We couldn’t agree more that a new jail is needed. We also agree that Pontotoc County Courthouse needs to be renovated. Our problem is with the plan to add an 11/16s of a penny tax to your purchases to achieve these objectives.

Doing so would raise our tax rates from being in the lower one-third of Oklahoma’s communities to being in the upper 20 percent. In other words, our sales tax would increase from its current 8.5 cents on the dollar to 9.25 cents. The rub is that larger communities with whom we compete the most for retail sales will be much lower. Shawnee is 8.5 percent. Norman is even lower at 8 percent.

The stated goal of the tax increase is to raise $14.6 million in order to construct a new jail and to pay for renovations of the courthouse. At current sales tax revenues 11/16s of a cent would generate almost $43 million in 20 years, the designated life of the tax. At normal interest rates the amount needed to pay off the principal and interest on $14.6 million would be approximately only $29.2 million, not including architectural fees and bonding agent’s commission.

Of the $14.6 million, the plan calls for $7.6 million to go toward funding construction of a new jail, $4.3 million toward renovating the courthouse, and the remainder, $2.7 million, to go toward land acquisition for the jail, if necessary. It isn’t necessary because two of the three sites being considered are being offered for free.

It needs to also be noted that it is only the majority of the 11/16s that is expected to be paid off in 20 years. Another 1/8 of a percent will never go off because proponents say it will be needed to fund operational expenses as long as there is a jail.

In any event, it seems to us combining the two, one a state mandated necessity (a new jail), with one that is not (renovation of the courthouse), is too much and should be treated as two separate issues.

Many voters may be intimidated by state jail officials’ threats of fines if this plan doesn’t pass muster. If it fails Tuesday, the earth will continue to turn and the sun to shine. Bryan County was under similar threat of having to pay just under three-quarters of a million dollars and actually ended up paying only $15,000.

What is the solution? We think the idea of a property tax has not been seriously considered, or at least a combination of property and a sales tax.

A vote of “No” Tuesday gives us more time to explore these options.

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