McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 7, 2014

Council considers changes

Staff Writer

McALESTER — McAlester city councilors are set to consider passing election resolutions to let voters decide if they want to increase the city’s hotel/motel tax by 50 percent, along with making changes to the city charter.

City councilors are set to meet in regular session at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at City Hall.

The proposed city charter changes includes allowing 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.

Instead, city councilors have previously discussed setting 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.

Also, an expected companion measure would ask voters if they want to raise the $500,000 debt limit to $1 million for the McAlester Public Works Authority and the McAlester Airport Authority.

Another proposed city charter change previously discussed by the council would do away with counting the prison populations at Oklahoma State Penitentiary and the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center when drawing the city’s ward boundaries.

The current provision resulted in a drastic reduction of the Ward 4 boundaries, because the two prison populations at Oklahoma State Penitentiary and the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center were included in the ward population counts.

Before the council votes on three items on the Tuesday night agenda, public hearings are scheduled to be held.

Public hearings, where city residents are given the chance to address a subject before it comes up for a vote, are set for the proposed city charter changes, the proposed hotel/motel sales tax increase and on the city budget for the upcoming 2014-2015 Fiscal Year, which begins June 1.

The proposed hike in the hotel/motel tax would raise it from the current 4 percent to a 6 percent rate. Ward 3 Councilor/Vice Mayor Travis Read had originally advocated a hike to an 8 percent rate, but several other councilors said they preferred a lower rate of 6 percent.

City officials have said they would like to hold the election on the same day as the statewide Aug. 26 Primary Run-Off Election.

The Tuesday night meeting is set to begin with a Union Pacific Railroad presentation and general discussion, from UP Manager of Public Safety, Stephen Lazzari.

Also during the meeting, Connie J. Davis-Counts plans to ask the city council to waive a 90 day waiting period required before holding “another dirt event” at the Southeast Expo Center.

At least seven of the agenda items are related to requirements for a Community Development Block Grant application, and the procedures required to move the process forward.

Another item is related to a request from the McAlester Fire Department to use part of the city fire department’s portion of the county quarter-cent excise tax for fire services.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.