Supporters of a proposed three-quarter cent Pittsburg County sales tax have been working hard to get the tax passed.

The McAlester City Council is asking for changes to the City Charter.

In the Hartshorne school district, voters will be asked to pass a $1 million bond issue to help pay for an event center which would include a storm shelter.

All of the proposals will be on the ballot on Tuesday, when regular polling places will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. for the special elections.

Early voting in-person absentee ballot voting on the measures will continue from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday.

Members of the Pittsburg County Progress Committee have been spending the final days before the election campaigning to convince voters to support the sales tax issue. They held a forum at the Kiamichi Technology Center on Thursday to answer questions and assure the public that bond revenues would be properly handled.

Panelists included three members of the Pittsburg County Progress Committee: Dr. James Dunagin, Committee Chairman Mike Ward and Karen Askew. They were joined by Brent Clark, who will be working with the bond sales.

If the measure passes, it will go toward renovations and expansions at the Pittsburg County Jail and the county courthouse. A portion would also go to fund a Pittsburg County animal shelter.

Asked about the need for a sales tax Dunagin said “For starters, the newspaper has reported serious deficiencies in the Pittsburg County Jail.”

“The state jail inspector said he would seek to close the jail if the deficiencies are not met.”

Dunigan said there are also serious deficiencies in the courthouse, including the lack of handicapped access. He said the old Public Service of Oklahoma building is adjacent to the courthouse property in the back and the issue offers a prime opportunity for the county to purchase it.

Dunagin also noted that the courthouse has been cited for deficiencies by the state fire marshal.

“Pittsburg County is one of only eight in the state with no county sales tax,” Dunigan said. Passage of the measure would increase the sales tax in McAlester to nine percent, he said.

Ward said if the county jail is closed, county prisoners would not only have to be transported to other jails, they would also have to be brought back and forth for court appearances.

Clark said there are other issues in having a jail closed.

“It would be pretty humiliating,” he said. “You would be the only county in the state to have its jail closed.”

He said there will be ample oversight of the bonds and noted that county government is audited yearly by the state auditor and inspector’s office.

The proposed animal shelter would have set guidelines under which to operate.

“In order to operate an animal shelter, there are certain state and federal requirements you have to abide by,” Askew said.

She said no property has been selected for the site of the shelter, but if an existing building could be found, it would reduce the cost.

The animal shelter would not simply warehouse animals, but would also provide care and attempts to have them adopted, she said.

The three county sales tax projects are budgeted at a total of $15,914,189.

The courthouse part totals $7,389,035, including $325,000 to purchase the former PSO building on Carl Albert Parkway.

Renovating and adding on to the jail would total $7,725,154.

Also, $800,000 would be budgeted for the animal shelter.

If the proposal passes, a half-cent would go for all construction or expansion. Three-sixteenths of a cent would go to fund jail operations and a sixteenth of a cent would go to fund the animal shelter.

A half-cent portion of the tax would expire as soon as the bonds are paid. Although 19 years are set aside, the bonds could be paid off sooner, Clark said.

The remaining quarter cent, for operations for the jail and animal shelter, would remain in effect unless voters repealed it.



Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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