Oologah residents gathered at town hall Thursday night to tell the Board of Trustees what they expect for the town in coming years.
Chief among their concerns was expanding the tax base to address current and future needs without losing the sense of small town charm that it’s residents adore.
The topic arose as a resident questioned how a town of Oologah’s size could afford a community center, a sports complex, and the other amenities and services that residents requested.
Mayor George Peters responded, “We need to find a bigger tax base. If we find a way to bring in some businesses and maybe bring in some industry … that is a way to fund lots of things.”
Trustee Caroline Estes clarified that the town of Oologah is funded solely by sales tax.
“If we don’t include and bring in a few more businesses, we can’t increase the income for the community,” Estes said. “We’re not talking big, huge industries. The things that we need would be like a full service restaurant.”
One resident asked if it would be possible for the city to look at alternative forms of taxation or at raising the sales tax.
When the suggestion of raising taxes drew a laugh from others in attendance the resident responded, “Do we want a small town that is going to suffer or do we want one that is going to grow and prosper? It is going to take some tough decisions. That needs to be brought to the table.”
State law limits the forms of taxes municipalities can collect to sales and services.
“We’re trying to bring jobs here,” trustee Cody Burch said, “The thing about this town is, we are very limited on realty. Our highway frontage is limited.”
Peters noted that there are vacant lots available in Oologah where businesses could come in and renovate existing structures to suit their needs.
Trustee David Wheeler said, “The growth that is coming up highway 169 is going to eat us whether we like it or not. This is not going to be the Oologah that I grew up in, in the 70s.”
“The city of Owasso has suffered dramatically because they were not ready for the growth and they did not have the infrastructure,” Wheeler said. “What I see Oologah doing is getting ahead of that growth and trying to manage it.”
However, one resident spoke up against the expansion.
“Do we want to lose the small town?” She said. “We could move to Tulsa or Owasso if we wanted to live in a bigger town.”
“I don’t think anybody here is interested in becoming the next Owasso, which is looking at becoming the next Tulsa,” Peters said. “We appreciate and enjoy the small town feeling.”
“With all of the projects that we all have ideas for, I don’t think there is any way to look at a little bit of business growth in a negative light,” Peters said.