McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 8, 2013

Garfield County rural fire sales tax OK’d with 86% voter approval

ENID, Okla. — Garfield County voters chose Tuesday to keep a one-tenth of a penny sales tax to help rural volunteer firefighters build up their departments and maintain their equipment.

Waukomis Fire Chief Clarence Maly said he didn’t know what to expect on election day.

“We’ve showed the voters in Garfield CountY we did a good job with their money, so they’re going to let us do it some more,” he said.

The vote was 5,114-835 — 86 percent in favor — to continue the one-tenth of a cent tax for another 10 years.

The money will be split among a dozen rural volunteer fire departments in Garfield County. Last year, each received about $89,000 from the revenue.

“We’ve all had some projects in mind to do if we had the funding to go forward with, but we didn’t know until tonight once the people voted,” Maly said. “Now we can take those projects and improve the county even more than we have in the past. It’ll help a lot of people.”

The first sales tax benefiting rural fire departments in the county was passed in 1996. It was a quarter-cent tax.

Voters approved a one-tenth cent extension for five years in 2000, then extended the tax for another nine years in 2005. The current tax expires Dec. 31, 2014. The extension approved Tuesday will last until Dec. 31, 2024.

The money has been used by the departments for operational expenses, as well as to build new stations and buy new trucks and equipment.

Fire departments from Hillsdale-Carrier, Lahoma, Drummond,  Douglas, Waukomis, Covington, Garber, Hunter, Kremlin and Fairmont received funding from the original sales tax. Since then, departments have been formed at Breckinridge and Pioneer-Skeleton Creek.

In 1996, officials with rural departments said the tax was the only way they could pay their bills and seek a stable income source to upgrade broken-down firefighting equipment. Spring fires had caused damage in many rural parts of the county in 1996, and rural fire departments at the time depended solely on membership dues, fundraising dinners and a small amount of municipal funding in some cases. State funds totaling about $1,000 a year also were received, along with a special one-time $2,000 allocation for maintenance on equipment.

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