Tuesday, Sapulpa voted an overwhelming 91.84% to 8.16% to pass the Franchise Vote that would allow Sapulpa to double the amount taxed on gross receipts from two percent to four percent. According to City Attorney David Widdoes, the result will be an increase to your bill of about $1.00 a month, or approximately $12.00 a year.
That money is an additional revenue stream to a city that—like many others—needs it.
And while there are still questions surrounding this new 25-year agreement that as of yet have not been answered: (How much is the franchise fee? What sorts of “rules and regulations” is Sapulpa now in charge of providing for?), the real story here is that that 91.84% accounts for 135 people. Those who voted that they were not in favor of the franchise agreement amounted to just eight.
Put another way, 147 people made the decision for a town of over 20,000.
It’s easy to look at how little information the public was given prior to the vote and point fingers at the City of Sapulpa, saying they should’ve done more to get the word out about a decision like this that affected the entire town.
The truth is, the City of Sapulpa did every bit of it’s due diligence and if we don’t like the turnout, we’ve nobody to blame but ourselves.
Legally speaking, the city cannot publicly announce in any form that it is in favor or against such a vote. Even when it’s a good thing for the city, they could not actually sway the voters one way or another. Any sort of attention or media coverage that some measure on a ballot gets is through an independent resource, most often a citizen or a committee of them, created especially for the cause. One such example is A Better Sapulpa, which was created to push the extension of the half-percent sales tax so that we could continue to use that revenue for the good of our community.
That being the case, the city did what they were supposed to do by bringing the matter to the public through it’s Council and ensuring that it got placed on a ballot, which happened back in June, by the way. See the full Council Proceedings here. So we’ve had at least that long to get familiar with it.
The other cause of this abysmal voter turnout was that it was a single issue on the ballot, and that it was a special election and not wrapped up in more popular election times, like those that happen in June and November.
Senator James Leewright says it’s a common problem: “There is no greater privilege or right as a citizen then to vote,” he began. “Unfortunately in smaller ticket and special elections the voter turnout tends to be very low which can allow a few to decide outcomes of elections that impact us all.”
State Representative Mark Lawson pointed out that other recent campaigns were also low, such as this one from 2015 (about 1235 people voted), or this one from 2014 (only 837 voted). Even this one for the School Board—an election that was heavily campaigned—only turned out just under 850 voters. “Comparing this (the Franchise vote) voter turnout to other recent city elections is that there were campaigns put together and organized and executed by a group of citizens who had an interest in the measure,” Lawson said.
Simply put, the problem, Sapulpa, is us. We need to attend the meetings, stay informed, and when the time comes, make our vote count. Even if you can’t make the time to be show up at your precinct, you can participate and stay in the know by being an absentee voter.
My hope is that our community will begin to take a more active role in our city’s future, and eventually we won’t have to see decisions that affect us all being made by only a few.