McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 12, 2013

City passes sales tax election resolution — without mandate for road and street projects

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — City councilors passed two measures Tuesday night that will result in city voters going to the polls again to either accept or reject a “change of purpose” of an existing 1 percent sales tax — but there’s nothing in the new ballot language mandating that the money be used only for road and street projects.

City councilors voted unanimously during their regular meeting in the council chambers at City Hall to pass the two measures related to a special election.

The first item related to an ordinance stating the measure would “replace and supersede” a 1 percent sales tax currently being levied by the city.

On the second agenda item, city councilors passed  a resolution calling for a May 12 election on the issue.

Last November, city officials including City Manager Pete Stasiak and Mayor Steve Harrison said the money gained by replacing or re-purposing the 1 cent tax would be used strictly for road and street projects. That measure failed at the polls, although a related measure to allow the city to refinance the original bond package at a lower interest rate did pass.

On Tuesday night, the city’s bond finance adviser Jon Wolff addressed the council prior to the vote.

Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith asked Wolff to stress that if voters pass the measure in the upcoming election, there would be no new sales tax and no extension of an existing sales tax.

“This is not a new tax. “This is changing the purpose of an existing sales tax,” Wolff said.

Following a brief discussion, all of the council voted to pass the two measures, with the exception of Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin, who was not present.

After Wolff left the meeting, the News-Capital spoke to him in the lobby of City Hall. The News-Capital  noted that neither the ballot language nor an accompanying ordinance said anything about restricting the “re-purposed” money to road and street projects.

Wolff said that  was correct. The money could be used for capital improvement projects if voters pass it, he said.

“The intent is to use it for road projects,” Wolff said.

Regardless of the intent of some or all of the current city council, could the city legally spend the money for any type of capital outlay if voters pass the measure with the ballot language approved Tuesday night?

“They could legally use it for anything,” Wolff confirmed, referring to any type of capital expenditures.

 

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

 

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smartphone.