Special election set for Sept. 12
By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Midwest City leaders want to extend and repurpose a temporary sales tax.
The city is seeking to extend an existing .4015% sales tax that is currently dedicated to the renovation and upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The proposal would also change how the sales tax dollars are spent – by redirecting funds towards capital improvement projects and parks.
A special election is set for Sept. 12.
City leaders hosted town hall meetings last week at city hall. They have also met with neighborhood associations and other civic groups to promote the sales tax election.
The current sales tax was approved by voters in November 2011 and was originally scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, 2025. It could also sunset early if the debt on the wastewater treatment plant is satisfied, which could happen as early as this fall, according to city officials.
The current .4015% sales tax generates about $4.5 million per year, officials said.
Under the proposal, the sales tax would no longer sunset, keeping the city’s rate at 9.1%. If it is rejected, the rate would decrease to 8.6985%.
“It’s not raising the sales tax. And this council has committed to not raising sales taxes,” said councilman Pat Byrne at the Aug. 29 town hall meeting.
The city plans to use the funds for capital improvement projects and parks. Eighty percent of the funds would be dedicated to unfunded or underfunded capital improvement projects. The other 20% would be dedicated to maintenance, operations and upgrades to the city’s parks and recreation facilities.
Tim Lyon, city manager, said the city has identified more than $100 million in capital improvement projects that could benefit from the sales tax.
“We don’t do the streets like we need to. We’re not replacing sewer lines like we need to. And we’re not replacing water,” Lyon said at the Aug. 29 meeting. “I’m not even talking about new stuff for new areas of town.”
The city plans to hire a consultant to assess the projects and create a ranking system.
“That would establish where the money goes first,” Lyon said. “It’s not based on politics or wards. It’s based on needs.”
The parks funding would be used for maintenance, operations, and upgrades to the city’s 31 parks.
If the sales tax does not pass, Lyon said the city will need to make do with what funds they have.
“We’re going to continue what we’re doing, which the best we can with what we’ve got,” he said. “For a city with 60,000 people and only having $800,000 for capital improvements is a really small number.”
Midwest City currently receives about $750,000 to $1 million per year for capital infrastructure projects. Mayor Matt Dukes said the additional sales tax revenue would provide a steady increase to that.
“This at least gives us a funding stream to start with these projects and start down the road to improve the parks and do the things that we need to be doing,” Dukes said. “We want to be proactive rather than reactive.”
Officials believe continuing the sales tax would be a wiser option than property taxes. Lyon said about 40-45% of sales taxes collected in Midwest City come from people who live outside the city. If the city tried to complete $100 million worth of projects through ad valorum taxes, it would be paid for by only residents.
Dukes said the city has built trust by following through on the 2018 general obligation bond issue. The city is finishing its final project – a police and fire training facility.
“We have a proven track record of doing exactly what we say we’re going to do,” Dukes said. “That’s what I think I want to foot stomp. We’re good to our word.”
Lyon pointed to a drainage project that city crews completed in the Orchard neighborhood, near the Reed Baseball Complex. A parking lot near the ballpark and the Carl Albert football stadium created stormwater runoff in nearby houses. Lyon said the city received an estimate of about $1 million for the work, but they instead used city crews to do it at a cost of about $120,000.
“We went in and graded, cleaned it all out, put new turf in and directed the flow downstream like it’s supposed to,” he said. “It saved us about $900,000.”