At last week’s Town Hall meeting, District 2 Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan expressed his willingness to assist the City of Choctaw with road repairs.
After about a decade, the county will resume providing in-kind assistance to the city for road projects.
Maughan says the previous district attorney prevented the county from doing in-kind work within cities with a population over 5,000 people. However, the new district attorney, Vicki Behenna, has a different view on this law.
“We have always been willing to be a partner. We’re just trying to work within the confines of the law,” said Maughan.
The city and county hope to partner to repair about two miles of roadway this year.
Mayor Chad Allcox says Reno and NE 10th are likely projects to kickoff the reestablished partnership between the city and county.
The meeting was hosted Thursday, July 13 at Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center’s Iguana Hall.
Allcox plans to schedule more Town Hall meetings to allow residents to work alongside elected officials and city staff to improve the city.
Choctaw hosts Town Hall meeting, community discusses state of roads
Mayor Chad Allcox hosted a Town Hall public meeting Thursday, July 13 at Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center’s Iguana Hall.
Allcox coordinated what he hopes will be the first of many Town Hall meetings with a focus of gathering public input needed to move forward with citywide improvements, the most important of which he feels is the massive undertaking of beginning road repairs within the city.
“We can all agree, the roads throughout the city of Choctaw are terrible and the citizens deserve better,” said Allcox, who took office in April.
The hall, located at 4601 N. Choctaw Rd., was full of residents with no shortage of questions and comments for the board of officials consisting of Allcox, city manager Brian Linley, public works director Stuart Drake, Choctaw development services director Sarah Huffine, the city’s economic development and grant writing specialist Tawny Shelby, State Senator Brenda Stanley, John Wolfe, District 2 Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan and his superintendent Kenny Wallace.
The entire Choctaw City Council is serving in their first term, while many changes have also been made to city staff during the last year.
The new officials hope to unite the community, build public trust, and find solutions for the city’s growing pains and deteriorating roadways.
In Oklahoma, cities rely on sales tax revenue to fund operations, and that’s why officials say it was critical that their predecessors went through the process of establishing an incentive district to attract retail development to the state’s oldest chartered town.
The Tax Increment Finance District, used to attract Walmart and other commercial development near NE 23rd Street and Henney Road, will expire at the end of this year. That should free up some sales tax revenue from that area for the city to use outside of the district, but there will be no boost in property tax funds for the city to utilize.
“The fortunate thing is this TIF expires in six months so that debt will be gone, and you will use those dollars to help fund the city,” said Wolfe. “I will mention that the city does not get any of that ad valorem tax unless the people pass general obligation bonds or there was a ruling against the city that was put on the tax roll.”
Only 0.8% of property taxes paid by city residents come back to the City of Choctaw.
Choctaw-Nicoma Park Schools receive 65.5% of property tax revenue, EOC Tech gets 13.8%, the county collects 9.6%, the metro library system gets 4.4%, countywide schools get 3.6% and 2.2% goes to city-county health.
The city relies on sales tax revenue to fund infrastructure expansion, improvement, and repairs.
The state sales tax is 4.5 cents per dollar, cities tack on additional tax to fund the municipality’s operation. Choctaw’s sales tax rate is 4.25%, bringing the total tax on items purchased within the city limits to 8.75%. So, for every dollar spent at businesses within the city limits, 4.25 cents come back to the city, and a quarter of each penny is earmarked to only be used for park improvements.
Officials say that’s why officials emphasize the importance of shopping local, and hope to attract additional stores and restaurants to the community.
“We want to attract businesses that share the family values that the people have here in Choctaw,” said Allcox.
Officials agreed with several public comments acknowledging that the city is in a race to address major road issues before more homes are built and that accompanying traffic is added to local roadways.
“We have over 1,400 homes planned that haven’t even broke ground. That puts added strain on waste/water systems and roads,” said Linley. “They did a road study in 2018, and nothing’s been done, so the roads that were fair then I’d assess they’re poor now.”
City staff says elected officials recently approved a new fee for residential and commercial building permits specifically earmarked to help with road repairs, as new buildings add traffic which escalates the failure of Choctaw’s roadways.
