Voters pass city propositions related to water issues

·3 min read

Nov. 10—City of McAlester voters overwhelmingly passed two propositions during Tuesday's special election.

The Nov. 9 special election had only two measures on the ballot, with both city of McAlester propositions related to the city's water transmission and distribution lines and how to pay for upgrades moving forward.

Proposition 1 asked if the city could incur a $32.5 million debt to help with replacement and repairs of the city's water distribution and transmission lines, along with related costs. It passed with 728 voting yes and 229 voting no.

Proposition 2 gave voters the option of paying for the needed line repairs and replacements through a new quarter-cent sales tax increase or else by letting a water rate hike increase take effect. It passed with 792 voting yes and 200 voting no.

City officials maintained both would have to pass to obtain funding for the project through the proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase.

"We have to address this problem one way or the other," McAlester Mayor John Browne said prior to the election.

"Doing it with a loan will get the job done much faster," the mayor said. "Without the loan, we will be doing what we've been doing for the past 30 years, falling further and further behind while making repairs. Because when we're making repairs, everything will still be deteriorating."

City officials made plans to expedite paperwork for the project if the measures passed.

Councilors had already passed the rate hike for water customers in the city. It was set to go into effect in January 2021 if the proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase did not pass.

City councilors voted in August to pass an ordinance raising the city's water rates and declaring it an emergency so it would take effect immediately. However, the measure also included language stating if voters approved the one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) sales tax rate increase, the amended rate increase would not be implemented.

As stated on the ballot for the Tuesday election Proposition 1 asked shall the city of McAlester be authorized to approve, and shall the McAlester Public Works Authority be authorized to incur, indebtedness in the original principal amount of $32.5 million, with the indebtedness to be used to fund water system improvements, along with some related costs.

It also states the indebtedness will be secured by a lien and/or mortgage on the water, sanitary sewer and solid waste disposal facilities serving the city and the revenues from them, and a lien on a year-to-year pledge of the revenues derived from an existing 2% sales tax. Indebtedness is to be used to fund water system improvements, fund a debt service reserve, if applicable, and fund certain costs associated with the issuance of the indebtedness.

Proposition 2 as stated on the ballot asked voters whether to approve the quarter-cent city sales tax increase, with proceeds to be used to fund water system improvements and associated costs. Passage of the measure would also make revenues available for debt service on obligations issued by the city, and any public trust having the city as a beneficiary, to finance or refinance the water system improvements and associated costs.

McAlester had a 3.75% city sales tax prior to the election, with passage of Proposition 2 on Tuesday poised to raise the city's portion to 4%. The state of Oklahoma has its own 4.5% sales tax and Pittsburg County has a 1.5% sales tax, bringing the total in McAlester prior to Tuesday's election to 9.75%. Passage of the measure would bring the total in McAlester to an even 10%.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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