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March 23, 2014

Fate of half-cent sales tax to be decided at ballot box

DUNCAN — A half penny adds up fast.

When it’s part of the sales tax charged in Duncan for 20 years, all those half pennies come to about $27 million.

The question before voters on April 1 is whether they want to continue charging themselves the half-cent tax for another five years to fund economic development, whose definition now has been expanded to include street repairs and waterworks improvements.

Until this year, the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation (DAEDF) has had exclusive use of the money, but technically speaking, the foundation doesn’t actually spend the tax monies.

The spender of the money is  the Duncan Economic Development Trust Authority, which, in effect, is the Duncan City Council, whose members are the trustees.

This year, for the first time in the 20-year history of the half-cent economic development sales tax, the money will be split between the city and DAEDF -- but voters must say “yes” before that happens.

The city, by all accounts, is in need of a cash infusion.

Two years ago, more than $100 million worth of street improvements were identified. A $10 million bond issue to begin that work was defeated by voters last May.  

Since then, the drought that has enveloped southern Oklahoma has worsened, sharpening the public’s focus on Duncan’s future water needs.

If the city is allowed to split the half-cent sales tax with DAEDF, it will use the money to begin work on street and water improvements.

Even so, the city’s share of the half-cent tax only will amount to about $1 million per year, so if the work is undertaken it will be on a piecemeal basis for the next five years.

To explain the work ahead and the money that could be available to address it, Duncan Public Works Director Scott Vaughan invoked the old adage that asks: how do you eat an elephant -- one bite at a time.

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