In today's fractious sociopolitical environment, it's virtually impossible to get everyone on the same page. Voters can't agree on the best way to move forward, and that contentious attitude filters down to municipalities, where citizens find themselves quarreling over the best way to move their communities forward.
There will always be a handful of individuals who would prefer not to spend money on quality-of-life issues, mainly because they're understandably skeptical about its use. But for the most part, the proposed sales tax measure for the city of Tahlequah has been greeted with open arms and a positive outlook. And here's why.
First, the half-cent tax won't raise taxes from the level we've been paying for several years. Consumers would get a brief reprieve from the tax that ends this month. But from a pragmatic standpoint, it could be argued that since customers of local businesses are used to paying 9.5 cents on the dollar - which includes state and county levies - there's no benefit in rolling it back. As we've seen on the federal and state levels, tax cuts only help a select few, while at the same time starving the types of governmental services - namely, education and infrastructure - that voters claim to care about.
Second, this half-cent sales tax has been earmarked for capital improvements. That's not just pablum coming from the mouths of city officials; that's how the ballot reads. This tax is "for the construction, improvement, maintenance, operation, and repair of Tahlequah city streets, alleys, roadways, bridges, sidewalks, and other similar or related public infrastructure." Streets and sidewalks have been a prime source of complaint from Tahlequah residents for years - in fact, for decades. It's counterproductive to assign blame, but suffice it to say the problem is cumulative: It didn't happen overnight, and it won't be fixed overnight. But a designated coffer of this magnitude - Mayor Sue Catron hopes for $1.5 million per year, starting Jan. 1, 2020, through 2025 - will get the city well on the road to more expedient progress.
Some citizens have taken issue with recent funding structures that relied upon bond issues. They were especially peeved that with a couple of initiatives passed in recent decades, Northeastern State University got a cut of the funds. Both times, city officials reasoned that NSU, with the additional money, could either upgrade or build shared facilities neither Tahlequah's school district nor the city itself would ever be able to afford: in the former case, for the football stadium, and in the second, for a meeting and convention facility.
Naysayers for that setup can rest assured this money will only be used for city projects - and not only that, the money will be placed into a savings account, free from fees associated with bond service. That point was made by Ward 3 City Councilor Stephen Highers, who added that this influx will allow the city to step up work on its ambitious "comprehensive plan."
The election is set for Tuesday, Sept. 10. Early voting begins Thursday, Sept. 5. This proposal should bring everyone to the table, because there are no hidden agendas, no attached fees - and no real disagreement among those who have worked with and for the city in the past, and who are doing so now. The Daily Press and others will ensure transparency by continually reporting on the numbers and the projects as they proceed.
There's no appreciable downside to Tahlequah City Council Ordinance No. 1287-2019 - unless, that is, you don't want the city's infrastructure improved. We trust that people who feel that way are few and far between, and encourage citizens not just to go to the polls for this special election, but to vote "yes" when they get there.