Five million dollars.
Could this be the cost of future economic development for Rogers County?
The Circuit Engineering District is considering providing Rogers County District 2 Commissioner Mike Helm with $5 million to extend 86th Street North and cross the Verdigris River and connect to Hwy. 266.
It’s a deal, that in the long run will send potential county tax revenues to Owasso. Over time, those tax revenues will surely exceed the $5 million it will take to extend the thoroughfare leading straight into Owasso.
At the same time, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is working on a realignment of Hwy. 20 that will take the road from 206nd East Avenue down and across the Verdigris River. ODOT’s plan is still under an environmental feasibility study, but would change the current path of the highway.
While the two projects are being considered by two different groups, the common link is Helm, who’s district and other economic development interests in his district would directly benefit from the extension and highway realignment.
Commissioner Kirt Thacker opposed the CED’s awarding Helm the $5 million, because he sees how the plan would put another nail in Rogers County and Claremore’s economic development future.
“My opposition is looking down the road because it hurts Rogers County,” Thacker said. “This plan does not address the future needs of Rogers County. “I am trying to look at this 10 to 15 years down the road.”
“For Rogers County, we need people living in Claremore not Owasso and working here, we get very little tax money out of Owasso,” Thacker said.
A portion of Owasso is in Rogers County. However, of Owasso’s tremendous retail development, not one store is on Rogers County soil. So, the county does not benefit from any of the sales tax revenue generated there.
By creating better access for Rogers County residents, commissioners would in fact be endorsing ways to not support local businesses.
Back in April 2008, torrential rainfall destroyed Keetonville Road. The damage was so severe it buckled the road, which provided residents access to Hwy. 266 and Hwy. 20. The rains also cause a portion of Hwy. 20 along Keetonville Hill to slide down.
ODOT gave an emergency allocation to repair Hwy. 20.
FEMA gave almost $11 million to repair Keetonville Road, but Helm chose not to rebuild the road, despite receiving the funds.
Now, Helm wants to take another path that would benefit Owasso and drain even more tax revenues from Rogers County.
The CED tabled its consideration of the $5 million. The issue will not go away. Thacker is looking out for the future of Rogers County. Helm is not looking out for the overall county’s interest.
The original plan to rebuild Keetonville Road with a new bridge over the Verdigris River is best for local residents and the county.
Helm’s interest is not in the best interest of the Rogers County.
Randy Cowling is editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.