Claremore Daily Progress

October 1, 2013

Commissioners delay pay raise discussion

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

Budget discussions were delayed Monday due to the absence of CPA Bill Turner at the Rogers County Commissioners’ weekly meeting.
Commissioners finalized other financial business, but put off for a week any decision on employee pay increases from excess use tax funding.
The commissioners voted unanimously to dedicate certain sales tax and use tax to the Rogers County Finance Authority.
Although the commissioners did not answer questions about the decision during the meeting, attorney Paul Johanning spoke briefly on the issue.
“In order to accomplish what you intend to accomplish with your sales tax and use tax, you must appropriate it to your authority and use it for those purposes,” Johanning said. “It has to go through the authority, which financed the bonds to pay the judgment.”
Commissioner Kirt Thacker diverted questions to Johanning, but  explained after the meeting the board voted to allocate excess use tax funding to the Finance Authority.
The excess use tax has been the subject of several discussions in the past two weeks due to Thacker and commissioner Mike Helm’s plan to use the funding to provide pay raises.
Johanning did not verify the money would be used to provide pay increases, but said 1/8 of the money would be used to pay toward the judgment in the $32.5 million lawsuit involving mining company Material Services, Inc.
County voters decided to allocate  the 1/8 of a cent to the debt in August as part of the renewal of a five-year One Cent Sales Tax dedicated to road and bridge maintenance.
Although the ballot did not specify use tax to pay toward the debt, Johanning said it was the intention of the board to do so as permitted by law.
In the past few years the use tax has been used to support the Rogers County Industrial Development Authority. It is not clear how the change will affect the organization or the courthouse bonds the funding is used to secure.
Thacker said the bond payments would continue as they have been and the board is only dealing with the money remaining after making the monthly payments.
Thacker has made previous statements the funding could only be used for the courthouse bond and RCIDA. 
In April, Thacker said, “We dedicated the use tax 100 percent to the bonding. We sat in a meetings and told them anything left would go back to RCIDA.”
Thacker and commissioner Dan DeLozier voted in that meeting to continue financial support to RCIDA.
It has not been made clear to date why the change in financing has occurred.
Thacker provided the Claremore Daily Progress with a report of excess use tax account funding. The documents show a monthly payment of $16,667 from excess use tax combined with sales tax for a total of  $121,148.54  dedicated to the bond payment for the Courthouse/911 Center.
The funding in question has previously been kept in a separate account in case a shortfall occurs, according to the Rogers County Treasurer’s office.
No fund account has been established to date for the Rogers County Finance Authority.
Johanning served as bond counsel for both bond issues.
In other business, the board accepted several resolutions regarding the disposal of property from the court clerk’s office.
The commissioners and staff  enter into a lengthy executive session to discuss a 2003 condemnation case relating to the Spunky Creek Bridge project.
The commissioners voted to take action on the litigation to “get it moving” and decided to have attorney Kim Ritchie re-file the lawsuit.
The primary issue in the case was the right-of-way needed to complete the project, according to Thacker.
The board did not reveal if they discussed Ritchie’s employment during executive session, but instead voted to hire him upon entering open session.
It is a violation of the Open Meetings Act to discuss the employment of a contractor during executive session. Ritchie nor his employment were listed on the meeting agenda.