By James Beaty
They’re trying again.
McAlester city officials are attempting once more to get voters to pass a city proposition they say will result in an additional $12 million for city street and road projects without any additional sales tax or tax extension.
McAlester voters are set to cast votes on the proposition during the city’s special election Tuesday. All precinct polling places utilized for city of McAlester elections are set to be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. for the election.
For those who want to cast a ballot before Tuesday or who want the convenience of voting in downtown McAlester, early in-person absentee ballot voting will continue from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday at the Pittsburg County Election Board office at 109 E. Carl Albert Parkway.
The election proposition states on the printed ballot that it “does not increase or extend the term of any sales tax, but does modify the purpose of an existing 1 percent sales that’s currently being levied by the city ...”
It goes on to state it would allow the tax to “be used on debt service heretofore or hereafter approved by voters of the city...”
As City Manager Pete Stasiak sees it, the question’s intent can be put in basic terms.
“This is an opportunity for the community to utilize $12 million today, that would not be available until at least 2025, by accessing the money and allowing us to reinvest in back into our street system now, instead of 12 years from now.”
Stasiak and Harrison contend passing the measure will allow the city to fund the streets project by trading older, high-interest debt for new, low-interest debt.
McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison said it another way.
“It would allow the tax to be used to pay debt service approved by voters,” he said.
He cited the line on the ballot that the money could only be used for projects “heretofore or hereafter approved by voters of the city.”
Harrison said only one item had been “heretofore” or previously approved by the voters — and that’s the one approving the street projects the voters passed as Proposition One last November.
However, the voters didn’t pass Proposition Two of the measure in November — which would have allowed the current tax to be superseded to pay for the street projects.
Proposition One had asked voters to approve a $40 million package to refinance the McAlester Public Works Authority’s 1999 A Revenue Bonds. That measure passed by 58 percent of the November vote.
Proposition Two had asked for authority to levy a one-cent sales tax, to supersede or replace a current tax — and it failed in November 2012 with 3,033 “no” votes, compared to 2,540 who voted “yes,” failing by 54.42 percent of the ballots cast.
Harrison said at the time the city had split the measure into two questions on the advice of the city’s bond advisors.
“The reason there were two propositions is that according to state law, only one topic can be on a single question,” Harrison said.
Now, Stasiak and Harrison say the city is already benefiting from the lower interest rates made possible because voters approved Proposition One last November.
“We were able to pay off the old debt and get a better interest rate,” Stasiak said.
“We went from a 5.7 rate to a 3.80 and we estimate it will save the city over the next 18 years about $7.5 million dollars,” he said.
Harrison put it this way when referring to the proposition voters passed in November and the proposition city officials are asking voters to pass on Tuesday.
“The voters have already approved issuing debt to fix the streets. There’s already a sales tax in place to give us money to pay that debt,” Harrison said. “We’re now asking voters for permission to make the debt payment with the existing sales tax.”
So how does Harrison say it will work?
“We will issue more debt that we expect to net $12 million to be used on street improvement projects,” he said.
Stasiak maintains now is the time to act.
“Interest rates are never going to be as low as they are now,” he said.
Both Stasiak and Harrison said the city wouldn’t necessarily have to become involved in another bond package. Both said there’s a substantial chance of obtaining the money through a bank loan.
Meanwhile, a company called Infrastructure Management Services has surveyed part of the city’s streets, but some have been left unexamined by the IMS, since the city only partially funded the project, according to Harrison.
IMS did much more than take a look at the streets, according to Stasiak. He said the company uses laser technology in examining the streets’ condition.
On a scale that placed the best streets at 94 and the worst at 31, IMS gave McAlester streets an average rating of 76, Stasiak said.
If the Tuesday election is successful from the city’s standpoint, the city would need to get the rest of the city streets surveyed, Harrison said. That would be helpful in determining which streets should be included in the renovation and repair projects, according to the mayor.
What about the list presented to voters prior to the November 2012 election that stated which streets would be among the first set for repairs or renovations if the measure passed?
While there might be some modifications, City Engineer John Modzelewski said the list would still be utilized, although there could be some changes.
“This would be a starting point if it passes,” Modzelewski said. “It’s a starting point for recommendations to the council.”
The list of proposed Capital Improvement Projects Street Reconstruction which had been put forward in 2012 — and which Modzelewski said will be a starting point if Tuesday’s measure passes, includes:
• Phase 1 — South Street, from 200 feet west of Strong Boulevard to 180 feet east of Franklin Street. It calls for reconstruction of .64 lane miles at an estimated cost of $1,700,000.
• Phase 2 — Washington Avenue, from Main Street east to Carl Albert Parkway covering 2.7 lane miles at an estimated cost of $4,832,000.
• Phase 3 — A Street, from Miami Avenue to Comanche Avenue, covering .59 lane miles at an estimated cost of $1,240,000.
• Phase 4 — Sixth Street, from Adams Avenue to Monroe Avenue, covering .49 lane miles at an estimated cost of $1,096,000.
• Phase 5 — Sixth Street, from Chadick Park to Chickasaw Avenue, covering .51 miles at an estimated cost of $941,000
• Phase 6 — Seventeenth Street, from South Avenue to Comanche Avenue, covering .47 lane miles at an estimated cost of $950,000.
• Phase 7 — Second Street, from Modoc Avenue to Comanche Avenue, covering 1.12 lane miles at an estimated cost of $2,290,000.
A lane mile is defined as one driving lane, one mile long — not two lanes, as most city streets are in McAlester, nor four lanes, like Strong Boulevard, Electric Avenue, Wade Watts Avenue and most of Wyandotte Avenue.
Also, plans call for reconstructed streets to include water and sewer line replacement, according to the plan, since the city plans to replace the base beneath the street surfaces whenever needed, which would make it more likely the lines would have to be replaced,
The mayor indicated he doesn’t know how many streets could be repaired at this time because “We don’t know how far the money’s going to go.”
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