Woodward, Okla. — By Alan Riffel
In less than a month, you will have the opportunity to vote on two important sales tax measures for the City of Woodward. But, I am hearing from various sources that there may be some confusion within the community about these proposals. Misinformation distorts truth, and can generate harm if left uncorrected. We absolutely want you to be informed of the facts, because this particular election will have such significant bearing on our future and on our safety.
For the record, although there will be two questions on the ballot, and each question references a half-cent of sales tax, they do not both represent increases. One proposal regards extending an existing half-cent tax, and the other regards increasing our sales tax by an additional half-cent. Currently, the local sales tax rate is $0.035. If both issues pass, the municipal rate would only go to $0.04.
The sales tax extension involves the dedicated revenue that has long provided for capital improvements like street overlays, water system upgrades, heavy equipment, playground equipment, cemetery expansions, technology installations, and similar tangible asset expenditures. These funds are restricted and cannot be used for any purpose other than capital improvements. This half-cent has been in place for the past 20 years. But, it expires next April, so an extension is being requested for another 15 years.
The proposed half-cent sales tax increase is based on the patent need to build a new fire station and to renovate two miles of 34th Street between Oklahoma Avenue and Hank’s Trail. City staff members, along with professional engineers and public committees, have spent the past two years studying these issues, and have developed plans that would resolve associated problems for both concerns. The combined cost for these proposals is approximately $14,500,000, which would be spread over a 15-year term. Renderings of the new facilities are on display at City Hall and at various locations across town.
The problems associated with our main fire station’s location and its conditions are widely known. Did you also know that the two-mile section of 34th Street is 13% more dangerous than the statewide average? Literally, thousands of vehicles travel that stretch of road every day. Under current conditions, more than eight vehicle collisions happen, and two people to get hurt on that street every year. That is simply unacceptable! The plan is to reduce those statistics by adding multiple turning lanes and expanding all intersections.
Your City Commission has determined that all of these needs are so critical to our community’s safety and future ability to deliver services that the public should be asked if you are willing to commit to making them happen. Along with our staff’s project recommendations, Commissioners have received so many inquiries over recent years about the urgency to fix problems with both the fire station and 34th Street that they deemed it to be immediately decided. Also, because vital infrastructure costs total millions of dollars, it is now time to again earmark funds to pay for those needs.
So, yes, both ballot questions are for half-cent amounts of sales tax. And, yes, both questions are for 15 years. But, that is where the similarity ends. Only the fire station and 34th Street funding measure is a potential increase. The restricted capital improvement tax does not increase local taxes; it maintains the existing level.
Tuesday, August 13th, is the election date. Across the state, 164 cities have identified the need to go to the 4-cent (or more) local sales tax rate, including Elk City, Weatherford, Clinton, El Reno, Yukon Mustang, Guymon, and Alva. They are all dealing with key local matters in this manner, which include major construction projects. You have the opportunity to decide how important safety and infrastructure is to Woodward.
Alan Riffel is Woodward’s city manager