County to hold ⅙ penny sales tax increase election for fire departments April 6

A special election will be held on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in Creek County to levy and collect a perpetual one-sixth of a penny sales tax to distribute equally to Creek County fire departments whose main station is located in Creek County and which maintain a good standing with the Creek County Fire District Association. 

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The taxes collected will be used for maintenance, operations, and capital outlay expenditures including apperati acquisitions or the upgrade and maintenance of existing apparati, equipment, safety gear, operations, planning, training, training-related expenses, new building construction or improvements on existing facilities. It is not to be used on personal expenses such as payroll. The tax is to commence on July 1, 2021.

This affects 15 municipalities, including Bristow, Depew, Drumright, Freedom Hill, Kiefer, Kellyville, Mannford, Milfay, Mounds, Oilton, Olive, Sapulpa, Shamrock, Silver City, and Slick, many of which have volunteer fire departments.  

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The resolution approved by the Board of County Commissioners on January 25, 2021 states that “it is deemed necessary and advisable by the BOCC…to support fire departments providing fire protection services across the county,” and that “there are no funds in the treasury for such purpose.” 

Creek County District #2 Commissioner Leon Warner told Sapulpa Times that, “most Oklahoma counties have some sort of public support for their fire departments. Creek County currently does not, and we are in the minority.” This leaves rural and volunteer fire departments to accrue revenue through fundraising and donations. They often host “bingos and breakfast feeds to raise money to get their equipment, or the bigger purchases come through grants,” explained Warner.  

City Attorney David Widdoes concurred with this, but said that “most cities have outside responsibilities to help rural departments. There’s always been cooperation [from larger entities], but no funding mechanism for rural firefighters. The hesitation from the City’s perspective is that it’s sales tax as opposed to ad valorem,” which is the prevailing funding source in most other counties and states. Typically, the bulk of funding for rural volunteer Creek County fire departments comes from ad valorem taxes and various grants, but the Sapulpa Fire Department is only funded through City sales tax.  

Sapulpa City Manager Joan Riley, when explaining the tax to the Intergovernmental Relations Committee at its Thursday evening meeting, said that she recognized that these smaller and volunteer fire departments “are very much in need” and emphasized that she and other City staff “support the rural fire departments” and understand their predicament. 

Riley said that, however, one of her concerns, other than Sapulpa “bearing the lion’s share of the tax” as it has the County’s largest economy, is that she doesn’t “think it’s going to generate enough funds to accomplish what they are trying to do. I feel like it might be more reasonably funded another way.”

Riley said that about “70% of the City of Sapulpa’s annual general fund revenue comes from sales tax receipts. Oklahoma is the only state in the country that is solely dependent on sales tax to operate,” so any increase must be of the utmost importance to the City and be of great benefit to its taxpayers. 

David Taylor, Sapulpa’s Fire Chief, says that “the tax would be a positive for the Fire Departments of Creek County overall,” especially the “smaller fire departments…as the question is to be proposed for each of the 15 departments to receive an equal share of the collection.” He acknowledged that, “it is a challenge for all [fire departments] to maintain our resources, but the volunteer departments in the rural areas of the County struggle to maintain minimal equipment.”

Taylor added that though “the new tax collection would certainly be a positive for the Sapulpa Fire Department,” it “would not affect our operations to the degree it would for the smaller” ones.

Warner said that, “Yes, the rural entities will benefit [from this tax] more than Sapulpa will, because it’s divided equally and a big portion will come from the people in [Sapulpa.] But they need it severely, and we have been trying to get it on the ballot for several years.” 

Warner stated that one-sixth of a cent would generate approximately $60K a month, which would amount to $4K in additional revenue for each of the 15 departments. “For the City of Sapulpa, that’s not much. But for some of the smaller cities, it’s huge. A new fire truck is $200-300K. They can’t afford that, so currently they rely on hand-me-downs or grants.” 

It is also important to note that most municipalities in Creek County participate in Mutual Aid Agreements, where an emergency response entity may cross jurisdictional boundaries to help another area in need, such as during the devastating grass fires that spread through Mannford, Olive, Freedom Hill, and Drumright several times in the last several years. 

Creek County residents who reside in District #3 will also have a chance to vote for their new County Commissioner on the April 6 ballot, due to the vacancy left by recently-deceased Commissioner Lane Whitehouse. 

Additionally, citizens of Bristow will have two city sales tax increase proposals on their ballot. The first is for a half-penny to fund a new hospital and the second is for a half-penny to fund capital improvements for public parks, public lands, and cultural and recreational facilities, such as its community pool.