By James Beaty
McAlester city councilors approved by a split vote a request from McAlester Public Schools to convey an additional $370,000 to MPS for completion of a new roof at Puterbaugh Middle School — but not before several councilors sprinkled the school administrator with a series of questions.
City councilors approved the measure on a 5-2 vote during the council’s regular session held Tuesday night in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
The agenda item regarding the school roof called for councilors to consider and act upon a memorandum of understanding between the McAlester Public Works Authority and the McAlester Public Schools Board of Education.
Placed on the agenda by City Manager Pete Stasiak, the measure authorizes the release of funds derived from City Ordinance 2159 “for the acquisition, construction or equipment of educational facilities.”
The measure, as passed, approves a memorandum of understanding to convey the $370,000 to the McAlester School District to be used for completion of a new metal roof at Puterbaugh Middle School.
Voting in support of the measure were Mayor Steve Harrison and City Councilors Weldon Smith, Ward 1; John Titsworth, Ward 2; Travis Read, Ward 3, and Buddy Garvin, Ward 5.
Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr and Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason cast “no” votes, against the proposal.
During the discussion of the proposal, Stasiak told the council the city has $600,000 held in reserve from the collections, which is a requirement of the bond measure.
Councilor Smith also addressed the matter.
“We have enough to cover the $370,000, plus $600,000” and still have enough left over for a “cushion,” he said.
Before the votes were cast, MPS Superintendent Marsha Gore and MPS Business Manager Brent Grilliot faced the council to answer questions.
They told the council the new rood would be a metal roof, to replace the flat roof currently in place on the school.
Last February, the McAlester Public Works Authority — which consists of the mayor and the city council — approved a memorandum of understanding to provide McAlester Public Schools $700,000 for the repair or replacement of school roofs from the so-called “surplus” collections.
The $370,000 requested Tuesday night had been in addition to that amount, and was needed to complete the second half of the Puterbaugh Middle School roof, according to city documents.
Money conveyed to MPS Tuesday night comes from sales tax returns collected from a sales tax originally passed by city voters on a city question to fund new construction at McAlester Public Schools.
At the time, the school district was having a difficult time meeting the 60 percent of the vote threshold required to pass a school bond issue.
The state legislature has allowed for school-related measures to be considered as a city vote, if agreeable to both the city and the school district. That meant it only needed 50 percent, plus one to pass.
When the measure passed, it allowed for new construction at McAlester High School, including construction of the Lucy Freeman Smith center.
However, since the measure passed as a city question, the city receives the money from the sales tax collections on the issue and must pay off the bonds.
Councilman Smith, who happens to be married to retired MPS Superintendent Dr. Lucy Smith, for whom the Lucy Freeman Smith Center is named, said he wanted everyone to understand that the funds were not the city’s money, but excess money collected from the sales tax on the school-related measure.
Councilman Karr brought up the money conveyed in 2012, saying last year the council gave the school $700,000 to get all the roof projects completed.
Gore said putting a metal roof on Puterbaugh had not been part of the original plan. She also said she could not speak to plans made by her predecessor Tom Condict, who has since retired.
Karr wanted to know if the “surplus” money the school requested could be use to pay off the bond measure earlier.
“This is taxpayer money,” he said.
City Attorney Joe Ervin said the city could accelerate the payments and used an example of paying the bond off in 2015 instead of its 2018 expiration date.
However, the tax would still continue until 2018 unless repurposed by a vote of the citizens of McAlester or eliminated by the council, he said.
Mayor Harrison said as the situation now stands, the money could only be used to pay down the debt or for capital improvements at MPS.
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