Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006 may be long remembered after it has passed, but the day appears to be getting little attention from area voters prior to its arrival. It is on that date that county residents, at least for those who are aware of it, will go to the polls to decide the fate of a proposed sales tax increase for Pontotoc County.
This lack of attention is not the fault of county officials who for months have been publicly laboring over how to fund a new jail that will comply with state mandated standards. On March 6, 2006, the State Health Department threatened to impose fines of up to $10,000 on the county for not complying with those standards.
A committee of county leaders recommended a 20-year countywide sales tax increase of 11/16s of a penny tacked on to Ada’s current 8.5 percent, taking the effective per dollar tax on purchases to 9.25 cents. It was also decided to use part of the money to renovate Pontotoc County Courthouse, which was last remodeled in 1967.
Officials estimate the total financial need for both projects at $14.6 million, $7.6 million for construction of a new jail, $4.3 million for renovating the courthouse, with the remaining $2.7 million going toward the possible need of purchasing land on which to build the new jail.
Most agree a new jail is needed and that the courthouse is in need of repair, but not everyone supports an increased sales tax to resolve the problems. Dexter Pruitt, area businessman, said he disagrees with the tax increase because of its negative impact on low-income families. “My main reason for opposing the sales tax is that it puts another tax on the working guy,” Pruitt said. “I scaled that out and a person making $7.50 an hour spending $150 a week on living expenses will take a full day’s wages a year to pay for that tax. That doesn’t sound like much to some, but for a person who barely makes a living, it hurts. It’s an unfair tax on the working guy.”
Ada’s current tax rate puts it in the lower third of 527 Oklahoma cities. Those opposed say increasing it to the proposed amount would leapfrog Ada into the upper 20 percent of Oklahoma’s total taxable entities. According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Norman’s taxable rate is 8 percent, Shawnee’s is 8.5 percent, and parts of Oklahoma City in Cleveland, McClain and Oklahoma counties are listed as charging 8.375 percent.
The sales tax has its supporters. Bill Yerby of Yerby Appliances in Ada said he hates an additional tax too, but sees the need for it. “I think it’s going to be terrible to have another tax but the thing about a sales tax is it is more fair because people outside the county pay it when they shop here,” he said.
Art Chapman of Chaprell Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, Inc. in Ada said while he is concerned that at some point raising sales taxes will be injurious, he doesn’t think 11/16s is asking too much. “If (county officials) had asked for a one penny increase, I think that would have been too much,” Chapman said. “But 11/16s is not.”
Pruitt said he favors a property tax over a sales tax increase. “I’ve been checking property tax and farm property is basically paying nothing,” Pruitt said. “It wouldn’t take much per acre to get the money needed. The average home here probably pays $250 a year, and that’s not bad,” he said.