A quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters last week to benefit all fire departments in the county is expected to take effect Oct. 1, and until the funds arrive, volunteer fire departments face the possibility of financial woes due to the wildfire season.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission told Calera Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Brian Norton in an email that by state statute, the new tax rate can go into effect no earlier than Oct. 1 and that OTC is working with Bryan County officials to receive the proper documentation to begin collecting it at that time.
According to the Bryan County Election Board, the tax passed by 53.63 percent with 2,603 votes cast for it, compared to 46.37 percent, 2,251 votes opposed.
The sales tax will provide funding for all Bryan County fire departments, the Bryan County Communications Center and the Bryan County Fire Chiefs Association.
It is permanent, and will be used for the purpose of fire protection, prevention, communications, training-related expenses (not to include salaries), and Fire/EMS/Rescue operations. This will include maintenance/construction of buildings, purchase and maintenance of equipment, vehicles and supplies. The funds will be distributed equally among all 18 fire departments located in Bryan County. Ninety percent will go to the fire departments, five percent to the Bryan County Communications Center and five percent to the Bryan County Fire Chiefs Association.
In the case of Durant, the 9.125 percent sales tax rate will increase to 9.375 percent.
According to Norton, volunteer fire departments may still need to raise funds this year until the tax funds start coming in, especially since the wildfire season is beginning.
” If it (tax collection) starts October 1, we’re looking at December 2012 or January 2013 before we start seeing anything,” he said. “Between now and the first of the year, fire departments will still have to manage on a shoestring budget until the tax money shows up.”
Also, Norton said the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the west side of Bryan County to be abnormally dry, and the eastern part of the county is in a moderate drought. According to Norton, because of the fire risk in the state, Oklahoma firefighters have not been going to Colorado to help with the wildfires there.
“I’m afraid in the next week or two, the Oklahoma fire season is going to kick up, and if we send firefighters to Colorado, we will not have anyone here,” Norton said.
The possibility of large wildfires this summer could create a financial burden for volunteer fire departments, according to Norton.
“One (large) fire would really hurt the financial situation of some of these departments,” he said.