“The City Council recently approved something called the transportation impact fee. For single-family homes, it’s around $1,100 or $1,200 which is tacked on to their building permits that go directly to streets to fund pothole repairs and anything our public works deems necessary,” said Huffine. “So, there are some new fees that have been added recently to help us recover from our streets dilemma.”
Many residents spoke to their concerns about past repairs being done by unqualified workers and resulting in road conditions that may have even been worse than no repairs at all.
“I hear you and feel your pain, the mayor and I both live in Silver Chase off of NE 10th Street,’ said Linley.
Officials say staffing changes have been made, and the city is looking to improve training and hiring practices. Additionally, the city hopes to outsource future major projects as they say the city simply can’t afford to hire qualified road repair specialists.
“Moving forward, with pothole repairs specially, we’re introducing some new training and looking to hire more employees with some certifications. You’re right, in the past when repairs were made sometimes they even made things worse. We need some proper training for the laborers we do have, and we need to make sure if we’re doing a job that we do it right,” said Drake.
Senator Stanley says she’s been in contact with Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials, and they’re willing to work with the City of Choctaw to possibly complete some grants in order to get state funding directed toward the community.
“I spoke with them directly about Choctaw, and I’ll forward everything I have to city leadership,” said Stanley.
Mayor Allcox, who says his professional career requires constant problem solving and thinking outside the box, has also proposed a partnership with the local technology center to benefit the community.
“Something I’ve been speaking with EOC Tech about is setting up some kind of road repair certification program. This could not only benefit the City of Choctaw, but bring folks here from outside to get their training,” said Allcox. “We have plenty of roads these students could get their training on. I’ve brought it up with leadership, and hope to continue having that discussion.”
Beyond taking steps in the right direction, Allcox says a major change is coming that could help Choctaw begin the process of major road repairs soon.
“Things have changed for the City of Choctaw for the positive,” said Allcox.
The county will resume assisting the City of Choctaw with some road repairs as they had done over a decade ago. Maughan says this development is thanks to a recent ruling by the attorney general, and a June decision by the new district attorney.
Historically, the county would help the city with road work at the cost of materials, while providing the tax funded equipment and labor. He says the previous district attorney would not allow the county commissioners to assist municipalities with a population over 5,000 people, which left Choctaw unable to maintain the paved roads throughout the community over the past decade.
However, Vicki Zemp Behenna was sworn in as district attorney in January, and in June Maughan says she gave her own ruling once again granting the county the ability to serve municipalities with a population over 5,000 residents, as long as the cities contribute financially to the projects.
“Help is coming, but unfortunately now we have about nine years of deferred maintenance to deal with,” said Maughan. “Something that may have been a pothole before and wasn’t taken care of properly, now it could have washed away the base and need a total tear out. A little bit of prevention is worth a pound of solution. Potholes may not be a reflection of the skillset of the people filling them. At this point, the road base could be so bad that anything put in those holes could wash away. It is almost a mission impossible situation with some of these roadways due to how bad the base has become.”
The city and county hope to partner to repair about two miles of road way this year.
“We have always been willing to be a partner. We’re just trying to work within the confines of the law. We’re ready, and the city manager has already sent in a couple requests. We’re going to put a bid sheet together, and hopefully we’ll get started on a couple projects by the end of the year. Unfortunately, there are probably 20 effected miles we need to get to and may only be able to get a couple this year. But at least it’s a start,” said Maughan.
Allcox says Reno, between Henney and Hiwassee, and NE 10th, near Indian Meridian, are likely starting points for major road repairs. The mayor hopes to start making small road improvements, which have been rare in the past decade, to start building public trust. Then the community can continue to work together to address the complex infrastructure issues facing the city.
“Harper could be a No. 1 choice with all the school kids using it and it being a top route for first responders, we need to fix it, it’s terrible. But that will likely be next year, because it needs expanded to allow proper drainage. Bad roadways that are heavily traveled and don’t have the drainage issues could be fixed faster instead of waiting a year to start,” said Allcox.