Local sales tax still lower than comparable cities

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

Cherokee County Assistant Secretary Chelsea Jones, left, and Inspector Gina Saxon, center, go over paperwork while Judge Cherae Stone signs in to cast her vote for the city's sales tax proposal.

Voting for the Sept. 10 city of Tahlequah proposition sales tax is underway, and a majority of residents have voiced their support on social media and various websites.

If the half-cent sales tax is approved by voters, $1.5 million for current road and sidewalk repairs and improvements will be earmarked in a "savings" account.

Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron has made it clear the funds are only to be used for construction, improvement, maintenance, operation and repair of city streets, alleys, roadways, bridges, sidewalks and public infrastructure.

Ward 3 City Councilor Stephen Highers said that if the sales tax passes, Tahlequah will have a substantial recurring revenue source that can be used to tackle big infrastructure projects.

"Passing the sales tax saves the city the large amount of money paid in interest and financing fees that are incurred by the bonds we've passed in the past," he said. "This guarantees that all the money collected by the sales tax goes toward the infrastructure projects permitted on ballot."

Currently, the sales tax is at 9.5 percent. A half-cent tax already in place will end Sept. 30. If the new sales tax is approved by the voters, the rate of 9.5 percent will resume on Jan. 1, 2020, and continue through Dec. 31, 2025.

Although some residents suggested Tahlequah's sales tax is too high when combined with state and county levies, a quick survey of nearby towns suggests otherwise. Sallisaw's tax is 9.9 percent, Wagoner's is 9.8 percent, Hulbert's is 10.25 and Locust Grove's is 10.38 percent. Muskogee is slightly lower, at 9.15 percent, and Tulsa is 8.5 percent. Larger cities tend to have lower sales taxes because they can pull from a greater variety of funding sources and have larger populations who pay the taxes.

The Tahlequah Daily Press asked readers during the Aug. 31 Forum if they supported the tax, and if so, which roads needed priority.

Kim Mitchell said she does support it, and what the city needs more than anything is sidewalks.

"We need a sidewalk that extends from the hospital to the light at Bigby," she said. "We need a designated crossing guard on Downing for children getting to school and people trying to get to businesses on their day-to-day travels."

Brent Been said he doesn't see any other way to make improvements without retaining the 9.5 percent.

"Bond issues are much like credit cards, whereas retaining the Tahlequah city sales tax at the current rate is akin to a savings account," he said.

Robbie Frank is in favor of the vote, but he said the special elections have got to stop.

"Wasting money on special elections is silly. Prudent planning and having these votes during general elections would save taxpayer money and give more folks a voice on these issues," he said.

TPD also asked readers on its website if they support the 9.5 tax. Twenty-seven said they absolutely do, whereas 32 responded they definitely do not. Three said they were undecided.

The location or identity of website voters is not known. Highers believes the sales tax should start with roadways, and specifically on the more expensive projects.

"I know Ward 3 has some major and expensive repairs that need to be done. With the funding, this sales tax will create we will be able to tackle those repairs," said Highers.

Early voting will be available at the County Election Board office from 8 a.m.. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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