Wayne Trotter, Countywide & Sun
Stand up, voters of Pottawatomie County, and take a bow. Now give yourself an encore.
Bow again. The children will ultimately be the winners from the results of Tuesday’s sales tax referendum, but you are the heroes. You saw the need and you did what you had to do, what you knew was right. And you left no doubt at all. Hooray for you.
When the smoke began to clear after the polls closed early Tuesday night, your determination became crystal clear. Given the disappointing results from the most recent school bond issues in the county (voters in Macomb and Pleasant Grove turned those down not once but twice), there was plenty of room for doubt about what could have happened Tuesday.
Yes, we supported it, but the idea of adding a little more to a sales tax that already was high enough looked controversial from the get-go.
And for 10 years? That’s a long time. Unlike the bond issues, which under the state constitution require a 60 percent approval rate, raising the sales tax takes only a simple majority. But there was still doubt. After all, this was a tax increase and historically, Oklahomans aren’t too wild about those.
If someone had told us on Tuesday morning that this proposition would get 63 percent of the vote, we probably would have chuckled. If we had then been told this tax increase would win every precinct in this diverse county, we might have laughed outright.
The word was that people in the south end of the county didn’t like this idea and when the county itself had to go to the voters several times to finally get its one-cent tax, it was not much of a secret that the powers that then ran Shawnee were opposed under the radar.
You couldn’t blame them. Most of the money from that tax is collected inside the Shawnee city limits and most of the money from this tax will be too. Adding a penny back then and almost a half-cent now reduced their flexibility and pushed the overall sales tax (state, county and city) closer to the dangerous 10 percent line.
In this case, those turned out to be foolish concerns. You, the voters, exposed Doubting Thomases such as ourselves for the worrywarts we had become. You blew our doubts up early and regularly. The margin in Shawnee was a little below the county as a whole but nevertheless was quite strong. And the tax rolled in the south end of the county. When it was all over, every box had voted for the tax and almost 63 percent of the people had said
“yes, yes, yes!” If this had been a bond issue, it would have passed as well.
Take another bow, voters. You are the heroes.
There are a few other heroes and they should also be recognized.
Let’s start with Tom Wilsie, the school superintendent in Tecumseh who came up with this idea, and Charlie Dickinson, the superintendent at Dale who helped develop it.
As administrators, they are acutely aware of the need and have had to make the cuts when state money began dwindling. These men worked hard and had the vision and courage to push the concept. They’re heroes too.
Then there are the three county commissioners — Melissa Dennis, Randy Thomas and Eddie Stackhouse. They could have killed the whole thing at the outset and dodged the potential political consequences. Instead, they did the right thing and sent it to the voters. Add one heroine and two heroes to the list.
Let’s not forget Richard Smothermon, the district attorney. He was responsible for adding another project to the mix, his longtime dream of a One Safe Place family justice center. It won’t take much of the tax, only .005 percent, but it does promise to assist families and individuals in great distress. He fought for something good and he also prevailed.
Finally, there is an “outsider,” and that’s John A. “ Rocky” Barrett, the longtime chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (and a minority stockholder in this newspaper). Mr. Barrett stood up when this subject was first proposed and pledged his support. He wants to move the tribe’s sales tax to the new county level and add to the proceeds, but that is still pending before the tribal legislature. But he and the CPN did help with the campaign and that was important too.
Voters, Administrators. Public Servants (okay. Politicians). Others. Lots of heroes. Lots of winners. This isn’t a final fix. That will be up to the Oklahoma Legislature. But this will help carry Pottawatomie County schools and by extension Pottawatomie County children through some tough times to come. Thank you, one and all.
Posted on Tue, January 19, 2016
by Ashley Novachich