Washita voters OK changes in use of sales tax
Reapportionment of part of Washita County’s 2-percent sales tax was approved overwhelmingly Tuesday by the county’s voters. The change won’t be effective until Oct. 1.
Almost 81 percent of those voting approved a five-year extension with the use changes. The vote was 727 for, 171 against.
Washita County’s jail will be a primary beneficiary of the change, once it becomes effective. County Clerk Kristen Dowell said the jail, referred to on the ballot as the Washita County Justice Center, is currently receiving about $600,000 annually from the sales tax and it should get an additional $400,000 once the change takes place. That of course assumes the total tax generated remains about the same as it is presently.
The vote dealt with 1.25 cents of the county’s 2-cent sales tax. There’ll be no change in the total 2-percent sales tax paid on goods or services purchased in the county.
Ms. Dowell said the wording of the ballot made the change effective Oct. 1 because the part of the sales tax affected is covered by other propositions which won’t expire until then.
The percent of sales tax going to the Justice Center will increase to 40 after Oct. 1. Other beneficiaries of the tax at that time will be the County General Fund, 20 percent; county fire departments, 13.5 percent; the Oklahoma State University Extension Service, 12 percent; the county’s two ambulance services, a combined 8 percent; senior citizen centers in the county, 4.5 percent; and the County Free Fair and Junior Livestock Show, 2 percent.
Reportedly, one reason more money is needed for the jail is because of a cutback by the State of Oklahoma in payments to counties for keeping state prisoners. Beckham County Sheriff Derek Manning said recently his county is making up for some of the cutback by putting more inmates on ankle bracelets and monitors.
Custer County Sheriff Kenneth Tidwell told county commissioners recently that his jail had only about 85 inmates He said it was built for 129, and Wednesday he said he has not started using more ankle monitors.
“We’re not significantly impacted by any decrease in sales tax revenues right now,” he said. “I think our sales tax is coming in at about what we expected it to be. We budgeted based on what we’ve seen each month in past years.”
State cutbacks have been a problem for Custer County in the past, especially when the Department of Corrections pulled out all state inmates being held in county jails awaiting transfer to Lexington for state prison assignments.
“The money we were seeing from that went away and has not come back,” he said. But he added, “Our jail population being down by the numbers we’ve seen over the last year helps us more than it hurts us. We’re not spending as much on food or medical care as we were.”
As for ankle bracelets, Tidwell said he doesn’t have the staff to monitor that kind of program. “We’re still down one officer from two years ago,” he said. “It wouldn’t be feasible to do that.”
Tidwell said his average daily jail population for 2018 was 100 inmates, leaving him excess room in his 129-capacity jail. “The last five months it’s been averaging 84 inmates a day,” he said. “The 2017-18 fiscal year, which is what I would have based our current budget on, was an average of 119 inmates daily.
“I know Washita County has suffered some from their sales tax revenues, and I know he (Sheriff Roger Reeve) has really had to make adjustments. We’ve not seen that here.”
But he quickly added, “It could change tomorrow. All it would take is somebody having an aneurism or a brain block to wreck my budget. We’ve been lucky. If somebody comes in and has a heart attack and needs heart surgery, those hospitals are going to want to be paid, and it would fall right back on us to be responsible.”
Tidwell said his department gets 30 percent of Custer County’s half-a-cent sales tax. Of course the total dollars it generates is possibly a lot more than what Washita’s 2-cent tax generates.