Tahlequah Daily Press

December 24, 2012

City plans tax proposal oversight committee

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah leaders plan to create a committee responsible for oversight of all capital-improvement projects that fall under a $21 million tax proposal.

City voters will decide whether to approve of the proposal, which would amount to a 3/4-percent sales tax increase, on Jan. 8, 2013. The increase would mean an additional 75 cents in cost for every $100 of taxable purchases made within the city. The increase could continue for 15 years, though historical tax collections show the city could actually pay it off in about 10 years.

Mayor Jason Nichols has been making his way to local gatherings to discuss the proposal and field questions. One of his promises has been the creation of an oversight committee that would police the city’s entire process involving the project.

“Conceptually, I’ve got in mind what is essentially a committee that will be given all the information the city has when it comes to the revenue side of the equation – how much we’re collecting, what we’re spending on the various projects – so they can make sure we’re doing everything like we said we would and completing the projects that were in the plan,” said Nichols.

Because the committee will only be necessary if voters approve of the project, Nichols said the final details won’t be worked out until after the January vote.

“I imagine a five-member committee that meets at least monthly, but could even meet as they saw fit if they needed to do it more frequently,” said Nichols. “I have had three people volunteer, and of course there are a couple of people with particular skills, like an accountant, that I think would be good to have.”

Nichols said he will continue to take volunteers for the committee.

“We’re committed to complete transparency in this entire process,” he said. “If you have that same goal and are interested in serving on an oversight committee, get in touch with us.”

Nichols has spoken to nearly 20 groups in recent weeks, and has several other sessions scheduled to detail the proposal. The city has also established a Facebook page, “Tahlequah Capital Improvements-2012,” where data, diagrams and other topics are available on the proposed tax increase.

The city’s proposal includes more than $10 million for street projects, including sections of Crafton, North Grand, East Fourth Street, West Fourth Street, Bluff Avenue, East Allen Road, and North Cedar Avenue. South Muskogee Avenue, from Fourth Street to the bypass, would be expanded to five lanes.

Public safety would receive $1.5 million for technology upgrades, fire department equipment, and emergency management systems, such as an automated-notification system and storm sirens.

Parks and recreation would receive more than $4.6 million for the Anthis-Brennan sports complex’s Phase 2; a swimming pool; Phoenix Park renovations; and development of creekside walking and biking trails, a toddler playground, a dog park, and other facilities.

Nearly $5 million would be put into facility improvements, such as updating the city library’s handicapped-accessibility; renovating the armory facility on the west side of the city for use as a new police department; installation of traffic and pedestrian safety improvements; conversion of solid-waste trucks to compressed natural gas; and a community center addition to Northeastern State University’s multipurpose event center.