Claremore Daily Progress

September 25, 2013

County to use sales tax to fund employee pay raises

Salesha Wilken
Staff Writer

CLAREMORE —

Rogers County Commissioners will decide Monday if employee pay raises should be awarded from excess sales tax funding.
“I would love to see the people that work for this county get some kind of raise,” Commissioner Kirt Thacker said. 
Thacker said his goal has been to cut spending and then provide raises to the employees.
Thacker’s proposal is to increase salaries by about $200 per month to be paid from excess courthouse bond sales tax collections and use tax funding.
Commissioner Mike Helm first brought the idea forward last week, although it gained no support at the time.
Commissioner Dan DeLozier opposed the measure and tried to keep the discussion on the feasibility of maintaining the current budget without adding new expenses.
Commissioners cut about $700,000 in road funding to balance this year’s budget.
“Next year we will have to turn around and give up more road tax to make this work,” DeLozier said. “I warned a million dollar shortfall and we had it. You don’t have my vote.”
“I would say this is the toughest budget we have had in awhile, but we still got there because everybody was working together,” Thacker said. “I don’t give a damn what the newspaper says, that we are trying to drum up some support for some investigation. This is about the people that work here…”
“Where are we going to come up with money, if insurance goes up, find another account and bleed those dry,” DeLozier said.
“The greatest asset we have are the people that work in Rogers County,” Thacker said.
“I agree.. but where are we going to come up with the money next year,” DeLozier said. 
The raises could come at the expense of the Rogers County Industrial Development Authority as the excess sales tax currently is spent to fund the organization.
“RCIDA has assets. They may need to stand on their own,” Thacker said.
Another issue, is if the excess sales and use tax funding can legally be spent on employee salaries? It is a question that has yet to be answered by commissioners.
Thacker deferred the issue to district attorney’s office.
Assistant District Attorney David Iski told commissioners last week the funding which is dedicated to pay the $25 million bond to build the courthouse and E911 Center, could only be used for items  listed on the ballot.
Iski was not present at the budget meeting. 
CPA Bill Turner also questioned the issue Monday.
“Bond issues in other places stipulate the money sits there until we do something with it, although David Iski has told me that is not the case,” Turner said. “The bond says all the sales tax is applied to that payment.” 
The money is there for the commissioners to use at their discretion, Helm said.
The sales tax and use tax funding is collected by the Oklahoma Tax Commission and then used to pay the courthouse/E911 bond payments by RCB Bank.
Once the payment is made, any funds remaining are combined and sent back to Rogers County Treasurer Kathy Pinkerton-Baker’s office.
If our sales tax goes down then the county will have to come up with funding for the payment, Turner said.
Helm said with the current growth of the county he does not see a decrease of funding as a problem.
The new Wal-Mart and other businesses coming to Rogers County will increase tax revenue, Thacker said.
“If people buy at local stores, we will see those tax dollars. If not, we will stop getting those funds,” Pinkerton-Baker said.
The account currently has more than $700,000 in the account and the pay raises would cost about $600,000, according to Turner.
There would be more funding in the account if two payments of $300,000 were made to RCIDA in the past, according to Pinkerton-Baker.