The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 3, 2013

With two proposals, the city’s ‘Quality of Life’ parks election isn’t all or nothing

Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Enid voters will consider two issues Tuesday in the city’s $50 million “Quality of Life” parks election.

This isn’t an all-or-nothing vote: Proposition 1 would raise $20 million by increasing the city sales tax rate by one-half percent for five years. Proposition 2 is for $30 million in general obligation bonds by extending an existing 7 mill property tax levy.

Enid wants and needs better parks, but only what we can afford. And we haven’t been maintaining what we already have.

If the more specific Prop. 2 is approved, $21 million of the $30 million would be split between construction of two new city parks and upgrades to existing neighborhood parks, according to the city proposition. The $21 million would meet the statutory requirement that at least 70 percent of city bonds be earmarked for specific projects.

Residents already are paying for the property tax levy, so this extension would not result in a tax increase. This is a potential for a continuation of the bridge bond tax initiated five years ago. With Prop. 2, we get no new taxes.

The more painful Prop. 1, which also is more vague in its project spending, would raise Enid’s combined sales tax rate from 8.35 percent to 8.85 percent. That would put Enid’s sales tax rate uncomfortably high when compared with nearby or peer cities.

We don’t think a one-half percent sales tax increase is a great idea. Oklahoma reportedly has the fifth-highest combined state and local sales tax rate average in America.

Our state sales tax portion is significantly lower than Texas, which doesn’t have state income tax, but local sales taxes are comparatively higher here.

Enid’s strong retail sales have been consistent, but a higher sales tax makes our city less competitive.

Recently, City Manager Eric Benson referenced Enid’s challenge to overcome a “perception of mistrust.”

Unfortunately, a significant number of citizens distrust City Hall’s spending stewardship. Giving the city another $20 million plus in sales tax income with little guidance on how to spend it simply plays to that distrust.

Frankly, we would have preferred authorization of a citizen advisory board for transparent accountability to work through decisions with a broad-based coalition.

And considering the timing, a parks initiative would have met less resistance if it came after citizens could experience and appreciate an opened Enid Event Center.

Adding sequestration uncertainty and the recent federal expiration of the two-year payroll tax cut, the hard choice is obvious.

While we appreciate the ambition of the $50 million proposal, we’re voting “no” for Prop. 1 and “yes” for Prop. 2.