Heated debate surrounded new plans and old woes as around 75 Inola residents met with their elected leaders Monday.
The town of Inola hosted a community meeting, inviting residents to a Q&A with the sheriff, county commissioner, school superintendent, planning commissioner, volunteer fire chief, city engineer, city maintenance director, chamber of commerce and economic development professionals.
Hot topics included rural speeding, law enforcement response times, understaffing in the Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement information sharing, potholes, Sofidel, truck routes, the town comprehensive plan, new development on the Black Fox site, an upcoming vote on the PSO franchise, housing needs, public sewer improvements, school bond implementation, four day school weeks, creating a professional fire district, sidewalks, bike trails, storm drainage, public parks, and the Lock and Dam Corridor.
One resident, who lives on 610 road by the high tracks, just outside of city limits, said people routinely speed by her house.
“I’ve got people going 100 miles an hour down my road with my grandbabies outside,” she said. “How much are we really supposed to put up with before we call you guys?”
Sheriff Scott Walton said deputies monitor all the hot traffic areas. In order to get an area designated as hot traffic, people need to call the sheriff’s department, ask for a supervisor and report traffic violations in their area.
“We want you all to be the eyes and ears,” Walton said.
“We’re blessed to have good roads in Rogers County that are smooth surfaced as opposed to the gravel roads that we all grew up on, but the downside of that is people can go faster,” Walton said.
Sheriff Scott Walton said that when it comes to response times there are many factors.
“If we left Inola right now and had to drive to Chelsea or Talala, there is just no quick way,” Sheriff Scott Walton said.
They also weigh the priority of the call. A theft where the thief is still at the scene takes precedents over a theft that occurred where the thief is unknown and likely long gone.
“We get phone calls saying ‘Why in the world was your deputy going 100 miles an hour down 88 the other night and passing me like I was parked?’ and the next call will be, ‘Our alarm went off the other night and it took 25 minutes for you to get here,’” Walton said.
“For the entire county we have four deputies out there,” Sheriff Scott Walton said. “That’s 711 square miles and serving close to 90,000 people.”
“Municipalities around the nation try to get a ratio of one law enforcement person per thousand,” Walton said. “If you do the math on ours, four deputies per 88,000 people by last census, that is one per 22,000 people.”
“Claremore will have more on duty in a day for the fence line of Claremore than we’ll have for the entire fence line of Rogers County.”
Walton made a plea for increased staff sizes, acknowledging the budgetary restraints.
“If I had eight deputies out tonight, I’d tell you that is not one too many,” Walton said.
County Commissioner Ron Burrows agreed that the Sheriff’s Department needs more funding and that public safety was the county’s biggest priority. However, he said finding the money takes time.
“You can’t just turn the spigot on and increase the flow of revenue. It is a very slow process and we are a fast growing county,” Burrows said.
Undersheriff Jon Sappington said, “In 2015 we started working on a regional records management system for all law enforcement, fire and emergency management across the county.
“This system, if used properly, helps to communicate calls, communicate reports, criminal history, warrants and any other valuable information to a law enforcement officer,” Sappington said. “We’ve offered that up and all municipalities are using it except for Inola.”
Chamber of Commerce President Donnie Chasteen said, “After the Oklahoma City bombing, the trooper that unknowingly stopped Timothy McVeigh was able to detain him based on records that were available. Taking something like that into consideration, why would Inola not be part of a county wide system?”
Multiple residents complained about potholes on county roads.
Burrows response, “Have you called it in?”
“You guys are the eyes and ears of the county,” Burrows said. “I’ve got 345 miles of roads. We can’t get around to all of them. We really have to hear from you guys.”
Burrows said Oklahoma weather patterns make filling potholes a never-ending process.
Every call gets put into a work order log and county crews complete 2-5 road projects a day, Burrows said.
When the tax incentive for Sofidel expires in 5 years, the plant will produce $2.3 million in property tax for the Inola Public School system and $500,000 in property tax for the county each year.
AT BLACK FOX
There are plans to connect the currently unused rail line to Black Fox with a short line operator running shuttle cars on the PSO track to the Union Pacific rail line, County Commissioner Ron Burrows said.
RCIDA Director Deb Ward and PSO representative Michael Gordon said PSO is actively marketing approximately 1,200 acres of property at Black Fox to entities like Sofidel.
UPCOMING PSO VOTE
On August 13, voters in the town of Inola will have a public vote on whether to keep PSO as their electrical provider or look elsewhere. The continuation of the 25 year agreement between the town of Inola and PSO requires a vote of the people.
Residents on the roads approaching the Black Fox site were upset about semi trucks using narrow, residential roads as truck routes.
“Those roads are seeing more and more trucks and they are already starting to show wear from it,” one resident said. “640 Road is no where near wide enough for trucks.”
“Trucks and cars are pulling over in driveways so that both of them can go by,” another resident said.
“Growing pains are tough, I get it. I’m driving Lock and Dam every day,” Burrows said. “When the construction is over and things start becoming a daily routine, it should be more tolerable.”
Burrows said that once construction was complete the county would be willing to entertain all suggestions for the best way to manage both the needs of residents and truck drivers.
There will be a public meeting on June 24 regarding the town’s comprehensive plan. Anyone wanting to provide input on the future of Inola can do so in person or online by filling out the survey at http://bit.ly/inolacomp.
RCIDA Director Deb Ward said one of Inola’s biggest needs is housing.
“We’re going to have 300 people out here by the end of this year working,” Ward said. “Not everybody is going to want to live in Tulsa or Broken Arrow. We’ve got to get some housing development going on.”
One resident asked if the town had portable road closure signs in case of flooding in town limits.
She said that people driving through high water on Green Valley Road causes waves of water to enter into residents’ homes when it floods.
“Its not just a problem with homes, but it’s a problem with the yards, the ditches, the creeks are eroding away quicker because of rushes of water coming through,” she said.
Town Trustee Dan Corle, who lives on the road in question, said, “The problem is that on Green Valley, the water comes up really fast and it goes down really fast.”
“We have a very small city staff, and the first priority is our sewer lift stations, so they are going to have to go man those lift stations,” Corle said. “By the time we would get the signage out, most of the time, the event is going to be over.”