “We still have the same needs, and these dollars will allow us to budget for each of the areas and to have dollars available for matching grants that will make the dollars go even farther.”
The first two town meetings were held Monday evening in Addington and Hastings. The full meetings are posted to Facebook under the Friends of Jefferson County Group. “We encourage everyone to attend one of the meetings,” Bohot stated. “However, having the full meetings with all the questions and answers available provides a great way for people to watch from home. I’m also available to answer any questions you may have.”
At both meetings the same questions were asked. Attendees wanted an assurance that this was not an additional tax or a new tax; that it would not raise their property taxes and that the county would not come back in a couple of years and ask for an additional increase. Attendees also wanted to make sure there would be dollars available to support our rural fire departments and that those monies would be distributed fairly.
“Oklahoma law allows rural counties to have up to a 2 cent sales tax for county operations,” Bryce Bohot said at both the Hastings and Addington Town Meetings. “We are not allowed to go back to the voters for more sales tax.”
“Having the two cents of sales tax will actually allow us to go back to the original list of items on the 1992 Proposition and begin working with the various groups to get their items budgeted,” Bohot stated. “For the past several years, we have never gotten past the basic mandated items and have not been able to fully fund those items. This additional tax projected to be approximately $35,000 to $40,000 per month will allow us to not only fund the items mentioned, but also to begin saving dollars to use as matching funds to make the county funds go farther.” “Currently we spend all our time trying to cover whatever urgent need we have at the moment. These dollars will allow us to actually plan for a stronger future for all of us.”
“Rural Fire Department funding was part of the original sales tax proposition and is vitally important to our county,” Bohot stated. “I’m part of the Hastings Volunteer Fire Department and I fully understand how important all the volunteer departments are to the county. I’m pleased that all the departments are coming together once a month to meet and share information. I’ve talked with several of the volunteers and talked about the budgeting process and how it would be great for them to come to the budget planning session and bring their projected needs for the coming year. We would visit with them about providing funding for their priorities and would make that part of the budget.”
Denise Bacon, Addington resident, made an excellent point when she asked the group if this helped them understand the importance of shopping local because your sales tax stays right her at home and supports the towns and Jefferson County.
“I hope voters understand that this not asking for a tax increase, but to keep the one cent that is already in place,” County Commissioner, Ty Phillips explained. “Voters have supported the one cent tax for the hospital for the past 23 years and the hospital is retiring their debt and no longer needs the funds. Keeping the one cent that is already in place for the county will go a long way toward allowing us to get Jefferson County up to mandated standards and also so we can have funds to use for matching grants that can help all our organizations including emergency services and rural fire.”
There are three more town meetings that all residents are invited to attend. Monday, August 15 at 6 p.m. at the Community Center; Monday, August 15, at 7:30 at the Claypool Community Center and on Tuesday, August 16, at the Waurika Presbyterian Church.