Centennial Report: Wagoner County Board of Commissioners
1988 - 2007
The Blue Ribbon Committee appointed in 1987 to assess the needs of county government came back with the following findings: there was a lack of space in the courthouse, the offices needed updated equipment, there was a shortage of manpower, the courthouse was outdated, the jail was in poor condition, the road system was a concern, and there was a lack of funds. They recommended the Board pass a resolution calling for a one (1) cent sales tax the revenue of which was to be used for roads (90%) and county government (10%).
The Board passed a resolution calling for an election and the citizens of Wagoner County approved the sales tax for a period of five years. The sales tax was renewed in 1992. In 1997, the sales tax renewal was presented with a different allocation: 80% roads, 10% government, and 10% sheriff. The inclusion of the sheriff probably had a lot to do with the conditions in the jail which were difficult to be corrected without major renovation. This renewal also passed.
About this time, Judge Sewell approached the Board about expanding the Courthouse. The Board hired architects to do preliminary plans on what an expansion project might look like. It wasn’t until 1999 that the funding mechanism for the new courthouse addition was decided on—an increase in the sales tax of .85%. The public approved the increase and in 2000 the Board formed the Courthouse Renovation and Criminal Justice Trust Authority to oversee the construction of the courthouse and jail. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held in 2001 and construction got underway. The entire addition was completed in 2004. Sales tax revenues exceeded expectations so in 2006 the Board called an election to rescind the remaining time for .85% sales tax. At the same time, they voted to extend the 1% sales tax for an additional ten years.
Wagoner County Fire Departments also began to see sales tax revenue as a means of funding their departments. In 2004 they requested that the voters be allowed to adopt a sales tax of .15% for the benefit of the Fire Departments in Wagoner County. Counties are limited to a 2% sales tax, so at this time, with a 1.85% sales tax already in effect, the remainder available to the Fire Departments was .15%. The voters passed the sales tax with ease
In 2006, when the .85% tax was eliminated, the Fire Departments came back to the Board to ask for an additional .15% sales tax, for a total of .30%, to be put before the voters for approval. The original allocation did not include the Broken Arrow Fire Department, but they were added this time, making a total of 14 Fire Departments to receive benefit from the funding. In return, the Broken Arrow Fire Department made available its training facility for use by the rural fire departments. This tax also passed but the success of the tax was not without its consequences.
In addition to the sales tax monies, counties may assess a use tax on goods purchased outside the county but delivered within the county. The use tax can be at the equivalent rate of the sales tax and the proceeds can be spent at the discretion of the Board of Commissioners. The local Fire Departments made a case for receiving that part of the use tax that was equivalent to their share of the sales tax. The Board approved this allocation until the passage of the increase. At that time the Board rescinded the Fire Department’s receipt of the use tax monies and allocated all of the use tax to the Commissioners account.
Besides sales tax revenues, another major topic during the years leading up to the centennial was the 9-1-1 Emergency Phone System. Discussions regarding a county-wide 9-1-1 system began in 1997. The telephone fee levy was initiated the following year and 9-1-1 addressing began. In 2002 the County hired a 9-1-1 coordinator to oversee implementation of the county-wide E-9-1-1 system.
As time progressed, a county-wide concept was developed between the Cities of Broken Arrow, Coweta, Wagoner, and the County of Wagoner. These entities agreed to use a router system for emergency calls and to share the costs of establishing the system. Each of the cities hosts its own dispatch center and receives the emergency 9-1-1 calls generated within each city’s limits. They also receive 9-1-1 calls within the unincorporated areas of Wagoner County which are then transferred to the Sheriff’s dispatch center. Discussions are on-going about whether a centralized dispatch system in the Sheriff’s office would be better than the de-centralized approach that is currently used. Each entity receives revenue from the 9-1-1 surcharge on phones as well as from a new wireless fee to purchase needed equipment, meet payroll, and manage the system.
During this time Wagoner County became and still is one of the fastest growing counties in the State of Oklahoma. To help manage the opportunities for economic growth, the Board re-activated the Wagoner County Economic Development Authority. The Board funded the new trust with the 1% use tax the county was receiving. Their first major challenge was presented by Johnston’s Port 33 who wanted to expand into Wagoner County. After much interaction, the Economic Development Authority obtained financial assistance to build an industrial road to the new Port site.
The Authority also began looking for land to create an industrial site for the County. They found 30 acres in Coweta which they purchased and are now in the process of developing into the Wagoner County Industrial Park. The trust members soon saw the need for a full-time person to handle the requests for information they were receiving. The Board of Commissioners authorized the Authority to hire a Economic Development Director through the OSU Extension office in 2007. The Authority had lost its revenue from the Use Tax at the same time the Fire Departments did, but with the hiring of the director and the costs associated with the new industrial park, the Board of Commissioners reinstated their revenue at 50% of the receipts of the Use Tax.
The Free Fair Board was also struggling with growing pains. In need of a new building to hold shows and other events, the Board proceeded to obtain bids for a new building. When the question of who held title to the Fairgrounds property was raised, it was discovered that the Fair Board did not have clear title to the property—that it basically still belonged to the Coweta School Board. After much research regarding the issue, the Coweta School Board gave clear title to the Fair Board. Now, the Fair Board can proceed to make improvements to the land and structures as they originally intended to.
Other indicators of growth are seen in the formation of two new Water Districts, numbers 12 and 13, as well as one new fire district: Oak Grove Fire Protection District. The voters passed an additional millage for the Health Department who later purchased property in Coweta so that a new health center could be built. The Creek Turnpike became a reality and an exit off of the Muskogee Turnpike at Porter was accomplished. Storm Water management activities became mandated by the federal government and the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution that all county employees have to have a drivers license.
Community groups were still active. The Masonic Lodge received permission to build a gazebo on the Courthouse lawn. The gazebo was moved to the west of the Courthouse when construction began on the new addition and is still there today. The Veterans brought the deterioration of the Veteran’s memorial to the attention of the Board in 1993. In 1996, the Board received bids for a new granite Veteran’s memorial which was constructed and still stands at the front of the Courthouse on the east lawn. The original marker that was in front of the Courthouse has been temporarily moved to safety until the completion of the front addition to the Courthouse. Once that is completed, the original marker will be relocated for public viewing.
The County participated in the celebration of the centennial by placing centennial benches on either side of the Veteran’s memorial and by placing a centennial celebration sign to mark the entrance to the public parking area for the Courthouse. A large centennial logo along with a mural depicting the history of Wagoner County is mounted in the hallway to the left of the main entrance to the Courthouse. The elected officials and employees of the courthouse hosted an open house to celebrate the centennial with over 100 persons attending the ceremonies.
This brings us to the end of the centennial reports and to the beginning of Wagoner County’s next 100 years. It has been my pleasure to bring to you the history of Wagoner County as seen through the Commissioners’ Minutes as part of the Wagoner County Centennial Celebration. All the articles will be on display in the County Clerk’s office through the end of the year. The future looks bright! Let’s all work to keep it that way.
Growing from "Good" to "Great"!