Edmond City Council comes out against sales tax increase for education funding
EDMOND — Teachers said they were disappointed with city council members who passed a resolution in opposition to State Question 779, a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase to help fund Oklahoma education.
Opponents to the resolution came to this week's meeting carrying signs and wearing T-shirts in support of the sales tax increase that will be on the November ballot.
"To me, it is disappointing that the city that helped raise me to who I am is voting in opposition," said Lauren Folks, a Will Rogers Elementary teacher and lifelong Edmond resident. "We need a solution now.
"I am not saying this is the only way we can fix it, but this all that we have. This is what we need now. We are losing too many good teachers."
Council members assured the teachers, parents and students they are not against education or higher teacher pay, but said sales tax money is the primary source of income to operate the city.
"Oklahoma is the only state in the United States where cities and towns are limited to sales taxes to fund our general fund,” Mayor Charles Lamb said. “The general fund is critical to cities as the source of funding for many services including police, fire, emergency management, parks and street maintenance.
"I consider this initiative an attack on the limited revenues available to cities.”
Council members unanimously said in the resolution that a high national sales tax ranking would negatively impact economic development for Oklahoma and the poorest households in Oklahoma.
Councilman Nick Massey said teachers deserve a pay raise, but the answer is with the state legislature and not a sales tax increase.
"I hope people understand that this is not the way to do it," Massey said. "The unintended consequences is so severe for cities. I think you will find municipalities throughout the state will oppose it."
Councilwoman Elizabeth Waner said, "I greatly regret we have been put in this position. But we have to protect the services we provide for the city."
Edmond has an 8.25 percent sales tax rate. The state gets 4.5 percent, and the city receives the remaining 3.75.
Of the city's portion, 2 cents goes to the general fund, a quarter-cent goes to firefighters and an eighth-cent goes to police. Parks get an eighth of a cent, and three-fourths of a cent goes to the 2000 capital improvement fund.
The remaining half-cent sales tax was approved Oct. 11, 2011, for five years, to pay for the new public safety center.
The tax will end March 31, but voters agreed to extend that tax another 10 years to pay for capital improvement projects.
Oklahoma's average sales tax rate is 8.77 percent.
Oklahoma ranks sixth nationally for overall combined state tax and would rank No. 1 with the passage of SQ 779, the resolution states.
The Oklahoma Municipal League, the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma, the City Managers Association of Oklahoma and the Municipal Clerks, Treasurers & Finance Officers Association already have passed a join resolution opposing the sales tax while affirming support of teachers having competitive salaries and supporting comprehensive tax reform.
Opponents urged council members to invest in education before more teachers leave the state for higher pay.
"Teachers gave up a day of pay," said Chelsea Foo, Santa Fe High School physics teacher. "Teachers have sacrificed and the council needs to sacrifice."
Ward Curtin, an employee of the campaign, read statements from a parent, teacher, student and school administrator who could not be at the meeting.
"We continue to lose veteran teachers due to low pay because we are exporting our teacher talent to other states," said Edmond Superintendent Bret Towne said. "It is a shame that we are using state resources to train teachers only to have them leave. We desperately need a solution to address the teacher shortage."
Summer Mills, a parent of students at Edmond's Centennial Elementary School, said a community is only as strong as its schools.
"My family moved here because of the great schools," Mills said. "We are at risk of losing that right now.
"Every day we fail to act on a solution to the teacher shortage is a day I worry my children won't have a quality teacher guiding their learning. It's disappointing that our city officials are opposing school investments."