Rogers County Commissioner Ron Burrows says the county plans to cut the Inmate Trash Service along highways, to close four out of five free dumping sites and to put a hold on all new road projects until a new funding source can be found to replace the one cent sales tax that expires in September.
Burrows discussed the county’s budget reprioritization with the Inola Board of Trustees Monday night.
“There are two sources of revenue,” Burrows said. “The gas and diesel tax produces close to a million dollars a year to operate. The once cent that we used to have was $2.5 million.”
“I equate it to people’s home budget. If you brought home $3,500 a month, and $2,500 went away, it would force you to dramatically change your lifestyle,” Burrows said.
Burrows said he has warned his staff that road projects for the foreseeable future will be limited to patching potholes, replacing washed out culverts and keeping ditches mowed.
“As individual commissioners, we will have to look at the service we provide and decide if they are essential for public safety,” Burrows said. “Our first priority as a board is the financial well-being of the county, but as an individual District 3 commissioner, it’s roads and bridges.”
The free solid waste dump facilities in Inola, Claremore and Catoosa will be closed because the total cost to the county to dump that waste $220,000 per facility each year. The dump services end Aug. 31.
The inmate trash service along the sides of county highways costs the county $20,000 a year. “The first year we implemented it, my calculations were that just in District 3 those inmates picked up 250,000 pounds of trash off the sides of the road,” Burrows said.
As for District 3 employees, “payroll is expensive,” Burrows said. “With the staff that I’ve got right now, that’s $1.4 million in payroll. We’ll be living on $1 million period.”
“We’ve got money in the bank now, but at what point do I have to start making some really tough personnel decisions?”
Burrows addressed a common complaint the commissioners have received as to why the purpose and renewal aspects of the tax were not well publicized.
“It’s illegal for the county to spend any county funds promoting something like this,” Burrows said. “It was promoted heavily by me during my campaign. I sent out 3,000 direct mailers encouraging people to vote yes. I had newspaper article telling people to vote yes. It was talked about a lot, but the message just didn’t get out there.”
Burrows said that when the tax is put on the ballot it will be a new tax, so he is asking towns and communities to help inform citizens about the costs and benefits of the tax.
The county chose not to put the tax on the general election ballot in November, opting to hold a special election around the beginning of 2019.
“If we were to put it on the general election, the theory is that it would fail at the general election because there will be just as much activity on the general as there was the primary,” Burrows said. “There are enough signatures right now to have recreational marijuana on the ballot … if they’re successful and it’s back on the ballot her comes another 24,000 people to the voting booths again.”
If the tax passes in the special election, it would go into effect in April, 2019, and the county would return to full funding in June.
“We’re talking months that we will have to live on less, much less,” Burrows said. “It’s been really tough to wrap my mind around how we’re going to move forward with a third of the money that we have.”
*This story has been edited to reflect that only four out of the five free dumps in the county will close. The dump in District 1 will remain open.*