Early voting continues Monday for a sales tax to fund area fire departments, plus primary elections for sheriff, county clerk and United States representative.
Registered voters may vote early at the Bryan County Election Board, 217, N. 16th Ave., from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday
Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on election day Tuesday. Voters should have their voter identification card or driver license.
Voters will be voting on a county question for a permanent one-quarter cent sales tax to provide funding for all Bryan County fire departments, the Bryan County Communications Center and the Bryan County Fire Chiefs Association.
The tax, if approved, would be used for the purpose of fire protection, prevention, communications, training-related expenses (not to include salaries), and Fire/EMS/Rescue operations. This would include maintenance/construction of buildings, purchase and maintenance of equipment, vehicles and supplies. The funds would be distributed equally among all fire departments located in Bryan County.
The sales tax would amount to an average expense of $21 per year per resident, based on an average retail spending of $8,075, according to proponents of the tax. Members of the Bryan County Fire Chiefs Association say this additional tax would be offset in the form of lower property insurance premiums and the elimination of rural fire department membership dues. In the case of Durant, the 9.125 percent rate would increase to 9.375.
“This is a benefit to the people,” Brian Norton, deputy chief of Calera Volunteer Fire Department, said recently. “It’s inherent in a fireman to serve. We want to make sure everyone is okay. This tax will enable firefighters to have better equipment to protect the public and themselves.”
The alternative, Norton said, is the probable loss of some of the smaller departments, which would put “a greater strain on departments already strained.” As state and federal grants for firefighting equipment have dried up, and budgets get cut for rural fire protection, an increasing county population has caused fire and EMS calls to increase two fold.
“Most of these departments are barely hanging on,” Norton said. “We’re on the verge of losing a few. If this doesn’t pass, the surviving departments will have to find other means.”
Members of the Bryan County Fire Chiefs Association say this additional tax would be offset in the form of lower property insurance premiums and the elimination of rural fire department membership dues.
Here are few of the latest questions on the fire tax, according to the Bryan County Fire Chief’s Association:
Q: How will the money be handled?
A: All Tax money will be collected by the Oklahoma Tax commission then sent to the Bryan County Treasures office. The Money then will go into an individual account at the court house. Each department will have to request a PO and have it approved to purchase any items just like any other government entity.
Q: Will the fire departments get a check just handed to them each month?
A: No, no fire department will ever physically have its hands on the money. It will be under the Bryan County Treasurer control.
Q: Who will make sure the Fire Departments will use the money correctly?
A: A 7 member board will be formed. 3 Firefighter elected by the Fire Chiefs, 3 non-firefighters appointed by the Commissioners and the director of the Durant Kiamichi Tech center (the main fire training center for Bryan County).
Q: Is there another way to fund this.
A: In 2007 The Rural Fire Grant was over $5500 a year per department. In 2011 The Rural Fire Grant was $4300
This Grant is the main operational financing for most of the Fire Departments in Bryan County.
Since 2010 The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (federal assistance) has dropped $170 Million Dollars to $250 Million that has to be applied for and awarded, Each department is in completion with every Fire department in the US for this money. There are over 800 Fire Departments in Oklahoma alone.
A Property tax would only effect the property owners and would not be fair to them. With an estimated 40% of housing in Bryan County being rental this would be a one sided tax.
Fundraisers over the last few years have decreased. Civic groups like the Masons are one of the last organized groups in Bryan County that actively provides financial support to the local departments on an consistent bases throughout the county.
Q: Does every department get this money?
A: Yes, all departments will be treated equally and no one department will be treated better than the other. We felt no matter where you lived your life and property was not worth more or less than anyone else’s.
The fire chiefs association answers 16 “frequently asked questions” about the tax proposal in a section of their website: www.bcfirechief.org.
Durant Firefighters Local 3061 is not supporting the tax, citing several reasons, including that now is not a good time to raise taxes due to the economy and that Durant citizens are already helping fund the Durant fire department through current city sales taxes.
Five people are running for the office of county sheriff. Democrats Kenneth Golden, Roy J. Brown and John L. Bates are seeking the office. Republicans running for sheriff are Wayne Levins and John D. Wyatt. Current Sheriff Bill Sturch, first elected in 1992, did not seek reelection.
Two Democrats filed for County Commissioner, District No. 2. Incumbent commissioner Tony Simmons is being challenged by Chad White.
A primary runoff election, if necessary, will be held Aug. 28, and the general election is Nov. 6. The sheriff’s election will be decided in the general election because Democrat and Republicans are seeking the office.
Six Republicans and three Democrats are seeking the office of United States Representative District No. 2, currently held by Democrat Dan Boren, who did not seek reelection.
Republicans seeking the officer are Dwayne Thompson, George Faught, Wayne Pettigrew, Dakota Wood, Markwayne Mullin and Dustin Rowe. Democrats who filed for the office are Wayne Herriman, Earl E. Everett and Rob Wallace.
Republican voters will also be choosing between Bob Anthony and Brooks Mitchell for corporation commissioner.