Polls will open Tuesday across Ottawa County as the Northeast Technology Center asks residents in five counties to approve a permanent four-mill increase in property tax - a proposal that has recently come under fire.
The proposal, presented in two parts, will boost the NTC's building fund millage levy from one mill to five mills, the maximum allowed by law for any single school district.
The first proposal, if approved, authorizes the funding of a building fund for the purpose of erecting, remodeling, repairing or maintaining school buildings and purchasing furniture, equipment, software, utilities, telecommunication services, paying for insurance premiums, security systems and providing salaries for security personnel.
The second ballot proposal will ask voters to make the millage increase permanent.
Voters in all of Ottawa, Mayes, Craig, Rogers and Delaware counties will cast ballots Tuesday, as well as voters in portions of Nowata, Wagoner and Cherokee counties.
“We are at a crossroads,” said NTC marketing and communications director Gary Fox. “Many of our shops and classrooms at our Afton and Pryor campuses are 35 years old and need upgrading. Our Kansas campus is almost 12 years old.
“We have a responsibility to our patrons to keep the facilities their tax dollars have paid for in top condition.
“Plus, we have experienced continued growth in the number of students and businesses and industries we serve. We are running out of space.”
The proposed increase has drawn fire from the public, not only for the 400-percent jump from the district's present millage, but for what is being called a “stealth attempt to enact taxation without representation.”
“Run silent, run deep is good advice for operating submarines, but it's not an acceptable way to run an election -especially one to approve a tax increase. Having an informed electorate is at the heart of our democracy. As our state Open Records Act notes, Oklahomans ‘are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government … so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power,'” said Joey Senat, president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma. “The reported approach to this election robs Oklahomans of their inherent right to know and their inherent political power. It also breeds public cynicism and mistrust of government. Government officials who don't understand these basic concepts or who attempt to undermine them should be shown the door, perhaps with a swift kick in the pants to speed them on their way.”
Fox said Friday that the district advertised in a Pryor newspaper on Nov. 28 and followed the law pertaining to technical school districts.
Legally, the district has to announce its plan to seek a tax increase in a publication located within its service area.
NTC board members chose to publish in the Pryor Daily Times - within the county where the district superintendent's office is housed.
Senat, and others who object to the district's approach, believe that the school purposefully chose the county's smallest publication and attempted to be discrete, denying the majority of voters an opportunity to debate and consider the issue before the Dec. 11 election.
If passed, property tax payers in Ottawa County will see an estimated 37-percent increase in their taxes, according to Fox.
The four-mill increase would cost the average taxpayer $40 per year on a $100,000 home. That's roughly $3.30 per month, an expense Fox said “is well worth it.”
“This is a district issue,” Fox said. “Everyone would benefit from the millage increase. There are some who feel that the increase would go solely toward building the campus in Rogers County. That is not true. Revenue for that campus is already in place.”
If approved, the increase in millage will be in place in 2009.