Lone Beasley Publisher
The Ada News
On April 3 voters will decide whether or not to increase Ada’s sales tax by a quarter of a cent to provide additional funding for Pontotoc County volunteer firefighters. Ada Jobs Foundation, Ada Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), and Ada Area Chamber of Commerce boards insist they want to support volunteer firefighters, but do not think upping local sales tax is an appropriate funding mechanism.
“As the lead economic development organization in Pontotoc County, Ada Jobs Foundation has serious concerns as to the impact the quarter penny sales tax proposal will have on retail sales,” said Michael Southard, Ada Jobs Foundation CEO.
Southard said Pontotoc County’s retail sales have been flat for the last several years and are just now beginning to rebound. “Our fear is the new tax will drive retail purchases outside the county or to the Internet,” he said. Ada’s current sales tax rate is 9.188 percent. If approved by voters the fire tax would take it to 9.4 percent, which opponents say is higher than Shawnee, Norman and Oklahoma City.
Southard questions what his board says is a lack of comprehensive planning and community input that went into the idea of raising taxes for so specific a purpose. “Most tax increase proposals engage citizens in a visioning process and needs assessment with financial projections to meet the capital need purchases.
“While everyone empathizes with volunteer firefighters as to the need for safe and effective equipment, not all fires are alike, nor are all fire department needs alike. The Jobs Foundation believes a station-by-station needs assessment should occur,” Southard said.
Bill Horne Sr., Ada Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) board chairman, said his group has nothing against volunteer firefighters and in fact wants to support them, but doesn’t think adding to Ada’s sales tax is the answer.
“The AIDC board feels there are not proper controls set up for it,” Horne said. “We’re not against volunteer firefighters having funds, but we don’t think this has been approached correctly. We understand firefighters need support and we want to support them but don’t think this tax has been properly set up.”
Horne said AIDC board members expressed concern about raising Ada’s sales tax again and the potential negative impact it would for Pontotoc County retailers.
Yancy Spivey, Ada Area Chamber of Commerce board chairman said many of the chamber’s 400 plus members depend on local and regional shoppers and that staying competitive with surrounding communities is critical. “The city of Ada’s sales tax rate is one of the highest in Oklahoma at its current level,” Spivey said.
“An additional increase to the sales tax rate places our chamber retail members at a further competitive disadvantage that could promote shoppers to visit other shopping areas such as Norman, Oklahoma City, Shawnee, Ardmore and Texas,” he said.
“While the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce certainly endorses the efforts of rural volunteer fire departments, recognizing their tireless effort serving area communities, we cannot endorse a sales tax increase that could be a determent to our business members.”
Southard said another area of concern involves uncertainty regarding which fire departments are legally adhering to state law. “This apparent lack of legal knowledge and accountability is a major red flag as to possible future problems when receiving public funds.
“Concerned citizens in the area should work with the rural districts, similar to the recent penny for your city campaign, to determine the capital plan and identify the most appropriate funding source to meet the needs of our rural residents,” Southard said.