|Updated: 8/24/2012 7:13 pm
||Published: 8/24/2012 6:55 pm
Creek County leaders are at odds with City of Sapulpa leaders over how to raise money to better fund volunteer fire departments in the county.
The devastating wildfires in Creek County earlier in the month drew attention to the severe lack of funding for quality equipment the volunteer departments have been facing.
On Monday, Creek County leaders outlined a plan to raise the county's sales tax by a third of a cent. Half of the money raised from the tax would fund equipment upgrades for the 20 fire departments in the county, and the other half would fund road and bridge repairs.
But leaders with the City of Sapulpa and others in the county raised concerns with the plan, saying the sales tax increase was not the appropriate way to raise the needed funds.
Sapulpa city leaders would not go on camera with FOX23 News on Friday to discuss the issue, but said off camera that increasing the sales tax could push it too high, forcing Creek County residents into other counties to spend their money. They said the county could end up with less sales tax revenue overall, not more because of the increase.
But Carolyn Smythe with the Freedom Hills Volunteer Fire Department wasn't buying that argument. She said people didn't stop shopping in Bristow when that town raised its sales tax a few years back.
"I think the figures show it didn't impact their economics at all, that people still continued to buy at the Walmart because it's very convenient," Smythe said.
Sapulpa also says the sales tax wouldn't be fair to everyone, because many of the biggest tracts of land in Creek County these fire departments protect are owned by people out of state, and the county can't collect sales tax from them.
Sapulpa's leader say an increase to ad valorem property taxes is the best way to raise the money.
Smythe doesn't think that idea will go over very well, though.
"I think a sales tax, because the general public then gets to choose," she said. "An ad valorem is long term, it will never end. And we're already paying lots of property taxes."
Smythe also said it would by 2014 before any of the property tax revenue made it into the hands of the fire departments that need it, while sales tax revenue would filter back by 2013.
Creek County Commissioner Newt Stephens is concerned there would not be as much oversight of the property tax revenue as there would be with the sales tax money. He worries the money could end up getting spent things other than what it was meant for. He said the sales tax plan included plenty of oversight to avoid that problem.
"It was thought through," Stephens said. "There was a good plan. The best thing to do is to back up and look at it and make sure we are best serving the community."
Smythe says after 20 years of hearing officials talk about funding fire departments and failing to do so, she just hopes they follow through this time. However the money is raised, she says it must come as soon as possible.
"If we don't make ti a priority, in a couple of years we'll be right back here again."
The county is forming a committee to explore all possible options and research which would have the fewest drawbacks. The goal is to have a plan in place that makes everyone happy for voters to decide on in February. The committee's first meeting is scheduled for September 10.