Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

January 7, 2013

City needs money for progress

TAHLEQUAH — Tuesday, Jan. 8, Tahlequah voters will go to the polls to decide the fate of a $21 million tax proposal. The measure will add three-quarters of a cent in sales tax to every dollar spent on applicable purchases within the city limits.

For many residents, it’s a tough call. The economy is still not back up to snuff, and several folks have complained the election was too rushed. The atypically expeditious nature of any proposal from a governmental body – even a city one, and even when officials are generally trusted – raises eyebrows. Also falling under scrutiny were the projects themselves, which some citizens fear aren’t as well-developed as they could be, nor do the blueprints include other worthy projects.

Another issue is the partnership that will give NSU $1.5 million to augment a multipurpose facility now being built. The enhancements will add a “community center” to be used for city functions, but past joint projects have left a bad taste in voters’ mouths. A prime example is the tax to upgrade Gable Field, which many say did not turn out to be as much of a bargain for the community as advocates promised. NSU officials say area residents should not dwell on the past, but should look to the future. That’s very true, especially since the employees at NSU who were most deeply involved in the controversies no longer work there. Certain community members who helped lead the charge on the projects – and did so a bit disingenuously, though NSU got the blame – are also not associated with the current referendum.

Still, once someone’s been burned in the kitchen, it’s hard not to look askance at the burners on the stove, so it’s understandable if voters have reservations. We’ve listened to several people talk about the issue, both pro and con, and we’ve published letters; one appears elsewhere on this page. We’ve also reported in detail on the projects that will fall under this new tax; these stories are still on our website.

In a nutshell, $11 million is earmarked for street improvements, and the rest will go for Phoenix Park renovations; a greenbelt with trails; Phase 2 of the city sports complex; state-of-the-art city vehicle fleet and law enforcement technology; fire department and emergency management equipment and facilities; the NSU augmentation; and a swimming pool. The pool on the drawing board is an outdoor one, but we hope – indeed, we strongly urge – city officials to keep in mind the local Boys & Girls Club and its Stingray swim team, and find a way to enclose the pool so it can be used year-round.

Only on the rarest of occasions has the Press taken a stand in favor of a measure to raise taxes, and first, we do the research. Ultimately we base our position on what we feel to be – as Spock said in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” – “the needs of the many.” That’s a reference Mayor Jason Nichols can appreciate, and we think others will, too. What’s at stake could be the future of Tahlequah as a growing, thriving community. Without an influx of cash, there’s no way to bring our infrastructure up to snuff, and agonizing over mismanagement by former officials is futile. Maintaining status quo might have been possible a few years ago, and it might be now. But status quo offers an image of spinning wheels, of a city that stagnates rather than moving ahead. It’s a city with little to offer young adults to keep them here, and one that can’t attract new residents and businesses to help grow the economy. Such a city, over time, gives even its most steadfast champions fewer markers to point to as sources of pride.

If status quo is good enough, and you really feel you can’t afford the extra 75 cents on every $100 you spend, go ahead and vote no. But if you’re willing to set aside your doubts and step across that admittedly nebulous line into the future,  then say “yes” to this initiative.

If it passes, we’ll make you this pledge: The Daily Press will undertake a regular “Tax Watch” series – semi-monthly, or quarterly at least – to let you know where you’re money’s going, and how it’s being spent. If any one of the involved entities balks at giving us access to records, invoices or communications regarding this tax, or if anything looks fishy, we’ll let you know immediately. We’ll pull no punches, because after all, it’s our money, too.

Trite as it sounds, we’re all in this together, and we all have to work together to make Tahlequah the best it can be. This could be one way to achieve goals that will benefit us all.

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