McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 12, 2014

City approves resolution for August ballot

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — McAlester City Attorney Joe Ervin had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to turn in ballot language for a special city election which city officials want to hold on Aug. 26,

City councilors approved a resolution during their regular Tuesday night meeting at City Hall to ask voters to approve several proposed changes in the city charter. They also approved a resolution to ask voters to approve raising the city’s hotel/motel tax from the current 4 percent up to a new rate of 6 percent.

In addition to raising the current rate by 2 percent, the city question also would ask voters to repurpose how the money raised by the tax could be used.

During the Tuesday night meeting, city councilors debated for a time regarding the best way to write the language regarding the  purposes for the proposed hotel/motel tax increase, with the talk centering on how to best phrase the ballot language.

In the end, city councilors agreed to go with part of the  original proposed language, added to some lines suggested by Ward 1 City Councilor Weldon Smith.

As of Tuesday night, the final version was expected to read as follows:

“All taxes collected pursuant to the provisions of this article shall be set aside and used exclusively for the purpose of encouraging, promoting and fostering the convention and tourism development of the city of McAlester.”

Smith’s proposal added the following elements:

“Examples of authorized purposes include, but aren’t limited to:

• Acquiring sites for and/or constructing, enlarging and  maintaining convention centers and/or visitor information centers.

• Advertising and promotional programs to attract tourists and participants to sports, and arts and humanity events, and:

• Building, restoring, preserving and promoting parks or historic sites or museums that will attract tourists.”

However, there  remained the possibility the wording could be modified until the ballot language was actually filed with the Pittsburg County Election Board office.

During the discussion, city councilors said they wanted to keep the purpose of the tax on the ballot language broad, rather than overly specific, to give future city councils more leeway in deciding how to spend the money.

Proposed changes to the city charter also include a provision to allow the McAlester Regional Health Center to exceed the current $500,000 limit on “indebtedness or obligation,” without having to first go to a vote of the people.

The ballot language was expected to set the limitation at 5 percent of the hospital’s total net assets.

Evans McBride, a McAlester banker who serves as chairman of the MRHC Authority’s Finance Committee,  said during a previous meeting that the McAlester hospital’s current net assets are approximately $67 million. Five percent of that amount is $3,350,000.

A companion measure would ask voters if they want to raise the $500,000 debt limit to $1 million for the city’s trusts, which, in addition to the hospital, includes the McAlester Public Works Authority and the McAlester Airport Authority.

Yet another of the proposed city charter changes would eliminate counting the prison populations at Oklahoma State Penitentiary and the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center when drawing ward boundaries for the city.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesdternews.