Join our Director, Carolyn Stager, as she visits cities and towns across Oklahoma
|Posted on April 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM|
Chickasha Boasts Two Unique Businesses — a Dairy Queen & Drive-in Theater
Chickasha, the county seat for Grady county, was founded in 1892 with the arrival of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway. The town’s post office opened in June of that same year, and incorporation came in 1902. The name Chickasha presumably comes from an Indian word meaning ‘rebel,’ and Grady County was named for the famous Southern orator, Henry W. Grady. Dubbed “Queen of the Washita Valley” Chickasha was designated an “All American City” by the National All American Foundation for its continuing efforts to secure and expand industrial, educational and social programs.
Carolyn visited the city of Chickasha where she met Stewart Fairburn, Chickasha’s city manager, who served as city manager in Kansas and Texas before coming to Chickasha two years ago. Fairburn grew up in a military family and graduated high school in Colorado. He earned his MPA degree from the University of Oklahoma.
As with most cities and towns in Oklahoma, Chickasha is facing several issues at this time. They are in the midst of budget preparation and union negotiations. Fairburn also indicated that currently, revenues are not keeping up with expenditures. Part of their dilemma is in no small part due to the city’s self-insured health care program that has low deductibles and low employee premiums.
Currently, the bigger issue is the need to replace the utility infrastructure water and wastewater which will cost them approximately $150 million. Fairburn said their first step will be to replace the clearwells, which will run in the neighborhood of $5 million to do. They have a CIP dedicated sales tax, which they plan to use, if the voters say yes to the ten-year extension that should generate $24 million. Fairburn is intrigued by the idea of water reuse, which he hopes to use for the sports complex, OSU Extension farms and for oil and gas fracturing. However, when he met with ODEQ, he learned they hadn’t considered fracturing when they wrote the rules and so he must apply for a variance.
Some of the good news for Chickasha, sales tax is up 3.5 percent and has been up over 5 percent each of the last two years after being down 8 percent the year before. The growing oil business has generated additional sales tax, and the hotels are full.
At this time Continental is one of the companies drilling in the Chickasha area, which is part of the SCOOP shale play. Last year the city leased the airport lands for drilling, which generated additional funds. Fairburn is looking to lease an additional 4,000 acres this year. Fairburn also reported that last year they switched to poly carts and curb side recycling and now have a user rate of 64 percent, which he stated is the highest in the state.
Code enforcement is a big issue in the town, especially with the number of dilapidated buildings that need to be handled. They have two code enforcement officers and two animal control officers — they are combining these two positions to then give them four neighborhood service officers. Fairburn also said he is currently recruiting for an assistant city manager that will also serve as a community development director.
Chickasha also has some unique businesses — Dairy Queen has only a few locations in Oklahoma, one of which is in Chickasha. They also have a drive-in movie theatre in operation and have turned the old Chickasha hotel into apartments through a tax credit program. Their old train depot is now available for rental and Fairburn shared that they have a sidewalk development project in the works for the downtown area.
Chickasha is also home to the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and according to Fairburn the city and President Feaver work well together and are partners in economic development. Last year the Chickasha School District opened the new Bill Wallace Early Childhood Center that provides a great start for the students.
Stager’s visit with Fairburn was well spent and very informative. She found City Manager Fairburn to be well informed and working diligently to tackle any issues that come before his city while celebrating the accomplishments they have had as well.
Save the Date for the Watermelon Festival in Rush Springs
Located in southwestern Grady County, Rush Springs is located 20 miles south of Chickasha. The Wichita tribe placed a village four miles southeast of the modern-day town of Rush Springs in the mid-1800s. The town was incorporated on November 21, 1898. The Chisholm Trail passed east of the springs, which served as a watering spot for cattle. At statehood the population stood at 588. According to the 2010 census, the population was 1,231.
Since 1948 Rush Springs has been host to the Annual Watermelon Festival. The three-day event not only includes all the watermelon one could eat but also gives attendees the opportunity to enjoy the rodeo and carnival that are part of the celebration. The local Lions Club puts on the festival and with 20,000 to 25,000 people attending, the city certainly benefits from the increased sales tax dollars generated by the event.
Carolyn spent some quality time with Rush Spring’s clerk/treasurer, John Morrow. John was fortunate to be born and raised in Rush Springs, and like many, moved out of his home town to pursue college, a military career and then work in corporate America for several years. At one point he worked as a federal investigator, which took him away from his family far more than he liked. It was at that time he decided it was time to return to his roots — Rush Springs, Oklahoma.
Morrow has been with the town of Rush Springs for eight years. During that time, he and the deputy clerk, Kathy Adamson, have developed a special bond with the people they serve. Many of their citizens have both of their cell numbers and have no qualms when it comes to contacting John or Kathy after hours if there’s an issue. Of course, they will, in turn, make sure the appropriate person is contacted and more often than not, the issue has been taken care of by morning.
Rush Springs currently has a paid police department consisting of the chief, four full-time officers, one part time, and one reserve officer. Volunteers run the fire department with a full-time EMS director. As with so many smaller communities, most town employees wear many hats — for instance, there is no economic development authority or chamber of commerce in town, so Morrow and others in the community take on this responsibility and others as well. He reported that their sales tax revenues had increased dramatically following the opening of a Dollar General Store in town. Prior to this store opening, most citizens drove to nearby towns to do their shopping.
Rush Springs has recently built two new water towers which provide a dependable water supply for the town. They also boast of a wonderful school system with around 600 students in K-12. Morrow was pleased to say the city and the school have a great working relationship that benefits all of the citizens.
Carolyn enjoyed her time in Rush Springs and hopes to be invited back in August for the festival — and according to the locals, it looks to be a bumper crop this year!
Wellston Provides Small Town Atmosphere with a Taste of Small Town Hospitality
Located in western Lincoln County, Wellston (population 78 is located north of the Turner Turnpike and State Highway 66, two miles east of State Highway 102. Around 1880 Christian T. Wells established a trading post in the northern part of the Kickapoo Reservation. The Wellston post office opened on September 19, 1884, with Wells as postmaster. When the Kickapoo lands were opened by a land run on May 23, 1895, Thomas Craddock staked a claim near the trading post and deeded the land for the town. In 1907 when the town charter was signed, Wellston had 669 residents. In 1963 Delbert Davis of Wellston was named Oklahoma’s poet laureate.
A recent trip along Route 66 took Carolyn to Wellston, where she was welcomed by Mayor Paul Whitnah, Terri Coleman, town treasurer and Debbie Stewart, town clerk. Police Chief Tim Estes also joined the meeting. Wellston is located along this historic highway but by 1933, increased traffic also meant more roads and bypasses; which for this town meant traffic and patrons sped through the area half a mile south of the town.
Wellston’s volunteer fire department has been recognized by the governor and neighboring communities for their assistance in emergency situations and several of these certificates, commendations and letters are hanging on the wall at the entrance of town hall. The town operates two fire stations with fifteen volunteer fire fighters. Both the town treasurer, Terri, and Debbie, town clerk, serve on the volunteer fire department. The town does not fund an ambulance service and relies on this service from neighboring community of Chandler. They do have a nurse practitioner who serves the community’s medical needs. The town employs three full-time and one part-time police officer with five reserve officers.
Two of the biggest contributors to Wellston’s sales tax revenue are the Dollar General Store and the On Cue convenience store located right off the turnpike exit. These two new businesses came at a perfect time, following the unfortunate closing of a couple of older businesses in town. There is an active oil industry in the area but Wellston currently has no hotels to house oil workers. The Iowa Tribe’s plan should change the look of the community when their casino is built that will also include a 9-hole golf course and hotel.
Wellston has its own school district with approximately 900 students in Pre K through 12th grade. The district and town have a good working relationship. The town recently received a grant that allowed them to install sidewalks from the elementary school to the high school.
A town of almost 800 citizens, Wellston has certainly had its ups and downs; but the community continues to stay strong. Wellston has experienced set-backs and delays as many other communities have when building their new water plant. They faced plan alterations during the process, which cost the town more dollars and time than initially expected.
Wellston also knows how to celebrate — they have two annual parades. One of their yearly events is the Christmas Parade and the second is the Wellston Alumni Association Annual Parade which is held during Mother’s Day weekend. Something that was not mentioned during the meeting but was discovered by OML staff is that Mayor Whitnah was named “Alumni of the Year” in 2008 as well as being named 2008 “Citizen of the Year” by the chamber of commerce. After visiting with these outstanding officials, it was easy to see why.
The town of Wellston gives visitors that small town atmosphere along with a taste of small town hospitality.
Kellyville Employees Wear Many Hats
Kellyville, population 1,150, is situated eight miles southwest of Sapulpa in east-central Creek County on Historic Route 66. The town was named for James E. Kelly who established a trading post there about 1892 and opened a post office on November 27, 1893,with himself as the first postmaster. The St. Louis and Oklahoma City Railroad (later merged into the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway) constructed a line from Sapulpa to Oklahoma City, connecting Kellyville to outside markets.
Carolyn continued her journey along Route 66 with a stop in Kellyville. There she had the opportunity to talk with Mike Kelly, town administrator. As a lifetime resident of Kellyville, Mike worked for 30 years in public works as well as serving as fire chief for 25 years. He’s been the town administrator for over seven years. Beverly Lucas serves as the town clerk, treasurer, court clerk — which are just a few of the hats she wears. As is the case in so many towns, all municipal employees wear many hats and multi-task in a variety of areas as needed.
Like many smaller towns in Oklahoma, one of the first sights seen when driving into Kellyville is the local Dollar General Store. Every town with a retail store like this is extremely grateful not only for the convenience, but also for the sale tax revenue generated by the franchise store. Prior to Dollar General moving to Kellyville, the now-closed hardware store was the largest contributor to sales tax revenue.
The town also has a Phillips 66 and Simple Simon Pizza place that are on the historic Route 66. The story goes that back in the day, Mr. Phillips had just developed a new type of gasoline and needed to give it a name. He and his partner were driving down Route 66 near Kellyville, in a vehicle that had the new fuel in it. Mr. Phillips made a remark about how much faster they could go since putting in the new fuel — saying, “We could be going as fast as 60 mph.” His travelling partner corrected him by saying, “No, we’re actually going 66 mph.” They looked at each other, laughed and said, “If we’re going 66 mph on Route 66 than it should be Phillips 66 gas we’re doing it in!” and so the name was born.
Kelly reported their sales and use taxes are up due to Schumberger Technology Corporation. Schumberger is a global organization based out of Sugarland, TX that also has locations in Oklahoma including a training center in Kellyville. Town officials are working to attract a hotel to be built by the turnpike exit, along with a restaurant so that the training center no longer has to bus students to Jenks for overnight lodging. They are also working to once again be home to a hardware store.
The town currently has a police chief with two full-time officers and a volunteer fire department. The town’s water is with the rural water district. Kelly was also proud to report that their city hall and library were both built with no debt incurred. Carolyn learned that the city hall doubles as the senior citizens’ center; they were meeting when she was there as well.
Kelly was clearly up to date on the issues not only concerning his town but the concerns that affect the state as well. He informed Carolyn that he and the police chief read the OML Legislative Bulletin every week to be up-to-date on current issues at the Capitol that may affect his town. He also ensures frequent contact with his representatives to share with them his concerns.
Big Cabin Hosts Civil War Battle Re-enactments
Located in southern Craig County of U.S. Highway 69, Big Cabin (population 265) is five miles southwest of Vinita. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway named a switch “Big Cabin” after it built through the Cherokee Nation in 1871 and 1872. The name referred to a large plank cabin used by local American Indians about one and one-half miles northwest of the tracks. In 1926 community leaders started the incorporation process but did not complete it until 1958. As early as 1871 the area’s first post office was in operation, with S.T. Rogers as postmaster. In 1892 the Post Office Department assigned a postal designation to Big Cabin.
Carolyn met with Mayor Sam Yeoman, Trustee Tom Trundle and Clerk/Treasurer Linda Purcell during her recent trip to Big Cabin. Big Cabin continues to contribute to guests’ historical education by hosting a battle reenactment every three years in September, depicting two battles fought there during the Civil War. The battles were fought at Cabin Creek, both were Confederate raids on Union supply wagon trains moving from Fort Scott toward Fort Gibson. On July 1-2, 1863, the Confederates failed to stop the wagon train as it crossed Cabin Creek. On September 18, 1864 the Confederates won the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, capturing 740 mules, 130 wagons, and more than $1.5 million in supplies. Monuments to the leaders and soldiers of both sides were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and are maintained by the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Friends of Cabin Creek at the battle site.
In more recent history Big Cabin is also known for a gentleman by the name of Standing Brave depicted on a very large statue that stands out front of the Big Cabin Travel Plaza. This truck stop generates a large portion of the town’s sales tax revenue. Citizens of Big Cabin travel to Vinita or Pryor for most of their major shopping needs.
Big Cabin employs the police chief and one officer and operates a volunteer fire department. The town receives its water from Vinita. They are facing a costly repair needed for their sewage system of approximately $100,000. So far they’ve received half the needed funds from (EOEDD) Eastern Oklahoma Economic Development District and are attempting to procure the remaining funds through a grant with OWRB.
The Big Cabin officials were very interested in ensuring civility and decorum during their council meetings. Although a far distance from Oklahoma City and the OML offices they utilize OMLs services. Mayor Yeoman specifically informed Carolyn of his appreciation for OML staff, especially the assistance he receives from OML staffer Kelly Danner who manages the OML Inquiry Department. Stager was pleased with her visit to Big Cabin and everyone she met was delightful. She informed Big Cabin she would be back to see them again.
Clinton Home of Route 66 Museum
Clinton (population 9,033) began in 1899 when two men, J.L. Avant and E.E. Blake, decided to locate a town in the Washita River Valley. Because of governmental stipulations that an Indian could sell no more than one half of a 160-acre (0.6 km2) allotment, the men made plans to purchase 320 acres from four different Indians and paid them each $2,000 for 80 acres to begin the small settlement of Washita Junction. Congressional approval for the sale was granted in 1902 and Washita Junction quickly developed. When a post office was started, the postal department would not accept the name of Washita Junction, so the town was named after the late Judge Clinton Irwin. The Frisco Railroad later turned the town into an important shipping center for the area. Clinton became home to the first state-sponsored Route 66 Museum in the nation.
After travelling east the previous week on Route 66, Carolyn headed west to Clinton and met with City Manager Steve Hewitt who came to Clinton with an interesting history of his own. He began his career in Clinton as the parks director before eventually moving to Greenburg, Kansas to hold the position of city manager. In 2007 an EF-5 tornado destroyed not only his home but basically every structure in this town of 1,500 people. He and his fellow townspeople decided to rebuild with as many environmentally sensitive methods as possible and by doing so, Hewitt and his community received national attention. Hewitt was named Governing Magazine’s 2009 Public Official of the Year as well as City and County Magazine’s 2008 Municipal Leader of the Year. Mayor Allen Bryson apparently saw the potential in Hewitt and persuaded him to move to Clinton.
Clinton is a thriving city with a new indoor water park and hotel. This addition is a nice compliment to their wonderful athletic park. The water park was built in a TIF district. Hewitt said the hotel has been so successful that during spring break, they had to turn people away. Currently, Clinton has another hotel being built to meet the demand. The city’s hotel/motel tax is used to fund the Frisco Conference Center which is now being managed by the Clinton Chamber of Commerce. Their overall sales tax has been up even though they saw a slight drop last month.
Clinton is the home of a Route 66 Museum and a casino operated by the Cheyenne Arapaho tribe. Hewitt hopes to work more with the tribes and has met with them to discuss possible cooperative projects they could do together.
The oil activity is booming in the area. Hewitt reported that local businesses were having difficulty keeping good employees as they are quitting in order to work for the oil companies since they offer better wages.
One of the city’s biggest challenges is the lack of water. To solve this problem, Clinton is working on a cooperative arrangement with the city of Canute and the Foss Conservancy District at Foss Reservoir. With the combined populations; (Clinton: 9033, Foss: 151; Canute: 541) and resources of the three entities, they hope to be able to more effectively serve their residents. Canute built a new facility to dissolve nitrates. Canute will also increase facilities capacity so it can serve Clinton who has a 40-year contract to purchase 1.5 million gallons a day. Clinton also owns a portion of Foss Lake, which will be taken into consideration with the new partnership they are forming.
Hewitt would also like to implement curbside recycling and is coordinating with the city of Weatherford to make this happen. Another collaborative effort Hewitt is focusing on is working with SWODA to bring all the city managers in his region together to be able to work on common issues that would benefit all of their respective communities.
Clinton voters recently extended the sales tax increase that allowed them to remodel their police station. They are also building a six bay, 17,000 square foot fire station, which they hope to have open by July 1, 2013. It is a LEED-Certified facility. Hewitt reported they have a new fire chief, who was promoted from their own ranks, to go along with their new station.
Clinton has shown that regionalization and collaboration have proven successful for this city and the participating communities.
When leaving, Stager noticed the clerk speaking Spanish to her customer. Stager went back and inquired to Hewitt; he indicated that they have an increasing Hispanic population and having a bi-lingual staff is essential. Additionally, when a vacancy on their council needed to be filled, officials continued their efforts to ensure Clinton’s diverse population was being represented by a diverse group of individuals. Hewitt’s leadership will continue to provide value to the city of Clinton and its community.
Robust Oil Activity Makes Housing Workers Challenging
Located in Beckham County, Elk City’s history dates back to the days immediately following the opening of all surplus land of the Cherokee Outlet in 1892, when the first white men made their appearance. Prior to this time many early settlers had driven cattle over the “Great Western” trail from Texas going north, through the present town site of Elk City, to Dodge City, Kansas. Probably the most important day in Elk City’s history is March 20, 1901, the date the first lots were sold by the Choctaw Town site and Improvement Co., which had a few days earlier purchased the site for the business district from Mr. Allee. Elk City was named after Elk Creek, which in turn had been named after an Indian Chief, Elk River, who lived in this vicinity years before.
Carolyn was in Elk City to attend the retirement ceremony for long-time mayor and OML board member, Teresa Mullican. Prior to the evening event, City Manager Anita Archer graciously met with Carolyn to talk about the latest news on Elk City. Archer had served as the city treasurer before taking the role of city manager. The most tenured member of the commission has only two years of experience.
According to Archer, Elk City faces similar issues as other towns in that area of having enough housing and workforce. The oil industry is thriving which is causing Elk City a few housing issues. Driving into the city six motels off of I-40 are clearly in view, however that’s not enough for the oil workforce needed in the area. Off the interstate are two other hotels that also help with the housing concern. The city has partnered with developers to construct 50 unit duplex housing and 104 unit apartment complex that they hope will be completed by December 2014.
Wal-Mart is the largest generator of sales tax revenue and even they have had to deal with the ramifications of maintaining a good workforce. At this time, Wal-Mart busses approximately 40 employees a week from Oklahoma City and houses the workers at the local Hampton Inn. Archer reported that with the increased sales tax revenues they were able to complete some much needed infrastructure improvements including $2M in street improvements.
The city is fortunate not to have any water shortage issues; they can produce 14 million gallons per day and currently use only 2 million gallons of that daily output. Recognizing what a precious commodity water is, the city is being very prudent. Archer also reported that the city’s ambulance service previously outsourced to a firm from Clinton, is currently operated by their fire department and doing very well.
The school district is currently looking to pass a bond issue. The schools’ enrollment is up largely due to the influx of oil field workers. The district does accommodate Pre-K through 12th grade. Merritt school district is also on the perimeter of town and they too are seeing growth.
The current population of Elk City is almost 12,000 people. It’s a busy and growing area that seems to be able to adapt quickly to its changing needs.
Town of Morris Clerk & Treasurer Serve Above and Beyond
Located eight miles east of Okmulgee, the City of Morris (population 1,479), began as a cattle stop on the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railway (later the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway) which ran between Muskogee and Okmulgee. The post office was established here on January 4, 1904. The city was platted in 1904 by L.R. Kershaw, who was an attorney and was also an immigration agent for the Frisco Railroad. The origin of the city name is uncertain but one theory is that Kershaw named it after H.E. Morris, a Frisco Railroad executive. Many of the street names in Morris are named after citys which were familiar to Kershaw from his home state of Illinois. Kershaw was also the founder of the two earliest banks in Morris, Indian Territory.
Carolyn made a Goodwill visit to Morris where she met with Mayor Carolyn Haworth, Clerk and Treasurer Kimberly Johnson, and Utility Billing Clerk Lisa McMurtry. Although Haworth has been mayor for little over a year, her experience as vice mayor gives her the knowledge necessary to continue to improve her city. According to Haworth, two of the city’s best assets are Kimberly and Lisa — whether it’s going to elderly citizens’ homes to pick up their utility payments or answering each and every question and concern for anyone that asks, these two know and care about this city and its residents. In Morris, there isn’t a drive up window for paying bills; it’s a “walk out to the payee’s vehicle service” that these two employees provide – now that’s service!
The City of Morris recently received a $116,000 REAP grant and is now working on a matching CDBG grant to take care of some of its water issues, including an inoperable water tower that their engineer is confident he can repair for future use. Their biggest concern is the growing number of aging water pipes within the city that need repair. They also secured a $15,000 grant for updates to city hall, including painting, carpet and a new roof.
The Morris Police Department is staffed by the chief, two full-time officers and five reserves; while the fire department is run by approximately 15 volunteers.
Haworth reported that they’ve increased their sales tax by 1 percent, bringing it to 4 percent. A portion of the increase is being set aside for future capital improvements which will be helpful to fund additional projects including grants that might require matching funds. The largest generator of sales tax revenue is the local Dollar General Store which is one of the company’s ‘model’ stores. The citizens are extremely excited about having this store in the city and wish it was even larger.
A Morris Community Action Program was recently created to bring citizens together to do projects for their community such as a city “spruce up” and flower planting. They are also participating in the Great American Clean Up program. The community spirit doesn’t stop there either; the churches are also contributing by assisting the elderly in need.
The Morris school system operates an all day pre-K program through 12th grade with a very nice before- and after-school program. Because of the district’s success, there are quite a few out-of-district transfer requests. Currently, there are approximately 1,060 students within the Morris school system.
The school district works extremely well with the city. They are currently partnering on a project to build a new park that will include walkways and space for community get-togethers such as family reunions. They received a donation of four lots of land that they hope to use for a new city park. Haworth stated she is hopeful they will also be able to secure federal grant money because a portion of the land to be used for the park is designated as a natural habitat.
Thank you Carolyn, Lisa and Kimberly for your hospitality and warm welcome to your wonderful city.
|Posted on March 18, 2013 at 7:45 PM|
Named for a nearby hill, Catoosa lies off historic U.S. Highway 66, 14 miles northeast of Tulsa. The Cherokee Nation controlled the region during the 19th century. After the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad laid tracks in the early 1880’s, the community became a cow town, with the establishment of William Halsell’s Bird Creek Ranch. In 1883, the Federal government opened a post office there. In 1971, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa opened at the north end of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The port is the second farthest inland seaport in the U.S. behind Duluth, Minnesota, linking Tulsa to the Arkansas River and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. Area attractions include the Blue Whale on Route 66, Historical Museum, D.W. Correll Museum, Route 66 Flywheelers and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The Blue Whale has gone as far as the Port in making Catoosa famous. This unique structure, which once served as a slide and diving apparatus for kids as the local swimming hole, has become one of the best-loved icons on Route 66 and has been featured in nearly every book that commemorates the history of the road.
Catoosa’s City Manager, Leroy Alsup welcomed OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager with several interesting things to say about his community during her visit on March 7th. Once Alsup retired from City and County management in Kansas, he made his way back home to Oklahoma where he has family. He previously served for 5 years as City Manager in Cushing back in the late 80’s and then made the move to Catoosa about 18 months ago. He’s happy to call Catoosa his home at this time where he has quickly become an active member of his community as this year’s president of the local Chamber of Commerce. He is also a Certified Economic Developer and plans to keep that certification current.
Currently Catoosa has two hotels - the LaQuinta Inn and Hampton Inn although they may possibly be adding two more in the near future, which will help Catoosa increase motel/hotel tax revenues. Their municipal sales tax is relatively flat compared to last year. He hopes that the new Wal-Mart Super Center to be built within their city limits will provide additional sales tax revenue in the future. Construction is expected to begin in the next couple of months.
Catoosa’s Industrial Park is showing signs of growth as well. Melton Truck Lines has plans to expand their operation with an additional $15 million investment.
The fire department has three stations with a combined force of volunteer and paid fire fighters. Catoosa’s police department is staffed with the Chief and twelve officers that are represented by their union.
The Cherokee Casino is located near Catoosa and they have had an increase in their traffic count due to the location of their facility. Alsup was happy that they continue to have a good relationship with the Cherokee Nation.
As can be seen here, Catoosa continues to thrive by bringing in large business and also by developing necessary relationships with the Cherokee Nation and other existing business to ensure the City’s continued success.
The second largest town in Craig County was settled about 1888 by D.B. Nigh who leased the town site from Frank Craig. A switch was built on the Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad in 1891 and the town became a hay and grain center for the north end of the county. A post office was established in 1892 in the town which had been named for A.L. Welch, a railroad official for the MK&T. Welch is one of three towns in Craig County which continue to have a bank. The Welch State Bank resulted from the establishment of the first bank in 1910, later the organization of another and a merger of the two in 1923.
When OML’s Executive Director Carolyn Stager walked into the Town of Welch’s town hall, she immediately notices a rather large sign that reads, “Water Quality Issues” and quickly learned that Welch received a large CDBG grant for three phases of improvement plans:
Phase I: New aerator to remove sulphur and other bases
Phase 2: Fully case and seal existing water well to improve overall raw water quality
Phase 3: Initiate pilot study to remove radium per DEQ consent order
She surmises that the 619 residents of Welch must be well informed to the issues as well as the solutions that their town plans to take in order to improve their community.
Last August the town suffered a tremendous loss when a grocery store burned down, but a new Dollar General Store is coming into town. There are several businesses thriving in Welch, including a flower shop, a bank, convenience store and gas station, TV repair shop, two beauty shops, a new restaurant as well as a roofing company, saddle shop, fitness center, hardware store, and of course, the feed store called “Happy Cow.” They have active rail service running through town, several churches and a post office. Welch also has a medical clinic located within their town limits that has proven to be a big asset to the community.
Director Stager met with Town Clerk Kenni Morton who was extremely helpful and well informed. She was originally from Welch, was raised in California, and spent nine years in West Virginia before returning to Welch. She certainly keeps busy as the town clerk and by raising her twin 3 year old great nieces.
Morton said one of their biggest challenges is attracting new businesses into town. She informed Stager that Mayor Winston McKeon is working diligently to grow their community. He, too, is extremely busy as mayor, as well as a band teacher for the school.
Welch has plans to build a new baseball park and even though there’s no official police department, they have an agreement with Craig County for any public safety emergencies. Like most small communities, they all have challenges to be faced, issues to be solved and successes to be celebrated – Welch has stepped up to the plate on all three fronts and by doing so continue to serve its citizens. Well done Welch!
There is plenty to learn about the town of North Enid and the history of this town is quite intriguing. In 1889 the town of North Enid, situated in Garfield County began its existence as the Enid Station which was on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway right-of-way in the Cherokee Outlet. However, in 1893 this location was designated as the site for the county seat of O County (later known as Garfield County). Before the land opening scheduled for September 16th of that year, the Department of the Interior learned of some possible legal issues and chose to move the county seat three miles south of Enid Station. The railroad refused to stop at the south location, signaling the beginning of the “Enid Railroad War” over whether the railroad town or the government town would dominate. The “war” ended in August 1894 when legal action forced the Rock Island to open a station at the south town.
Heading North, OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager visited with officials from the Town of North Enid, including Town Clerk Luella Unruh and Police Chief Marty Schubert.
Like most communities, North Enid has had its ups and downs and its population has varied decade to decade. Between 1960 and 1970 the population increased from 286 to 730 and it became a viable community to live and work.
Even with the history North Enid shares with Enid, the two communities have moved forward to be able to work together to better serve their citizens. The City currently has three full-time police officers and 4th Street is becoming the City’s hub for local businesses.
It became clear that Ms. Unruh is adept at being flexible as on the day of Stager’s visit, she was processing payments, traffic fines and any other documents that normally go through the DPS System in Oklahoma City were having to be done by hand as the system was down. She just took it in stride and kept serving everyone that walked through the doors.
This town may not have a big grocery store chain but it does have local businesses such as the K and O Welding Shop and the local auto parts store that continue to support their community. North Enid continues to grow in size and personality — yet another great visit to one of Oklahoma’s smaller towns.
As OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager drove into the Town of Hennessey, the new motel construction caught her eye. Hennessey officials are rightfully excited about the prospect of having another revenue generating and much needed facility in their city, which was expressed by Tiffany Tillman, City Administrator and Vice Mayor as well as Fire Chief John Gritz when Stager met with them.
Due to the increased oil drilling activity in the area, Hennessey is experiencing a shortage of rental property. The new hotel will hopefully fill some of that gap. Tillman also shared that sales tax revenue was up almost 20 percent from 2012.
The City was pleased to receive a Land & Water Conservation grant recently to assist in Phase I for a new water park which will include a skate park, basketball court, playground, volleyball court and parking lot. Phase II will include a new swimming pool and splash pad, however, this phase requires alternative funding for its completion. The Town of Hennessey has developed a mutually beneficial agreement with the local school district to trade property with them. By doing so, the Town now has the land needed to build the new water park and the school district will have the property to develop a much needed parking lot.
Currently the police department employs the chief, three full-time officers, and community volunteers assist as needed. They are also able to employ four full-time dispatchers. The fire department is operated by a volunteer force. Hennessey has a contract with a company in Enid that supplies them with an ambulance on site at all times. The City has a dedicated sales tax to manage their emergency management system.
Whether it’s a mutual agreement with the school district or a contract to ensure ambulance service, the Town of Hennessey knows how to reach out and develop the appropriate programs and services needed to serve its citizens well.
Although not a scheduled stop, the Town of Waukomis happily welcomed Executive Director Stager when she stopped by last week. Stager was privileged to have the opportunity to chat with the town’s Clerk-Treasurer, Lisa Laubach. A 34-year resident of Waukomis, she has served as clerk for five years and clerk-treasurer for four years.
When asked what was new in Waukomis, Laubach was excited to report that a Dollar General Store should be opening within their city limits in May, which as most towns of this size understand, will assist in boosting their sales tax revenues as well as providing an additional and needed shopping venue for residents. They were also hopeful that a Subway Restaurant would be opening in town in the near future.
Laubach also shared that the town has a twenty-two man volunteer fire department and a police department that staffs two full-time officers and a chief. The town has its own water wells and also has a water line that runs from Enid to supplement when needed.
From the time Stager arrived, there were citizens coming into the town hall needing assistance and answers. There didn’t seem to be a dull moment for Ms. Laubach. So, if you get a chance to visit Waukomis, please stop and say hello – she may be busy, but she will greet you with a warm smile.
Named after the Miami tribe, the City of Miami is located in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma on U.S. Hwy 69 and is the county seat of Ottawa County. Miami had already been around almost two decades by the time Oklahoma became a state. It has the longest stretch of the original Route 66 Ribbon Road which is listed as an Oklahoma National Historic Landmark. The jewel of Historic Route 66 is the Coleman theatre which has been entertaining guests since it was built in 1929. This Theatre has been catching the eye of visitors on Route 66 since 1929. Built as a vaudeville theatre and movie palace, it hosted appearances by many early stars including Will Rogers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. It has been restored to its original style including the return of the “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ. Today, the theatre hosts ballets, theatre performances, receptions, conferences and silent movies.
On March 7th, OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager was honored to have dinner with several Miami officials including Mayor Kent Ketcher, a Miami native who left town to work for the railroad and has now returned following his retirement. City Manager Jeff Bishop and Assistant City Manager Jill Fitzgibbon were also at a local Miami Restaurant to share their experiences. Bishop has served as city manager in various Oklahoma communities with one of his first positions being an intern for former and long term City Manager Doug Henley of Nichols Hills (Doug if you’re reading this – Jeff sends his regards!). Assistant City Manager Fitzgibbon has been serving Miami citizens for 13 ½ years – between the three of them, there’s no wonder Miami has been so successful in its recent endeavors. Stager was in town to participate in the Practical Guide II workshop that was being hosted at the beautiful Coleman Theatre in Miami. While dining, Stager was given some insight to the issues that Miami is currently facing as well as solutions that they have put into place.
Miami has successfully passed a sales tax extension dedicated to building a new athletic stadium at the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College campus. The new stadium will benefit both the college and the local high school and will serve as the venue for citywide events such as the annual eight-man football tournament. For many years, the Annual Oklahoma Eight-Man Football All-Star Game has been played in Miami. The Oklahoma Eight-Man Football Coaches Association (OEMFCA), the City of Miami’s Convention & Visitors Bureau and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College join forces to host this annual event. With the building of this stadium, events such as this will continue to support and enhance Miami.
Miami residents continue to struggle with issues like the flooding which occurs primarily on the south side of town. According to Miami officials, Grand Lake operates primarily as a hydro-power reservoir. Therefore the Corps of Engineers cannot release water in anticipation of rain. Consequently the overflow ends up in the streets of South Miami creating many issues including the destruction of homes due to the damage caused by the flooding. Miami’s Special Utility Authority has hired a new attorney who plans to look at ways to address this issue.
Of course, Miami continues to look for solutions to save money for its taxpayers. They’re planning to utilize some seasonal positions instead of full-time employees who have been offered an early retirement window. The plan is also to convert their trash pickup to an automated system. All of their insurance is currently self-funded with the exception of their liability, and they have just signed with OMRF for their retirement benefits. Miami houses two fire stations with an ISO rating of 3. Their sales tax revenues have increased significantly, hopefully signifying an end to the economic downturn.
Miami claims bragging rights to the successful spoonbill fishing on the banks of the Neosho River. Apparently, anglers from all over come to the Northeastern part of the state in hopes of catching a prehistoric fish known as the Paddlefish (Spoonbills to the locals).
One component that makes Miami unique from any other city in the U.S. is the fact that there are nine Native American Tribes in their community, all of which have opened casinos in the area. Because of the cooperative relationship Miami officials have developed with the local tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a new bridge on Central Avenue, the main entrance to the college, is being built with funds through the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. The city plans to have a block party to celebrate the opening of the bridge.
Dinner with Mayor Ketcher, City Manager Bishop and Assistant City Manager Fitzgibbon was a lovely evening with good food and interesting conversation. Even though it was fun and relaxing, much was discussed and learned — thank you for dinner and a wonderful time.
|Posted on March 5, 2013 at 1:15 PM|
OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager was honored to be among many to be invited to participate in Mayor Bill Shewey’s State of the City Address Monday, March 04, 2013 in Enid. The breakfast was held at the recently renovated and beautiful Convention Hall. Mayor Shewey was happy to report on Enid’s accomplishments over the past year. Whether it’s was the low unemployment rate of 3.5% for the Enid metro area, the growth in population to over 52,000 or the fact that Enid has been able to track a significant growth in jobs for 2012---Mayor Shewey was proud to say that “Enid is Still Moving”.
He continued by reporting that their local sales tax revenue was on an upward trend at 10-12% above previous years and that their city had been recognized as one of the top 10 small cities in America for affordable housing. The Enid Event Center is also set to open in June.
As the Mayor emphasized Enid’s quality of life, he reminded the audience that Tuesday, March 5, the citizens would have the opportunity to vote on the “Quality of Life” initiative that will impact the city’s parks and recreation system when voters consider two questions that would ensure the upgrade to this program. The $50 million bond proposal will allow Enid to be prepared for the next decade of growth and quality of life needs for all of Enid to enjoy. We wish Enid success as they continue to move forward!
|Posted on January 29, 2013 at 2:55 PM|
OML Welcomes Broken Arrow’s New City Manager
As 2013 commenced, Carolyn Stager, OML’s executive director, began her year visiting as many municipalities as possible. She began with Broken Arrow where she welcomed Thom Moton, the new city manager to the state. Armed with information for the new manager, she and Kelly Danner, OML’s information specialist, met with Moton and City Attorney Beth Anne Wilkening, to discuss what OML had to offer as well as some of the issues Moton was about to face in the upcoming legislative session.
As Stager went through OML’s 2013 legislative priorities, it became apparent that Moton was already familiar with these items. He explained that the Broken Arrow council had passed a resolution in support of OML’s position on the ODEQ Public Water Supply fees and notified ODEQ of the action taken.
Moton shared his concerns about transportation funding. He felt that the current formulas need to be changed. He spoke of an initiative in North Carolina in which they had taken legislators on a “school bus” tour through municipal roads, giving them the opportunity to experience first hand what the real needs were. The tour resulted in legislation being passed based on a percentage of roads maintained plus growth. Moton also suggested OML take a look at a plan from South Carolina which was a ‘model pennies for roads’ plan that has apparently proven to be successful.
The Rental Registration legislation, which gives cities and towns some administrative oversight over rental properties within their municipal limits, is of interest to Moton. He said that even though the majority of Broken Arrow’s housing is owner occupied, it is important to have the registration process in order for the city to know who owns property within the community in order to enforce any code issues. Danner also shared that the City of Del City has been successful with their program that requires an inspection before a residence can be rented.
The visit with Thom Moton was enjoyable and informative. OML is happy to welcome him to our great state and look forward to his many years of service on the OML board of directors as the alternate representative for Broken Arrow.
Lindsay City Manager’s Family History Rich in Government Service
During the Lindsay Goodwill Tour, Stager met with Lindsay city manager Luke Olson. It would seem that public service is part of the Olson family DNA. Olson’s father is a long-time city manager currently serving in North Carolina while his brother is currently working for the governor of Florida. Olson moved to Lindsay a couple of years ago after working for the city of Kearney, Nebraska. In October of last year, he and his wife celebrated the birth of their daughter, Savannah.
The city of Lindsay currently has one hotel and Olson is in the process of securing a second hotel in the near future.
The drilling industry continues to be active with close to 250 permits issued in the region.
The city has see a steady increase in sales tax revenue each month, with two grocery stores contributing to that rate and the local Wal-Mart, the largest generator of sales tax for the city.
Olson is actively working to secure additional business entities as well as new restaurants. At this time there are a few businesses outside the city limits which Olson would like to see annexed into the town. However, legislation passed a few years ago resulted in annexation restrictions making it a little more challenging to incorporate them.
The Lindsay Fire Department consists of 10 full-time firefighters and has recently unionized. They also have a 16-person volunteer fire unit to assist with the needs of the community.
Lindsay is currently under a DEQ consent order on wastewater but after receiving a CDBG grant, they are hopeful that these funds will help with the needed improvements.
The city has a thirty-year contract to sell water to the rural water district.
Lindsay owns a nine-hole golf course outside of town and, as with most municipally run courses, is not profitable at this time.
EMS funding continues to be a struggle for Lindsay, as it is for many communities. The service region includes 22,000 people and with the city operating EMS, it must be financially supplemented by the city trust (approximately $1 million last year) just to keep it operating.
Luke has a good relationship with his local legislators and already had a follow-up visit with Rep. Lisa Billy who had attended the OML Legislative Committee meeting the day before Stager’s visit to Lindsay.
Alex Exudes Small Town Charm
The charm of a small town was certainly ever present when Director Stager visited Alex recently. She was fortunate enough to meet with Charlet Penney, the clerk/treasurer for the town. Penney is originally from Chickasha but moved to Alex as a child and attended school there as well. She also served time on the town board, as well as serving as mayor. When the long-time clerk/treasurer retired, Penney resigned her board seat in order to take over the clerk-treasurer duties. During Stager’s visit, several citizens with a variety of concerns came to city hall, showing Stager that no matter the size of the municipality, people need assistance with a wide range of issues.
The town board consists of three members that serve four-year terms. At the time of Stager’s visit, they were preparing for an election to fill two vacant trustee positions. The board meets every third Monday of each month.
Alex has a water superintendent, three police officers and a volunteer fire department that is operated through the county.
The school district has approximately 400 students in Pre-K through 12 and includes students from the nearby town of Bradley.
The town’s sales tax revenues remain fairly constant generating between $7,000 and $10,000 per month. These revenues come from two convenience stores, a flower shop, and a boutique called Callie’s Shabby Chic.
Alex is on water wells, which the superintendent has checked every month. Two years ago the town of Alex was able to purchase a new water tower.
Penney is very proud of her community and the contributions that are made on behalf of the businesses in Alex.
A new park is being built in Alex. The local First National Bank branch out of Chickasha, recently donated funds allowing the town to add a pavilion to the park’s plans. The town also received a grant from ASCOG, which will allow the town to build walking paths along the park. The town plans to have fundraising events to secure funds for other items such as playground equipment.
In the small amount of time Stager spent in Alex, she saw a community that cares about each other, a clerk/treasurer that takes care of each and every member of her community with grace and ease. Stager witnessed Penney welcoming a new resident with kindness and information and listened as Penney calmed an upset mother. No matter how large or small the community is, people that live there are the same and need professionals like Charlet Penney on their side.
Guthrie’s New City Manager Brings High Energy
During her tour of Guthrie, Carolyn Stager had the privilege of meeting Guthrie’s new high energy and progressive city manager, Sereniah Breland. Breland comes to Oklahoma from Texas where she served in several communities while there. Breland and her fiancée are settling into Guthrie and look forward to purchasing a home in the near future. As Stager and Breland spoke, there were many comparisons between how municipal government in Texas was funded vs. Oklahoma funding for cities and towns.
Without the ad valorem tax Breland was accustomed to receiving to fund operations in Texas, she is finding this issue to be one of her biggest challenges since arriving last October. Although the hotel/motel taxes are less than in Texas; there are fewer restrictions with how cities are allowed to utilize the funds. Guthrie’s sales tax revenues have been steady and last month they were up from where they were a year ago.
Breland questioned the lack of vehicle inspections in Oklahoma and thought it would be a great source of transportation funding for cities and towns.
She believes Guthrie needs to improve on activities for their youth. The town has made improvements to the skate park and they have a public pool but feel there is still room for improvements in this area.
While in Texas, Breland was active in the Texas City Managers Association (TCMA) and plans to be just as active with the City Management Association of Oklahoma (CMAO). She attended the CMAO Fall Meeting in Edmond and the Winter Conference in Stillwater in January.
Over the course of their conversation, Breland said she fell in love with Guthrie on her first visit. With Guthrie being a smaller community than she was used to working in Texas; being recognized when she was at the grocery store or at CVS was a new experience for her. She loves the sense of community in beautiful Guthrie.
Stroud Known for Popular Rock Cafe
During the visit to Stroud OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager met with City Manager Tim Schook and Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Thornton.
As it is with so many Oklahoma towns and cities, DEQ issues are ever present in Schook’s mind, which prompted a comprehensive conversation on the matter when Stager brought the information regarding OML’s position on the proposed public water supply fee increase to this attention. They talked about OML’s position regarding the $500,000 fee increase, which was to be spread evenly over ‘all’users of the system.
The City of Stroud does not utilize the ODEQ lab and instead conducts their testing with an outside, private company. Schook also informed Stager that Stroud has been under a consent order since 2007 and has recently obtained an OWRB loan, an ODOC grant and ARRA monies. These funds have allowed the city to move forward with some badly needed water infrastructure updates on a variety of projects. Although DEQ is a frequent visitor to Stroud, Schook feels he has a good working relationship with them.
After the horrific May 1999 tornado, the once popular Factory Outlet Mall’s parcel of land still sits vacant. Schook stated that the Sac & Fox Nation owns one-half of the property and there has been talk of opening a casino.
For the first time, Stroud participated in the 2012 ICSC cooperative booth in Dallas, TX and also attended the OKC event, which was hailed as a success. Like most communities, Stroud continues to search for new tax-paying businesses for the community.
Stroud is also known for the popular Rock Café along Route 66 which, although still open, has been put up for sale by its current owner. The Daily Oklahoman recently featured the café with a nice write-up reminding its readers of the many celebrities that have enjoyed the café over the years.
Three of the major issues Stroud is facing include the DEQ consent order, ambulance funding, and 911 funding. As more customers switch to cell phones and many discontinue hard line phones in their homes, the PSAP’s are facing the real possibility of failing financially. Even though this is a critical public safety issue that requires immediate attention, the possibility of raising taxes on cell phones for this purpose has not allowed it to gain much traction in the legislature. Fortunately, Schook feels the new House member, Rep. Jason Smalley, who replaced long-time legislator Danny Morgan, will be sensitive to the needs of Stroud and the other cities he represents.
|Posted on July 9, 2012 at 4:10 PM|
Lawton was one of the first cities I visited when first embarking on my goodwill visits over three years ago and I made another visit there last week to get a tour of their beautiful new city hall and to also evaluate potential meeting sites for the August OML Citizens Academy/Leadership Training that will be hosted by the City of Lawton. Lawton serves as the county seat of Comanche County and after Lawton annexed neighboring Fort Sill in 1988 they now hold the title of being the fifth largest city in the state.
The city is built on former reservation lands of Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indians. Lawton was founded on August 6, 1901 and was named after major General Henry Ware Lawton, a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in action in the Philippine-American War. Lawton’s landscape is typical of the Great Plains with flat topography and gently rolling hills, while the area north of the city is marked by the Wichita Mountains.
I initially was scheduled to meet with City Manager Larry Mitchell; however, due to an unanticipated meeting he was unable to attend. In Larry’s absence, I instead met with Assistant City Manager Bryan Long who is the son of Huey Pat Long, a longtime city manager who has served several Oklahoma cities and most recently retired from the City of Miami, OK.
Lawton has a beautiful new city hall that was formerly the old Lawton High School and Central Junior High built in 1909. The remodeling has been underway for about 10 years and is being accomplished under four phases. The McMahon Foundation has been a significant financial contributor toward the early success of this project. Other notable financial support was secured through AEP/PSO, the city’s electric utility provider, and Lawton’s 2005 CIP Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
As you drive toward the facility, you notice the magnitude and beauty of the building adorned with a large copper dome. I had been to Lawton and their new offices earlier this year to participate in their 25-year award ceremony, it was late evening and the dome was not as noticeable. In the daylight, you can truly appreciate the beauty of the dome when you see the sun shining off of it. As you enter the building there is a reception area with a beautiful atrium that can be used for receptions.
Approximately 60 percent of the building’s usable floor space has been preserved and in some areas they have kept some of the original “school-building” look and feel. The hallway leading to the administrative and mayor’s office still contains the old lockers that look just as they would have ‘back in the day’ and are filled with letter jackets and other important items you would imagine finding in a high school student’s locker. There is an old classroom set aside as an “Archive Classroom” that contains much of the historical information and artifacts relating to the building and its inhabitants throughout its accomplished use as an education facility.
The city is actually leasing the building from the school on a 99-year lease. This allows the school to continue to utilize the facility for various functions. There are many areas in the building available to host large groups, including the beautiful council chamber.
There is also a large area behind the council chambers that can be set with tables and chairs for meetings plus four breakout rooms. Downstairs there is a large room that can also be used for various events with a warming kitchen next door.
While touring city hall we stopped in at the clerk’s office that was beautifully decorated and had the opportunity to speak to Traci Hushbeck, City Clerk; Denise Ezell, Deputy Clerk, and Councilman Jay Burk.
Lunch time provided me with several options. The Leadership Lawton class was having their graduation luncheon that Bryan was attending and invited me to join him, or I could have attended Larry Mitchell’s Rotary Club, also meeting that day. I attended the Leadership Lawton graduation luncheon, which was a very nice event. I actually knew several people there including Jane Mitchell (Larry’s wife) and councilmember Doug Wells, who is also a member of the OML Citizens Academy/Leadership Training.
It was so nice to have a personally guided tour of the building and OML appreciates the City of Lawton for agreeing to host the August OML Citizen Academy/Leadership Training session. Larry wanted to host the meeting in August so that the Thursday evening social event could include attending the annual Lawton Rodeo. The Rodeo is just one of the many events and festivals that are held in Lawton each year. Others include the Easter Passion Play held in the Holy City in the Wichita Mountain Refuge each year on Palm Sunday, and continues until Easter eve. In May, Lawton Arts for All, Inc. hosts a festival, and in late September, Lawton hosts The International Festival, which showcases the many different cultural styles, arts and music of the community. Lawton is also home to Cameron University, the largest four-year university in southwest Oklahoma, offering more than 50 degree programs.
Lawton has a crown jewel in the form of their spectacular, new city hall and they couldn’t be prouder. Stop by if you are in the area. I am sure they would love to give you a tour.
Mary Hays, Clerk Treasurer has been with the city for 23 years, serving as clerk-treasurer since 1995. In addition to Ms. Hays, there are two or three other ladies that work in the city hall office and when I was visiting, city hall was abuzz with activity.
One of my fondest memories of Geary was when my son was a high school wrestler and the “Geary Invitational Tournament” was always a big event of the year. This tournament, known not only in Oklahoma but throughout the country, was started by Bob Steagle, a former wrestling coach, and still continues 67 years later. Schools from across Oklahoma and even out-of-state schools from Arizona and Kansas participate each year. Mary said that many of the former wrestlers have gone on to become coaches in other schools and states and they all tend to return to the tournament each year with their teams.
How can a city the size of Geary with 1,280 citizens host such an event, especially since they do not have any hotels/motels in town? For Geary, that is an easy answer: visiting schools are housed in local homes, churches, and even classrooms. Some families will host an entire wresting team during this weekend. Many of the citizens of Geary turn out for the tournament, a great indicator of how much of a generous, courteous, and friendly community this is.
As you exit I-40 heading north towards Geary, there is a Cherokee Restaurant that is in Geary corporate boundaries. This is the largest generator of sales tax for the city. There used to also be a hotel connected to the restaurant, but it burned down and existing water pressure is not adequate to rebuild the hotel. All of that may be changing soon as the city just completed a 12 inch water line out to the area, which was funded by a $1 million dollar loan form OWRB. They are waiting for the final inspection.
Sadly, Geary mayor Mitchell Paxton recently lost his battle to cancer and it was obvious his absence is still being felt by those at city hall. Vice-mayor Leslie Swinerton has stepped in to fill this position until a new election is held. She happened to be at city hall when I was there and could have been easily mistaken for one of the office staff, as she was at the copy machine, working away. We had a nice visit and discussed many of the federal and state agency regulations that affect cities and towns. I shared with her what OML is doing in this regard and that we were hopeful for changes.
Mary was very appreciative to OML for conducting the New Officials Institutes (NOI). As a long-time city clerk-treasurer, she understands the need to be current on state laws and regulations that affect municipal government. She is required to have training as a clerk-treasurer and she said that it is very helpful for the new council to also have this training. She noted that keeping them informed on things happening legislatively was another valuable service OML provided for their city. She also said she uses the inquiry department and other resources when needed.
The first Oklahoman to receive a total artificial heart (bionic heart) was from Geary. Troy Golden, who was a minister in town, had received a mechanical artificial heart and was the first person who was able to leave the hospital and come home for several months after receiving the heart. He has since died but his story was very touching and inspirational.
In addition to the Cherokee Restaurant, other sources of revenue include a couple of restaurants, gas station that also services trucks and vehicles, and a Quick Stop. A fairly new business in town, called the Plum Krazy Cottage, originally began with the conversion of an old church into a hair salon. It has grown to now include a craft store, nail and massage shop and ‘bistro’ that currently operates three days a week during lunch and offers ‘healthy’ meals. A greenhouse has also been added.
Geary has its own school system consisting of grades Pre-K through 12, with approximately 400 students. They also own a park and pool that opened for the summer on Memorial Day. The pool is old and is sometimes a challenge to maintain. They were able to open on Memorial Day, which has not always been the case because at times they have difficulty getting students trained and certified to work as life guards.
The fire department is all volunteer and consists of 13 members. Geary maintains a police department, with a chief of police and five officers, along with six dispatchers (some are part time). They hold municipal court one day a month and most offenses are traffic related.
Mary was delightful to visit with and I am certain anything you want to know about the town, she will have the answers. If you are in the area or passing through stop by and say “hi.”
|Posted on November 3, 2011 at 12:20 AM|
We met for lunch with newly elected Mayor Mickey Perry who won his election by a huge margin. John Carey, a local attorney and civic leader, joined us. John and I were Leadership Oklahoma (LOK) classmates (Class XIII) and have also served on boards together. Mayor Perry is a former police chief and head of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) with over 40 years of law enforcement experience. One of Mayor Perry’s first comments was a compliment to OML for being kind to them even when they weren’t members. I told him we tried to be as accommodating as possible, although there had to be a distinction between benefits of members versus non-members. I told him we were happy to have Claremore back as part of the OML family.
There are lots of things going on in Claremore. They are working on a new plaza development and the week we were there they had just completed their county festival. The festival is held on city property but the county pretty much manages the festival with the exception of the concessions which are run by the city. After a delightful lunch, John gave us a tour of Rogers State. In 1909 it was a college preparatory school then later became an Oklahoma military academy. Of course it is now a university and in early 2000 was accredited as a four-year university with a current enrollment of 3,000. There have been many enhancements to the university including a new Innovations Center where the Economic Development Authority offices are located, new student housing, the Centennial Student Center and an Expo Center. Something I learned that was interesting is that the same board of regents for the University of Oklahoma (OU) also serves as the regents for Rogers State, which explains why they recently refurbished the gym floor at Rogers University which used to be the old OU basketball floor.
After a wonderful tour, we headed to the Claremore Daily Progress where I met with Randy Cowly, editor and Bailey Dabney, publisher. They are interested in assisting with sharing the municipal message and were also interested in assisting in an effort to change the way municipalities are funded. I sent them an Op Ed just this week on the Tax Loophole Benefits Internet marketplace, Proves Costly to Oklahoma Municipalities. You can access a copy here.
From there we headed to city hall where we again met up with Mayor Perry and City Manager Daryl Golbek. Mr. Golbek has been with the city for several years in a variety of positions including working for the cemetery, street department, and public works. He and the mayor joke that every time there was a need for an ‘interim’ city manager, the two of them tossed a coin to see who is ‘it.’ Local sales taxes are up; however all 3 cents of it is dedicated — their general operations revenues comes from owning their own utility. Mr. Golbek had pictures of his son who is a national titleholder in high jump and is currently ranked 20th in the world. He is currently attending the University of Arkansas.
A post office was established at Claremore on June 25, 1874, 33 years prior to Oklahoma statehood, when the region was the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. The city, which was named for the Osage Indian chief Claremore whose nearby village was destroyed during the Battle of Claremore Mound in 1817, was incorporated on May 2, 1903.
Claremore natives include singer Patti Page, astronaut Stuart Roosa and Lynn Riggs, author of Green Grow the Lilacs, from which the musical Oklahoma! was adapted. The area is best known as the home of Will Rogers. Claremore’s Will Rogers Memorial Museum attracts thousands of visitors each year to its 16,652 square foot structure where displays include photographs and Rogers’ original manuscripts, private letters and personal papers.
First thing that comes to mind when you think of the City of Commerce is the great baseball legend, Mickey Mantle. As you arrive into town you are driving on Mickey Mantle Highway. This and the large statue of Mickey at the ballpark are about the only obvious signs that this is the boyhood home of this great star.
Upon arriving at city hall and visiting with the city secretary, Jody, she told us where Mickey’s boyhood home was located which is just down the street from city hall at 319 N. Quincy. The childhood home looks much like you would think it did in its day. The house was locked up and pretty much empty inside. There was a marker on the front of the house so you knew you were at the right place. Also, the tin barn that was used for the backdrop during his practice with his dad, Mutt, is still standing. We were told that one cafe in town has a few items of memorabilia but they were not open the day we were there. Apparently the family has been very protective about people trying to capitalize on Mickey Mantle’s name. Jody also indicated that there were lots of people who come by to see his childhood home, some from as far away as Switzerland.
Jody was very helpful and friendly although she was the only one at city hall that day along with the public works director, Jeb. The other three ladies in the office, Lisa, water clerk; Janice, deputy clerk and Shirley, court clerk, were all unfortunately out sick with one of them having to have had emergency surgery over the weekend. I trust good health has returned to all of them.
Although Commerce does not have a grocery store, they do have two gas station/convenience store combinations along with a little café, Dairy King and a Dollar General Store that provides the majority of their sale tax base. Their fire department is a volunteer department but they do operate a paid police department. Being off of a major highway, the major violators are minors in possession and speeding. Dogs running at large and weed abatements are also two things the city would like to get under control.
Located in Ottawa County, Commerce is five miles north of Miami on U.S. Highway 69, formerly historic U.S. Highway 66. The community first organized as a lead-and-zinc mining camp, known as Hattonville, after Amos Hatton, who in 1906 developed the Emma Gordon mine that started the community. The first post office, operating from 1913 to 1914, was called North Miami. By June 1914 the postal designation was Commerce.
Developed on land that the U.S. government had assigned to the Quapaw, Commerce was named for the Commerce Mining and Royalty Company, which had bought the mining camp. In 1914 the Commerce company had the town platted, and by 1916 a mayor-council government had been put in place. It was declared a city by the State of Oklahoma in 1918.
Commerce is a neat little town that has much history to promote.
Another stop on our Goodwill Tour was the Town of Cromwell, population 286, which is in Seminole County. Linda Groves, the clerk-treasurer, served in that capacity from 1973-2000 and then came back to work for the town in 2009 to help out during a difficult time. In order to keep the town informed of activities, she writes, edits and publishes a newsletter which is mailed with the landfill bills as well as distributed at the general store, senior center and gas station.
We also had the opportunity to visit with Trustee Fraye Nellums who has served on the council since 2010.
This once divided community is now held together through a cooperative effort of the community and school. The town helps the school by purchasing pencils, pens, erasers and copy paper.
Cromwell hosted a Christmas party last year and 30 people showed up so they are looking to host an even larger party this year. Along with the Christmas party, the town has a house decorating contest that helps to ring in the holiday spirit.
The town doesn’t have a police department and relies on 11 volunteers for firefighting service. They are working on a grant for a brush truck and rely on a tax to help fund the department. However, that tax will run out in January.
Located in northeastern Seminole County, Cromwell is situated on State Highway 56, one mile south of State Highway 99A. Muskogee oilman Joe I. Cromwell bought land near the Bruner Number One oil well, in the Greater Seminole Field, and platted the original township in 1923. The oil boom town exploded to a population of thousands in a matter of weeks. A post office was established on May 17, 1924. Legendary lawman William “Bill” Tilghman was asked to come out of retirement at age seventy to establish law and order. On Nov. 1, 1924, Tilghman was killed and shortly thereafter a fire burned the business district.
OML’s Director of Governmental Relations, Missy Dean, and I recently traveled to southeastern Oklahoma to visit the small community of Dustin, Oklahoma, population 395. We were greeted by Evelyn Smith who runs a one-woman shop at Dustin Town Hall where she serves as clerk/treasurer and court clerk. You will find her there daily 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. accepting payments for water bills and speeding tickets, etc.
Located in northeastern Hughes County, 14 miles east of Wetumka on State Hwy 9, Dustin was first called Watsonville, where a post office was established on April 18, 1898, in the Creek Nation. After the Ft. Smith and Western Railroad built its Fort Smith-Guthrie line through the area in 1903, the town and post office were both officially changed to Dustin on May 9, 1904, probably to honor Henry C. Dustin of Cleveland, Ohio, an official of the railway. A local legend also holds that “dustin” was an Indian word for prairie town.
The drought that has struck our state this past year has hit Dustin especially hard and water is very sparse. Some residents who rely on ponds for their water source have had to purchase water from town hall since their ponds have dried up.
Dustin has a school that serves K-12 but it may be forced to close due to the low number of students. Currently there are 48 children in elementary school and 19 in the high school. If the school does close, students will have to travel to Wetumka for classes.
The town’s police chief, who has been on the job since August 2, also plays a dual role since he is the town’s lone police officer in addition to being the police chief. The town received a $20,000 donation which helps to run the department and there are plans for the chief to write grants to obtain additional funding.
The water superintendent is also a one-person shop. Funding from the department comes from REAP and CDBG grants as well as assistance from the Creek Nation. Dustin is changing over to rural water which will save the town several thousand a year in DEQ fees. Currently the town pays $7,000 to DEQ which is extraordinary for a town of its size. Switching to rural water will cost them only $600.
No town could have more support from its residents than Dustin. Citizens hold pie auctions for the fire department, pie auctions and brisket sales for the senior citizens and for school supplies. Everyone chips in to help keep Dustin great.
Upon arriving at the office of City Manager Bruce Johnson, I immediately noticed the latest edition of the OML Handbook open and right on top of his desk. It was good to see him putting it to good use. Bruce explained that he had been in discussions with a rural water district and had requested some information from them. He was referring to the open records information in the Handbook to ensure that he was correct regarding his request. He noted that the Handbook was very helpful and I was happy that one of our members is benefitting from our publications. The 2011-12 OML Handbooks were recently sent to the city manager or clerk of all OML-member municipalities. We have plenty more available for purchase. For ordering information go to http://fs12.formsite.com/cchristo/form34/index.html.
Of course, the surroundings are what can’t be missed when arriving in Grove. Bruce has to be thanking his lucky stars to be able to work and live in such a beautiful place, situated right next to Grand Lake … can’t get much better than that.
Grove is currently participating in a unique Tax Increment Financing (TIF) project. They have demolished the old Integris Hospital and built a $60 million hospital in a new location. Their hope is to develop retail on the old site. Although TIF’s can sometimes be controversial in communities, Bruce indicated that this one was not. Since there is no current ad valorem value in the property, the county and school district had no problems with it. I asked him if he was participating in the upcoming International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention in San Antonio and he said that he was. Last year, several Oklahoma cities cooperated by hosting a shared booth at the ICSC in Grapevine, TX, which proved to be a big success.
The city is preparing for a November hotel/motel tax vote. Although a similar measure failed in the past, probably because it shared the ballot with an unpopular initiative, they’re cautiously optimistic about this one.
Bruce reports that Grove is not currently under any DEQ or EPA consent orders, unlike the more than 50% of other Oklahoma municipalities under consent orders. Bruce attributes this to the city’s practice of increasing water rates incrementally, allowing them to continue to update their systems. They are also changing over to a new meter reading system using the Datametric database system. They estimate that up to 50% of current water use is unaccounted for. Their hope is that this new, automated system will help capture the majority of water usage, thus increasing revenues.
Grove’s police officers participate in a union but the fire department is non-union. Bruce says he has a good relationship with both groups. Although their sales tax revenues have been down, they are slowly improving, but not enough yet to be able to provide salary or cost of living increases to city employees. Bruce mentioned that he would like to get city employees out of OPERS and into OMRF, although it would require legislative action to make this happen. I advised him that OML can assist in that effort.
On Dec. 27, 1888 Tredwell Remsen, a former Union soldier from New York, attained approval for a post office for Grove. Situated in the Delaware District, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, at a spring in a grove of trees, Grove was a long-used trail from southwest Missouri to Afton, Vinita, and points west. More businesses began to locate near the post office, and by the 1890s, probably about 1895, the town was incorporated.
I recently met with Matt Mueller, city manager of Guthrie. Matt began his career with the City of Edmond and
then moved to Claremore as an assistant city manager and now is at the helm of his first city manager position. He is
very impressive and I have enjoyed his friendship and professional working relationship through the years.
One of Guthrie’s struggles is that they do not operate their own utility unlike the two cities he has worked in before.
He said that really brings home just how flawed Oklahoma’s system of funding is for cities and towns.
Guthrie is sandwiched in between two retail giants – Stillwater & Edmond. Given the difficulty to compete in the
retail market, Guthrie has chosen to focus on tourism which is their biggest business.
Guthrie partners with the City of Edmond on the airport. Guthrie has a unique downtown and, although there are
a lot of vacant buildings where business offices have moved out, this has also created a great opportunity for new
businesses to move in.
I asked Matt if he was participating with the Oklahoma cities who were once again partnering to in a joint booth
at the upcoming ICSC (International Center for Shopping Centers) to be held in San Antonio in November. He said
he was not personally but had utilized the services of Ricky Hays for years to assist in this effort.
Although the census numbers for the city proper do not show Guthrie growing that much, South Logan County is
one of the fastest growing (non-incorporated) areas of the state.
We talked a lot about the challenges being faced by all municipalities in Oklahoma and both agreed that there is
much unrest at all levels of government. You need only pick up a newspaper in any city/state or turn on the news to
see this happening from Wall Street to Main Street. Unfortunately, municipal officials are closest to the people and
most accessible so they seem to take the brunt of much of this.
We discussed the need for cities to have access to ad valorem and that if we could join forces with the public
safety community (both police & fire) and create public safety districts, this would be a win/win for all involved.
Guthrie has a combination fire department including EMS and also operates its own ambulance system. The ambulance service is funded largely through property tax, there are no utility assessments.
Guthrie still has issues pending with the Rural Water District with a mediation hearing scheduled in the near
future. They also have initiatives being proposed by citizens on a number of issues, one which would allow the
citizens to be able to vote on all utility increases. Guthrie is in great shape in regards to water thanks to a new water
plant and feels comfortable that they will be able to adequately serve their customers for 60 years. During the hot
dry summer, Guthrie did not face rationing. They receive their water from Guthrie & Liberty Lakes and Cottonwood
WalMart is their largest retailer and although sales tax is good and up from the previous year, they, like many cities,
still have not gotten back to the pre-downturn in the economy levels.
Guthrie sprang into existence during the Land Run on April 22, 1889 which opened up Unassigned Lands in
Indian Territory. The town derives its name from Kansas jurist John Guthrie. A post office was established on April
4, 1889, and a U.S. Land Office opened on April 22, 1889. George W. Steele, a Republican from Indiana, was the
first territorial governor, and Guthrie served as the state capital from 1907 to 1910. The U.S. Congress passed the
Enabling Act on Nov. 6, 1906, which provided for creating the State of Oklahoma and writing the constitution. A
year later, on Nov. 16, 1907, statehood ceremonies were held on the steps of Guthrie’s Carnegie Library. On June 11,
1910, a majority of people voted to move the state capitol to Oklahoma City.
The Guthrie Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and became a National
Historic Landmark in 1999.
Guthrie was also the first capitol of the state and the former capitol building is now the beautiful Masonic Lodge.
The downtown is unique and the Pollard Theatre hosts the Territorial Christmas play each year in December. So,
plan on enjoying the city’s famous Victorian Walk Evenings which feature live window scenes celebrating life in
Territorial Guthrie. Carolers, peanut vendors and lights galore will illuminate the Historic District.
We met with interim City manager Tim Wilson and his assistant, Judy Francisco, at the Stone Hill Grill in Miami, where we enjoyed a wonderful lunch and discussed the many highlights of Miami, Oklahoma. Not to be confused with that big city in the southeast, this Miami pronounces its name “Mi-am-uh.”
Although it was a Friday, not all Miami city employees were working, as the city has adopted a rotating shift schedule of 4-day 10-hour shifts. Initially, there was some reluctance to adopt the new schedule, touted as saving energy and increasing efficiency, but the new system seems to be working well for both employees and citizens. Since office hours are extended, folks have more opportunities to conduct business at city hall.
The new census data indicates that Miami’s population has declined slightly, but that is rapidly changing for the better. Tim reports that when the small town of Picher’s buyout was completed, many of the families chose to relocate in Miami. Judy asked a question about whether census information was available by city block and I was able to connect her with Steve Barker of the Census Bureau. She reported later to me that he walked her through the “mile deep” website to find Miami’s needed information. I was glad to be of assistance and was reminded that this is the kind of service we at OML strive to provide to our members. We want to be the “go-to” resource for information and technical assistance.
Tim also thanked me for the new OML Handbook and mentioned how helpful the Handbook is to them. They requested two additional books be sent to the city and again, I got on the phone to get that process started.
Tim has worked with the city for many years and has come up through the ranks by working in several different areas of city employment. He says Miami faces many of the same challenges as most cities but it also has much to be proud of. There are four Native American tribes in the area and Tim serves on the Ottawa Tribal Council. The city maintains a good, cooperative relationship with all of the tribes and one benefit was realized when they received tribal assistance with a new road built to connect to a brand new casino. The city of Miami also collects a 4 cent hotel tax. In addition, they work through the Miami Area Economic Development Service (MAEDS) which is mostly funded by local merchants.
When I asked Tim to tell me about the best thing in Miami, he was quick to respond that Miami has become a destination for entertainment. No visit to Miami is complete without a visit to the Coleman Theater. We took a tour with volunteers who were both enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable about every detail. They explained that the Coleman has recently undergone a complete restoration, which brought it back to its original grandeur of the roaring 20s, all accomplished with private donations. Everything was restored to its original design, with one exception – they did expand the width of the theater seats from 19 to 21 inches, since we all seem to be “expanding.” Also, the original “hat racks” under the seats were eliminated, since as our guide mentioned “baseball caps just don’t fit.” The Friends of the Coleman, a non-profit organization, is responsible for the ongoing project. They have also recently opened the Coleman Conference Center Ballroom, a facility to host weddings, proms, parties, and special events. You can get more information by visiting their website at www.colemantheatre.org. This jewel alone makes the visit to Miami worthwhile, along with the great food at Stone Hill Grill or any of Miami’s other great restaurants.
W.C. Lykins, president of a fledgling town company, was the driving force in Miami’s creation. He traveled to Washington, D.C., and successfully petitioned Congress to pass legislation on March 3, 1891, to establish the town. Coincidentally, also there on business was an acquaintance, Thomas F. Richardville, chief of the Miami tribe. He met with Lykins and agreed to confer with the U.S. Indian Commission and the Ottawa tribe, talks which led to Congress authorizing the secretary of the interior to approve the townsite purchase from the Ottawa. For his support Lykins, a member by adoption of the Peoria tribe, agreed to let the town be named after Richardville’s Miami tribe. They and Manford Pooler, chief of the Ottawa, are generally identified in historical accounts as fathers of Miami.
Mayor Tramel is very proud of Pryor and rightfully so. Upon arriving, we immediately jumped in Mayor Tramel’s vehicle for a tour of the town. Next to city hall is the county courthouse and jail and close by is also the site for the new city hall.
Located about an hour’s drive from Tulsa, Pryor Creek is the county seat in Mayes County. The town was first named Coo-Y-Yah, but in 1887 the Post Office changed the name to Pryor Creek, and in 1898, the town officially took the name. The stream, Pryor Creek, just to the west and south of town, had been named for Capt. Nathaniel Pryor, who had operated a trading post there.
Heading downtown Mayor Tramel pointed out where a new Sam & Ella’s Pizza Place would soon be opening. Now if you say the name real fast and do not adequately pronounce the “and” it might sound like you are saying “salmonella.” Nothing could be further from the truth as I have personally eaten at the Sam & Ella’s Pizza Place in Tahlequah and this new restaurant will be a great addition for Pryor.
On the corner of Highway 29 and 60 (basically Main Street) Mayor Tramel pointed out a corner building that was formerly an old bank. It has withstood storms and the outside façade had been covered with some kind of covering for many years. It has now been restored to its original architecture including beautiful stained glass that was under all of the materials that had hidden the beauty of the building for many years. The building is about 3,500 square feet and the owner has donated it to the city for a conference center. The city is also investing in the remodeling – the only stipulation from the owner was that it would be used by the chamber and the city. Renovations are almost complete.
Heading down Highway 69, Mayor Tramel pointed out 120 acres that were donated to the city by Rockin G Ranch whose owner is a great civic leader. Jimmy said he was invested in the community and if there were students of 4H that needed an animal and could not afford one that he would purchase the animal and even allow them to come to his ranch to work with it. The city has already built a new animal shelter on a small portion of the donated property. A dream that Mayor Tramel would like to see is for there to be a large animal vet center as an extension of OSU.
Pryor has so much going on including a farmer’s market on Saturday. The kid’s park is the hub of activity in town along with another park that has walking paths. There are also two senior centers in town. Whittaker Park is the focal point of the city. They have a huge pool that was built in 1953. Mayor Trammel thinks there may only be one larger municipal pool in the state. One of the swing sets at the park has been there since 1927 and on the opposite side of the park are tennis courts that were built with donations and matching funds.
Thunderbird Youth Academy is located in Pryor. The academy works with troubled youths on self-paced programs but they do not accept court-ordered youth. The Academy is operated by the National Guard.
Pryor’s higher education opportunities include an annex of Rogers State University. The city also has two fire stations with 10 full-time employees, the chief and assistant and 15 volunteers (a true combination fire department).
The recreational center has every kind of offering for exercise imaginable including a pool utilized by the high school swim team as well as a facility used for citizens wishing to swim or with arthritic ailments. Another portion of the recreation center has a literacy program that includes a private entrance in the back where students of all ages can enter discreetly. The weekend following our visit they were actually hosting a ‘mud run” complete with obstacle courses and plenty of dirt and mud. Mayor Tramel said the annual event raises $12,000 and the money raised goes to the elementary school programs. The mayor was planning on participating in the mud run so I want to make sure I ask for pictures next time I see him.
There are two elementary schools in Pryor as well as a state-of-the art early childhood development center that has a gym that would surpass most high school gymnasiums I have seen. The early childhood center as well as every classroom in the entire Pryor school system has smart boards.
As we were pulling up to city hall, someone honked their horn and I look over and what a treat it was to see former mayor Lucy Belle Schultz come driving up to say hello. Mayor Tramel says Lucy is 88 years young and still as active as she ever was.
I am sure Mayor Tramel would be willing to show off his city to you also – why not give him a call?
During a recent visit to the town of Quapaw I visited with acting clerk treasurer Krista Owens. She has been filling in for long time clerk treasurer Gwen Maute who is ill. Dave Barnes the deputy clerk was at city hall visiting with Richard Synor project specialist from FEMA. Early this year Quapaw was hit with a very bad snow storm that shut down the town. Mr. Synor was there doing research to see if Quapaw qualifies for FEMA reimbursement.
Quapaw has two restaurants that generate sales tax but no grocery store. They also receive revenue from street and alley funds and from Empire utility.
The Quapaw tribe, after which the town is named, is building a 38 unit housing facility for the elderly. The town will benefit from the sale of water to the facility.
According to oral tradition, the ancestors of the Dhegiha, a group that included what would later be known as the Omaha and Quapaw, once lived together east of the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Ohio. Those who moved up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers became known as the Omaha (“those going upstream or against the current,” including those who would later be recognized as the Omaha, Kansa, Ponca and Osage peoples. Those that moved down the river toward its confluence with the Arkansas river, would later be known as Quapaw, the name of a major village that became the designation for the entire group. The name Quapaw derived from okaxpa, now also spelled ogahpah, is often interpreted as “those going downstream or with the current.”
In Wyandotte, I met with Dani McCall, clerk-treasurer since April who took the place of the former clerk-treasurer who had held that position for over 30 years. The Town of Wyandotte has a new city hall located right across the street from the K – 12 Wyandotte School. Ms. McCall studied finance in school and although she is fairly new to her job and admitting there was a big learning curve, it was quick to notice she already had a great grasp on so many things and asked lots of great questions.
She had recently attended the OML New Officials Institute (NOI) and it was fun to see she had her certificate prominently displayed on her wall. She was very complimentary about the institute and said she had learned a lot! I suggested she might think about connecting with another clerk in a nearby community to serve as a mentor and to assist with routine issues that might come up.
Although Wyandotte is a town of only about 300 population, they have a huge country market along with a new casino right on the outskirts of town. A new Dollar General, that is supposed to be one of the largest, was slated to open soon.
Dani and her family have been in Wyandotte for only a couple of years although her husband’s family all live there. She told me the cutest story and even agreed I could share. After her 13-year old son began school, he met a darling girl and they were an item for about three days and he even kissed her. He soon found out it was his first cousin. He promised he would never have a girlfriend in Wyandotte but would look to neighboring communities when looking for a new girlfriend. Now, this is small town Oklahoma and what a fun little story.
Wyandotte has a volunteer fire department and they, like many across the state with the extreme dry conditions, experienced a lot of grass fires. She was interested in grants and said she had found one through the Agriculture Department for rural fire departments but could use more help as the transmission had gone out on the brush pumper and it was cost prohibitive to repair. The town does not have its own police department but does hold court in town. They contract with the Wyandotte Nation for their police services.
One of the things Dani is also working to do is transfer all of the town’s records to an electronic data base including all of the town history. This way she can provide back-up and have all of these historical documents secure. Stop by and say ‘hi’— you can’t miss it as the Wyandotte Casino sits right on the corner.
The Town of Wyandotte, population 333, honors the Wyandotte tribe, removed to the area in 1867. In 1876 the Prairie City post office moved three miles east to present Wyandotte and changed the name to Grand River. Grand River changed its designation to Wyandotte in 1894. From 1922 to 1927 Mamie Foster served as mayor, and the city marshal, as well as most other city officials, were women. In 1966, as it planned a rural water district, the town could not find any record of incorporation. Residents petitioned the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners to approve an election and voted for incorporation in April 1966.
|Posted on July 21, 2011 at 2:56 PM|
OML League Director hits the road again with three goodwill visits while en-route to the Mayors/OML Annual Board Retreat in Broken Arrow.
The first stop was to Glencoe where I met with Shelly Andrews who has worked for the city for 14 years. Shelly originally hails from Stillwater but her husband is from Glencoe, which is what brought them back to this community.
I noticed that town hall was in a structure that reminded me of an old country church. Shelly explained that the building was originally built to house a retirement center. That project never came to fruition, and a Baptist church located there instead. Eventually, they moved to a different location and the town purchased the building to utilize as a town hall.
Shelly told me Glencoe is experiencing the same “water woes” that are affecting so many Oklahoma communities. She explained they have recently had to issue water rationing and no outdoor watering orders due to the drought conditions that are being experienced by many across the state. Their water levels are 4 feet down from normal levels. They receive their water from Long Chimney Rural Water Association and LCRWA is their only water source. A few years back, they were in a little worse shape and were looking at having to expend a great deal of money to install a pipe from Lone Chimney to Stillwater to remedy the problem. However, with prayers and a little luck, the situation changed and they received the needed moisture. Hopefully, those prayers will be answered soon to end this water crisis as well.
They like many other cities & towns across the state are under a DEQ consent order. They have begun a $400,000 sewer project with a CDBG grant. Unfortunately, the project is still uncompleted as costs, as so often happens, exceeded the monies they had to do the project. They have applied again for a grant and although initially were turned down, DEQ did contact them back and because they still had the matching funds available, they will be able to receive the money to complete this much needed project.
The largest source of sales tax revenue in Glencoe comes from the two convenience stores in town. They have three paid employees, the clerk, police chief and a public works employee. The police department also has eight volunteer reserve officers who serve the community.
Shelly also discussed their upcoming financial audit and how the costs of audits had been increasing. They are looking at maybe utilizing the option of 'an agreed-upon procedures' that was made possible for small communities through legislation passed a few years back (HB 1670, in 2005). See related story in this issue of OC&T for more information on this process.
The next stop of the day was to Pawnee where I met the newest member of the council, Vyrla Carr. Vyrla is no stranger to municipal government as her brother, Elzie Smith, was a long-time mayor of Pawnee and currently serves as city manager for Cleveland, OK. Vyrla was appointed to the council recently to fill a 2 year unexpired term. She attended the Oklahoma City New Officials Institute (NOI) in June and had just participated in her first official city council meeting.
I met Vyrla at Click's Steakhouse, which is rumored to have the best burgers in Oklahoma. When I walked in and saw a gentleman with a T-bone steak that completely covered his plate (menu price $18.99), I knew I had to investigate further, albeit not on as grand a scale as I ended up ordering the good ole-fashioned burger, which was great.
After lunch, Vyrla showed me around town with stops at city hall, Pawnee Historical Society & Pawnee Bill's Museum. They were preparing for the final weekend of the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show that is reenacted each year for three weekends in June. There was much more to see but time restraints did not allow visits to the Bath House and other venues. Must mean one thing, a repeat visit to Pawnee is in order and maybe next time I will opt for a smaller version of one of those T-bone steaks.
Pawnee has a new Food Lion, a great grocery store and produces much-needed sales tax revenue for the city. Additionally, the lumber yard is most likely the largest retailer in town and serves as “the place to go” if you are looking for someone in Pawnee. Vyrla said likely the biggest challenge as she sees it (being the newbie) is the need for more retail business in town.
Pawnee is a neat community with much to offer. Make plans to go there (preferably in June for the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show) and of course, do not leave town without a meal at Click's Steakhouse.
The last stop on this tour was to the City of Drumright where I met with City Manager George Jones. We only had a short time to visit but George shared a few details on some of the city’s challenges, as well as some good news about the city’s progress.
George said Drumright has had to make some budget cuts this year, even though sales tax revenues had increased by 7%. They still are in a shortfall situation from the prior years’ 17% reduction.
They have hired an engineer to do an evaluation for a new sewer plant. Drumright is like 50+ percent of all Oklahoma cities and towns and is currently under a DEQ consent order. They are in the process of working with DEQ to resolve the issue. Drumright has also had to increase their water and sewer rates to assist with the continued operation of both the water and sewer plants.
Drumright operates a police department comprised of a chief, an assistant chief, and four officers. The fire department employs a fire chief plus four paid firemen. George advised that the city is in the middle of a CDBG grant project to replace about 20 worn down and some inoperable fire hydrants around the city, which is welcome news to the firefighters and residents alike.
George was very pleased to report that Drumright had recently received a $60,000 REAP grant to improve sidewalks along Highway 33 in the city. When the project is completed, it is their hope that the state will then do badly needed re-surfacing of the highway.
He also reported they just recently changed the city’s pension plan and their employees will now be members of the Oklahoma Municipal Retirement Fund (OMRF).
The Tidal School Winery in the area since around 2002 brings many visitors to Drumright and if they’re smart, they end their day with a meal at Joseph’s Fine Foods, where they will enjoy a delicious steak or barbeque, served with middle-eastern flair. Previously, OML has held a District Dinner Meeting at the Tidal School Wintery that was a big success.
George summed up the meeting by saying that although Drumright has had its share of challenges, it is most definitely “a city on the comeback trail!”
|Posted on November 17, 2010 at 3:38 PM|
I met with Jim Greff, City Manager of Prague since November 2007. Jim has been with Prague in various capacities for 30 years, serving as Interim City Manager and as Public Works Director prior to being named as city manager.
Prague City Hall offices are housed in the beautiful former bank building which is shared with the Red Cross, Oklahoma Main Street Program and the Prague Chamber. The bank built an attractive facility next door to city hall, and all are on the town’s main street. Having formerly been a bank, the city hall building contains two vaults, one used by Emergency Management as a shelter in the event of storms.
The city funds a 22-member all volunteer fire department; and Prague’s police department is staffed with seven full-time officers and a chief for 24/7 city coverage.
Prague has received several grants of late including $135,000 from the Department of Energy as part of the federal stimulus monies, which will fund changing out the heat and air system and installing heat pumps to increase utility efficiency at city hall. Funds have also been released for street improvements through a CDBG grant. Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars will repave streets near the high school with $150,000 funded from grants and $100,000 by the city. Prague, like other cities that own their own airport, receives $150,000 annually from FAA for airport improvements, which will help fund the runway expansion. Other airport projects have included securing land, rerouting a county road, fencing the property, and dirt work. Asphalt and lighting will soon be added. Ten planes are housed at the airport. The city has secured property for an airport expansion.
Something I thought was very interesting that I have not heard about from any other cities I have visited to date is Prague’s 30-mile horse riding trails around the city lake. Since no option exists for renting horses, you must bring your own. ATV’s were formerly allowed on these same trails but had to be shut down about five years ago due to non compliance with the rules by some of the riders.
As I looked around Jim’s neatly kept office, I noticed some bowling awards adorning his wall. Jim says he bowls in a league every Friday night in Shawnee since Prague does not have a bowling alley. He has been bowling for several years, sometimes competitively.
Prague has neither a hotel nor bed & breakfast (B&B) in their city, but has been contemplating building a new sports complex. The water and wastewater systems are functioning well, and are not under NOV or consent orders from DEQ or EPA. The city owns an electric system which breaks even, and operates its own trash/sanitation service with two workers on the back of the truck. Citizens can use any trash receptacle they wish for the once a week pick-up. Jim says he has discussed contracting this service out at different times but their citizens are insistent that the city continue the existing service.
Prague lost its ambulance service four or five years ago and currently contracts for service with REACT in Shawnee. A $9.00 monthly fee is assessed on each utility bill to pay for this service. This primarily pays to house an ambulance in Prague in the event it is needed.
Their sales tax was down a little bit last year (only 3.6%) but has risen somewhat so far this year. Although they were not able to give their employees a raise this year, they also did not have lay-offs or furlough days. We talked about the efforts currently being undertaken by the two OML finance and revenue committees and their accomplishments towards improvements in finances for cities and towns.
Jim gave me a tour of the facility and I was very impressed with the entire offices and operation. As we were concluding our meeting, Mayor Bryan Benson stopped in at city hall so I was able to visit with him for a few minutes.
Town of Paden
I met with the Paden Town Clerk, Melanie Brown, who is in her third year serving as the Paden Town Clerk. She was appointed to the position when medical issues arose for the former clerk. Brown has a close connection to Paden history. Pretty Boy Floyd actually robbed Paden’s bank where her godfather was a teller. Pretty Boy kidnapped Brown’s godfather, but they let him go – he had to jump out of the car of course, but was not harmed.
Melanie is excited about the grant Paden recently received from the Department of Tourism to build a 32-acre walking trail for Paden. The trails were partially funded by the Creek Nation which started a competition walking program. Thirty towns participated with everyone wearing pedometers. Paden won the first year and received one mile of walking trails; Paden purchased the land from a citizen who had used it for pasture. They won again the second year and netted $3,500 of outdoor exercise equipment. Leveraging that with a match from Tourism, Paden actually got a park and used the grant for the trail. Paden plans to embellish the park and trail with a pavilion and restrooms and to continue the upgrades as time and resources allow. Melanie says the town is looking for a method of enforcing their ordinance against dogs in the park and on the trail, but currently there is no code enforcement.
Paden schools, elementary through high school, number about 200 students. Sports, especially basketball, are highly popular. Paden recently started a youth organization which was active in this year’s fireworks display. A tragic car accident took the lives of three of Paden’s students. When another youth died a short time later his parents donated money toward building a volleyball court, and the youth organization was started. It was important to the town and citizens to provide a place for the youth. The Town of Paden is enjoying these things as they did not have them in the past.
Paden’s retail base is a grocery store and convenience store. A lumber company generates most of the sales tax revenue. They appreciate their all-volunteer Fire Department, but have no police. A county deputy living in town helps them feel secure.
Paden is one of those historical Oklahoma towns once thriving along the Fort Smith and Western Railroad line with a colorful and exciting history. The town is named after its hero, the rough and tough U.S. Marshall Paden Tolbert, who “fought the meanest outlaws” in the Territory and cleaned up the badlands, earning commissions with Judge Isaac C. Parker, ‘the hangin’ judge’, and in the U.S. court at Muskogee under Marshall S. Morton Rutherford. He trailed Henry Starr and the Cook Gang, and captured the Buck and Jennings Gangs. The Indian Territory Town of Paden, which Tolbert helped found, got off to a peaceful start since outlaws just didn’t go there. Tolbert resigned his federal commission in 1904, the year he died. The grieving town appointed the Marshall’s wife, Lucy, as postmistress of Paden.
Paden has survived a series of calamities that reduced its population to its current 400 citizens. The prosperous early coalmining declined, and with it the railroad. Even the discovery of nearby oil was not enough to save the Fort Smith and Western. The Great Fire of 1915 devastated the town; but the recent major setback has been the building of I-40 which diverted vehicular traffic away from town.
I find it so interesting to visit these small towns. I always learn some interesting tidbits of history from each one.
Town of Meeker
I met with Donna Watkins, the Town Clerk, and Jim Howard, the Town Administrator.
Donna had just gotten off the phone with officials of the Red Cross who were checking whether anything was happening in town. At the time of my visit, there had been hurricane activity in the southern gulf and it was not yet known whether the effects would reach Oklahoma. Since the city is also the Red Cross shelter in the event of disasters, they wanted to ensure nothing was happening in Meeker and people weren’t showing up at the shelter.
Also, next door actually contiguous to city hall is a history museum. A long-time citizen donated money to build the museum onto the existing city hall. The museum has many interesting items of history including the first mail buggy, an area that housed old medical tables and utensils, old quilts and many, many other things of interest. Donna said all of the items came from local donations. There were even items dating from 1891 from Donna’s grandfather who was born in Oklahoma Territory, and who was also named “Oklahoma.”
Upon entering city hall, you see the Carl Hubbard Museum. Hubbard was a baseball and football Hall of Famer from Missouri who played pro football with the Giants, the Packers, and baseball with the Pirates. He later umpired baseball in the minors, and officiated American League, World Series and All Star Games.
Meeker refurbished its city hall about nine months ago with a REAP grant. Donna stressed how important REAP funding was to small communities. They added brick in front, new metal, new awnings, and raised the ceilings. Much of the work was “in kind.”
Meeker owns its own Pre-K to 12 school system including Kindergarten. Both are full-day programs.
Jim Howard has been Meeker’s city manager for about three years, and has lived in Meeker for about six years. His wife was born and raised in this town. His prior municipal experience was as the Mayor of Earlsboro in the 1980s.
Howard had several concerns with the CLEET operations and said that every year CLEET adds a little more training here and there. As a result the current academy lasted 14½ weeks. The lengthy training creates many problems for small towns. When an officer is sent to training, the town must pay their salary while they are away, plus pay for someone to cover in their absence. He would like to see CLEET place more emphasis on the basics such as report writing, and spend less time on criminal investigation, which he feels should be part of specialized training. He would like more time spent on learning more about traffic accidents which is what most of his officers would be covering. Their chief recently conducted a training session for their officers and others on report writing.
He also has concerns with the recently passed Uniform Building Code (UBC) and thinks it is a duplication of efforts since the Constructions Industries Board (CIB) is already in place and another new ‘agency’ was unnecessary. He shared his concerns with his legislator, Representative Danny Morgan.
Another concern of Howard is unfunded mandates (which we all hate). Meeker recently passed a one cent ($.01) sales tax increase in April 2009.
Mr. Howard visits with some of the city managers in the near by cities and is considering joining the City Managers Association of Oklahoma (CMAO). He mentioned having received a question from a neighboring city manager asking if other cities evaluated their judges and municipal attorneys, and if so, what process is used. He thinks this is a great way to let managers talk to each other. He would like to see OML host a blog where members could ask a question and other could members provide input for all to see. He appreciates the training opportunities offered by OML but is restricted from sending some of his employees to training due to time away and limited financial resources.
He was complimentary of the inquiry service at OML and thought he always received good and timely responses.
|Posted on September 15, 2010 at 6:09 AM|
I arrived at Antlers just prior to a special council meeting taking place at noon, but I was able to visit briefly with both Jinny Simpson, Antlers’ new Town Clerk, and Joel Taylor, Antlers’ City Manager. Joel previously served as city manager for six years, left to run a motor sport dealership and then returned four and one-half years ago to once again become the town’s city manager.
Orley Airport was on the Special Meeting Agenda for the board to discuss additional property for a safety zone.
Jinny said this has been a tough year for Antlers. They have had to cut and furlough employees. Antlers’ revenue has been down ten or twelve per cent, but is now coming back up. Their water and sewer plants also dropped twelve percent, during nine out of the last twelve months, which may sound strange, but Taylor says, “When income is down, the citizens use less water; they probably do not water lawns as much.” Antlers raised the water bill for the first time in three years.
Antlers built a new water plant and sewer plant over the past four years. The sewer has been in operation two years and the water plant a little over a year.
They used a 75/25 grant to loan combination from Rural Development. The water plant has been on line for about 16 months. The cost was $3.5 million at design, but $6.5 million from the design stage to completion.”
Despite the bad economic times, Antlers has five grants underway, CDBG and Rural Development grants will build an addition onto their library, fund the construction of an industrial building, renovate Antlers’ storm shelter, fund an industrial expansion, and overlay the airport. The city wrote some of these grants, and Turning Point wrote a grant to upgrade trails for the parks.
The City of Broken Bow is a town of 4,230 in McCurtain County where tourists go to enjoy the lake, a local winery, beautiful scenery and great people. Under the management of John Dean, Jr., the city has undergone many changes over the past three years.
The water and sewer plant projects have been completed. Broken Bow just recently broke ground on their Streetscape project, which will provide transportation enhancements downtown.
The city has removed over 100 dilapidated structures through their condemnation process. Because of the city’s success with that effort, the citizens have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily clean up their dilapidated structures to not only avoid the city penalties, but to clean up the community and keep the city safe.
Tourism is one of Broken Bow’s greatest assets. Despite the downturn in the economy, the hotel/motel tax has increased due to the steady activity in tourism.
John Dean, Jr., who retired from the military after 20 years, is the city manager. Dean has a vision for how he would like to see the community of Broken Bow and its surrounding area grow. To facilitate that process, he created a four-member Visionary Committee.
He invited people with diverse opinions who have a lot of contacts and can get things done. During the first meeting, he provided each member a blank notebook and asked “How can we make this community better?” While not all of the committee members understood and liked the direction of this committee, he personally visited with them afterward to share his vision of Broken Bow and the surrounding areas and encouraged them to speak their minds.
Broken Bow is working on an eight-field baseball complex. As of today, they have two T-ball fields, two softball fields and two baseball fields. They are working on an additional two fields as well as a football/soccer field. The unique aspects of these fields are the infields which are made of pulverized granite. This was a $1.5 million project that will be used by youth for many years.
Another accomplishment for Broken Bow was the completion of lights for two intersections. This project did not come as easily as expected. When ODOT arrived to do their first traffic count before Thanksgiving, there was not a lot of traffic. When asked why, Dean said “the town shuts down the week of Thanksgiving for people to go hunt deer.” However, when ODOT came back in March, within 15 minutes the ODOT representative said these two intersections definitely qualified for lights. Now the citizens see red, yellow and green, and it’s a good thing.
Broken Bow plans to participate with several other cities in Oklahoma in the Regional International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention taking place in Grapevine, Texas in November. Several Oklahoma cities are joining together to have an Oklahoma booth where each of them will have an opportunity to showcase their community to potential vendors/businesses. Oklahoma has such unique geography around the state that the same business could potentially consider locating in both Guymon and Broken Bow.
I also visited with Broken Bow’s Clerk-Treasurer Vickie Pieratt. Pieratt says Broken Bow contracted with ETS for a credit card payment system last March, a system allowing citizens to pay court costs and utilities using credit cards. For walk-ins, the city absorbs the charge; but call-ins pay a $2 convenience fee.
So when looking for a wonderful getaway in Oklahoma, visit Broken Bow, the gateway for tourists and tell ‘em Carolyn sent you.
Sherlyn Walker has been Coalgate’s Clerk for 11 years. I was visiting with her in the office when Mayor Mike Elkins and the City Manager, Roger Cosper, concluded a meeting and stopped in to say hello, so it was a bonus that I was able to visit with them, also.
Sales tax revenues are leveling off in Coalgate, and like a lot of towns like to say, they are “rocking along.”
Sherlyn says the largest employer in Coalgate will be the Mary Hurley Hospital with 20 beds when it is finished, and the Ruth Wilson Hurley Manor, a 75-bed nursing home, both with the same owner. Together these institutions will employ about 150 people, many of those from Coalgate. The newspaper is already carrying an employment ad for the jobs that will be created.
The county is opening a new health clinic with access for all, which will greatly benefit the low income citizens. The clinic was financed with a CDBG/USDA grant combination, and will employ many Coalgate citizens.
In the mid-1960s, Wrangler Jeans built the Wrangler plant which is part of the Industrial Park. When Coalgate lost Wrangler, the Industrial Authority purchased the plant to utilize as a business incubator, and a USDA grant funded the rewiring. A&W Machines, a company that makes parts for oil rigs, moved into the incubator from a smaller PWA building which enabled it to add several more machines. It now operates three shifts and employs more than 20 workers.
Glenn Glass, a former Coalgate employee, is now an area manager for REI and helped the Coalgate Industrial Authority through some of the planning.
Another USDA grant will help construct a rural fire field station at the city park across the road from the Industrial Authority where a spring-fed pond offers the department free water and gives fire protection to area homes.
Their new $87,000 ambulance and a police car were purchased with ARRA monies through USDA. TriCounty Indian Nations Community Development Corporation (TINCDC), composed of Pontotoc, Coal and Johnson Counties, wrote the grant; and an Oklahoma Housing Finance Administration grant tore down and replaced four houses.
Sherlyn is completing two REAP grants — one for the fire department for self-contained breathing apparatus (SEBA) equipment, clothing and possible helmet lights, and a grant for cement work to make the Industrial Park building ADA compliant.
Mayor Elkins and City Manager Roger Cosper spoke about financing issues. A common theme is the issue with the Oklahoma Tax Commission and its lack of audits. OTC will not come to Coalgate to verify whether businesses are paying taxes. They were excited when I told them about OML’s Municipal Revenue and Efficiencies Task Force and the Municipal Liaison Board to the Oklahoma Tax Commission that will work on improving relationships with the Oklahoma Tax Commission to ensure better collection reporting and audits.
The Town of Coalgate also built a new splash pad by their swimming pool. The splash pad was paid for out of the capital improvement fund. It is mainly for toddlers, but anyone can enjoy it. The rules for operating a splash pad are less stringent than for operating a pool, and splash pads are also popular and in current demand by the public. Sherlyn plans to get her two grandchildren out there to enjoy it.
Coalgate officials are unable to attend OML’s conference but Sherlyn wants to shut down the office so all five ladies may attend the New Officials Institute in McAlester to hear about Open Meetings and Open Records.
Upon entering the Haworth Town Hall office, I saw a small OML-member plaque on the desk of Joyce Brown who has been the clerk of this community of 354 people for 14 years. She grew up in McCurtain County.
Haworth has two grocery stores that provide most of their sales tax base. They also have a tire shop and a mechanic garage. Although the labor is not taxed, they are an advantage to the community. In late July a liquor store opened which will generate additional revenue.
Their fire department has 20 volunteers and just received a Homeland Security grant that enabled them to purchase a truck and some new equipment. All the firefighters are employed at other jobs and yet they volunteer to help their town. Trucks are kept at two substations in different rural areas around Haworth, so whoever lives closest can run and jump in one of those fire trucks and get to the scene quickly. Joyce says their volunteer fire department could hold up against any of the paid fire departments from anywhere. “They are a good fire department, a good team, and they are all volunteers,” she said.
One police officer, the chief, is assisted by two reserves. The crime rate is low here, but it is a secluded area and sometimes that attracts mischief. They recently applied for a federal COPS grant to get an additional full time employee in the department.
Haworth owns city water and sewer and picks up trash. At their next board meeting they will sign a contract for a CIP grant, which will be administered by KEDDO. They plan to apply for a REAP grant to acquire a garage to store big equipment such as tractors, a bush hog, a back hoe, a side boom, and generator. “It’s expensive equipment and we need a secure place to store it,” says Joyce. “We applied last year but didn’t get it. We were the alternate – that’s how close we came to getting it.”
Their biggest employer is the Pre-K through12 school system. Although it is small, it is a good school system, and Joyce thinks the rural Haworth setting is attractive to parents. The bus service covers the community. Haworth has a diversified group of citizens; some are employed by Wal-Mart, others at Tyson Foods, and at various places in the community.
They do use the OML Inquiry Service and appreciate the quick and good response. Haworth city officials do not get to Oklahoma City often and cannot attend many events as most of the council have full-time jobs. Joyce has attended the Municipal Clerks and Treasurers Handbook Training Program when it came to her area.
Joyce commented that it was nice to have OML come to them.
Mike Kennerson has been the City Manager of Heavener in LeFlore County for ten years. The Heavener City Hall was formerly used as the bank building. Kennerson is a “hands on” manager, and sometimes operates the back hoe to save the city money.
Kennerson described some of the many projects happening in Heavener. A $5.2 million dollar water project funded by a USDA 40-year loan is now completed, and fire protection upgraded. The water improvement project requires four and one-half miles of 16” interceptor mains that feed potable water up to a storage tower, increasing storage capacity from 1.5 to 4.5 million gallons.
Heavener is involved in a $2.3 million sewer project funded with a USDA loan to build a sequence batch reactor (SBR) mechanical plant, a project similar to but much smaller than the one on the South Canadian River in Oklahoma City. They are hoping to use the 1.5 cent tax to retire the sewer debt.
Heavener passed a GO bond and a half-cent sales tax to pay for it. The bond did four things. It paid for four new tornado sirens giving the city 98 percent coverage, and allowed private corporations to purchase and install direct receiver sirens that emit a shrill beep, which is helpful in and around noisy areas. It purchased lights for Heavener’s other two ball fields for nighttime play; and upgraded their 1939 stone library by adding a state-of-the-art addition, and increased public access from three terminals to fifteen.
Heavener is also currently under a DEQ consent order, as are many other small Oklahoma communities.
Heavener has a new website, www.cityofheavener.us, which gets 1600 hits a day and is loaded with capability to interact with its citizens. Its social networking capability facilitates emergency alerts, specifically tornado warnings by Twitter, Facebook and Myspace.
They are currently considering express bill pay, which would allow payment with credit cards for utility billing and court fines.
Years ago Heavener passed a 1.5 cent dedicated tax to retire the FHA loan to avoid sewer debt. They put money back for when they needed it, and over the years it has built into a significant amount which they can now utilize.
They passed a bond issue and could use ad valorem monies that would help pay it off if needed, but their one-half cent sales tax has been adequate to make the payments so they haven’t had to tap into bond money.
Heavener has three TIF districts, which are ad valorem based. The city had to go through a process to identify all taxing entities that receive ad valorem money, list what beneficial projects they wanted to do, they have a list for each district, and name all upgrades. They are planning and visioning their designs.
Heavener has thirty new single family homes this year which will generate $16 or $17 thousand in ad valorem tax. The established cash flow can issue a bond with that revenue.
Mike talked about three projects that are planned or undersay — street paving, drainage, a 20,000 thousand-foot community center. Most also involved single family housing.
Kennerson had training in strategic planning before coming to Heavener. While based at the naval base in Florida, he won the Sterling Award, and went through their training program to become an inspector for the Sterling Award. When he transferred to the Oklahoma squadron at Tinker, he became part of the OK Quality Award program as an inspector for one year. It took 300 – 400 hours of labor on weekends and time off to attain this status. These award programs look at planning, leadership, how results are measured, and how they get there. Under his leadership many great projects are in the future plans for Heavener.
Leah Savage, Hugo’s clerk, came on board one month after David Rawls became city manager; both have been in their offices a little over three years. Leah said Hugo is preparing for its big annual rodeo, which attracts a lot of visitors to the community every year. Their sales tax revenues are still fairly good, and they collect hotel/motel tax, which is dedicated to tourism for the city.
Both said they frequently call the OML Inquiry Department, and that they will be attending the OML conference. In fact, David said he thought all the councilors were packing up and heading for the conference. Rawls likes the roundtables, and he particularly likes sharing problems and solutions with people from cities close to the same size as Hugo (population 5,500). Having workshops nearby such as in McAlester also helps them because they don’t have to travel so far.
Hugo is currently free of DEQ Consent or NOV orders. They have their own water and waste water system, the Hugo Municipal Authority, whose operations Hugo has contracted to Severn Trent, a water and wastewater operations service.
Always a popular sport, football season is just beginning at Hugo schools. Leah said she would be attending a school committee meeting that evening as they consider implementing a policy for students to wear uniforms to school.
A very interesting bit of information about Hugo’s City Manager, David Rawls is that prior to becoming Hugo’s city manager, he owned the Kelly Miller Circus for 25 years. Rawls grew up in Hugo where nine circuses wintered over and three of those still do. Carson and Barnes Circus travels all over the world, and keeps circus animals on their own grounds during the winter so it is common to see elephants and zebras in Hugo. Mt. Olivet, in Hugo, is a circus designated cemetery for circus performers. The circus continues to be a major industry and large part of the Hugo community.
Rawls grew up in the circus. One of his favorite circus memories are the smiles of people enjoying the performances. He misses visiting with the friends he made traveling across the country once or twice a year. Rawls thinks the multi-tasking in managing a three-ring circus prepared him for the job of running a city with the many events constantly needing attention: water, streets, public safety, and the public constantly in and out of city hall – and city cleanups. Hugo took down 50 dilapidated houses this year, many belonging to absentee owners.
Rawls was complimentary toward Hugo’s work force of 77 employees. He thinks the city’s business licenses and permits are reasonably priced at $42. Their police department employs 15 officers, has eight vehicles and 24/7 community coverage. Twelve employees man the fire department whose ISO rating is four, which he considers good. Hugo is unionized and after four contract negotiations, Rawls says the city has a good relationship with the union, and both the police and fire departments.
Rawls explained that water sale is a huge issue in Hugo. Issues with the Oklahoma Tax Commission were also discussed.
With my visit ending, Leah said she “is ready to see us all next month” (at OML’s conference – and we are ready to see all of you, also.)
I met with the Clerk-Treasurer, Tina Foshee and Jerry Shinn, Mayor, of this Aldermanic city. They were meeting later in the day to work on Enhanced 9-1-1. Idabel has 9-1-1 availability within city limits, but in cooperation with McCurtain County, they are endeavoring coverage enhancement to the northern 60 miles of mountainous region where signals are weak.
Idabel’s sales tax is down three to four per cent. That has been the standard I’ve heard in my travels throughout the state. Not as many of the cities have complained about sales tax, but they all have similar collection issues with the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC). The majority say some businesses are not paying their sales tax and it is difficult to get someone from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to respond.
Foshee says citizens call the city for information on whether businesses are paying sales tax, but it is difficult to get an answer from OTC. OTC used to have field representatives who visited cities and towns to verify business and vending machine owners’ sales tax compliance, and they no longer do that. Tina remembers from her previous job with the county that field representatives would come in regularly to file tax liens, and the lien would stay on the business until they satisfied their debt. She says “Idabel has a lot of ‘mom and pop’ stores, furniture, what-nots, barbeque stands, and I’m sure when they apply for a Tax ID Number they find out they need to pay sales tax. It’s a matter of whether or not they do it; a lot of it is just their personal integrity.”
Strangely enough, however, Tina says OTC has contacted Idabel about their farmer’s markets. OTC is requesting a copy of the farmer’s permits to ascertain whether farmers are paying sales tax to the state. OTC mailed tax forms and asked Idabel to help them out by giving the forms to the farmers.
Idabel City Hall is located in a unique old brick building which was formerly the Idabel National Bank. It is a 10,000 square foot brick building. Tina says when she became the Clerk-Treasurer she asked the mayor for a window in her office and he gave his approval. But perhaps they didn’t realize that installing a window meant boring through six feet of concrete! “It did use to be a bank,” she explains. City hall is listed as a storm shelter during the day.
At one time Weyerhaeuser had three plants and employed several hundred people from the surrounding areas. In leaving, the Weyerhaeuser-affiliated businesses in Idabel, such as Wood Lumber Company, lost the struggle to stay afloat, but are not giving up the fight. Idabel wrote a letter of city support for Wood Lumber, which along with letters from other area businesses, will accompany Wood’s application to USDA for a loan to reopen. If successful, it will restore the 60 – 70 jobs that were lost to Idabel citizens.
Idabel’s Movie Gallery also closed. Online companies like Netflix, or the Redboxes at Wal-Mart, McDonalds and other places seem to be competing with movie rental stores. A small ‘mom and pop’ video store is in town, and an Aaron’s store opened where consumers can purchase or rent-to-own furniture and appliances.
The Choctaw Native American Tribe is a big enterprise in Idabel and is preparing to build a travel plaza in the community which, Tina says, will be across the street from where she lives. The Tribe is currently securing property.
“In the seven years I’ve been city clerk, no one from OML has been here until today, and she took time out of her day to stop by and see us,” said Tina. I’m glad I was able to break that record.
During my stop in Pocola, I visited with John Limbocker, the Clerk of Pocola. Looking around John’s office, I saw certificates and accreditations which revealed an interesting person who had a handle on things. The 340 hours of training he has accomplished are reflected in the many certificates lining the walls, including: DEQ Pipeline Safety, Storm Water Training, FEMA, Fire Service Training, Flood Plain Management (CFM) Administration, Oklahoma Emergency Management, laboratory and waste water certification, and CLEET. John says he also attended the New Officials Institute this year and thought it was very good. He told me they frequently use the OML Inquiry Service.
Pocola is on the border with Arkansas, and, in fact, John grew up in Ft. Smith. Pocola purchases water from Rural Water District #2, and their gas provider is AOG – Arkansas Oklahoma Gas. Pocola uses two electric providers: OG&E where Pocola borders Ft. Smith, and Arkansas Valley Electric, which provides power to the rural area.
Pocola bills for its own utility, a sewer, through the Pocola Municipal Authority. They receive a State Local Assistance Grant awarded yearly through the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
John said their sales tax base is stable, and has not dropped off. Sonic, Subway, two liquor stores, and two convenience stores, the Tote-a-Poke and Grand Slam comprise Pocola’s sales tax base, along with a couple of “mom and pop” businesses.
During our visit, Limbocker took a cell phone call, which sounded like a high-weeds complaint requesting a code enforcement officer, another hat John wears.
Pocola’s 10 percent sales tax includes town, county and state. One cent goes into a separate account for the Volunteer Fire Department, which further benefits from a LeFlore County one-half cent sales tax recently passed for all county fire departments. The tax generates between $1,800 and $2,300 per month, so the fire departments are very well funded and able to respond.
In other developments, Pocola has a new police chief. The town is planning a new park on acreage purchased by the city and enhanced by acreage and finances donated by a citizen who requested the park be named after her father, J.L. Swink.
Funny thing about really small towns — the Town of Rock Island is a small nearby community with a population of 750. Their office is located in a prefab trailer building and they hold meetings the first Tuesday of the month. Prior to coming to Pocola, I had attempted to make a stop in Rock Island. No one was at city hall or any place nearby. John said you have to know someone in Rock Island to be able to contact someone there.
In fact, as I was sharing this information, Limbocker began making calls to locate someone. The first place he called was Rick’s Corner Market, and subsequently provided me the phone numbers of the mayor and a council member. I called the mayor who was in New York City, who suggested I try to get in touch with one of the council members, but I had to leave messages and did not get to meet personally with anyone there. I followed up with a letter and mailed the packets of information I would have personally delivered to them. You gotta’ love small town Oklahoma – they are so resourceful! Hopefully, I will be able to personally meet the Rock Island officials during my next visit to this beautiful part of our state.
Mary Turner has been clerk of this Pushmataha County town for a year. She has a business background and has implemented changes to make the office operate more efficiently.
She was appointed when their last clerk left, and says she has called the OML Inquiry Line several times for information. The clerk, mayor and council members attended the New Officials Institute in Tulsa.
The Rattan council would like to change the clerk’s position to an appointed one, and are in the process of reviewing a change from districts and wards to elections at large. They opted out of the Town Meeting Act about four years ago and since then have used the county election system. However, they are contemplating returning to the Town Meeting Act. After I left I contacted Kelly Danner, who manages the OML Inquiry Department, to forward Mary information on making these changes.
Three small stores, one which sells gasoline, one liquor store and three restaurants make up the Rattan sales tax base. Rattan has just increased their utility rates. They own their own wastewater system through the Public Works Authority. They are paying back some USDA loans, and have also recently increased utility rates.
The chief and one reserve officer comprise the Rattan Police Department, and ten volunteers and a chief make up their all-volunteer Fire Department. The Fire Department recently held a fish fry and garage sale with 10 percent of the proceeds going to the Rattan Fire Department. They have very little crime, “mostly speeders and that kind of thing,” says Mary.
Vicki Cox is the Clerk-Treasurer of the Town of Spiro, located in Le Flore County in the southeast part of Oklahoma with a population of 2,227 at last census. Vicki says Spiro’s sales tax revenue has held fairly steady although it was a little down this year; but they have tightened their belt and did not have to furlough employees or dip into reserves. They are being prudent with their money.
Spiro is an Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority member and has had its own electric system since the 1970s through the Spiro Municipal Improvement Authority. A REAP grant provided an aerial lift basket truck for their electric department this year, and an OWRB loan enabled their sewer line extension to the Arkansas River in 2002. For two years in a row their applications for a CDBG grant for the water plant improvements have been rejected because, Vicki guesses, they are just “too far down on the list.”
Last year citizens approved a bond issue to build a multipurpose stage area and a new school gym that seats almost 2,000 people. Enrollment increased this year in Spiro’s K-12 school system. The building of new homes has slowed down this year. Traffic slowed as well. Spiro is just starting to feel it, Vicki says. Trends reach them later than other places.
Spiro’s tax base includes a grocery store, two dollar stores, and several food establishments for pizza, Mexican, Subway, Sonic, and others.
The city holds an annual fireworks display, and the chamber hosts an annual banquet. They also have a fall festival “arts and crafts” show every fall.
We talked about the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the issue of businesses not timely paying sales tax. The Oklahoma Municipal League is working with the Tax Commission to insure compliance in delivering tax payments back to cities and towns. This same difficulty is a common theme with each of my visits regardless of the size of the city or town.
Vicki says she uses the Oklahoma Municipal League’s Inquiry System and that she always gets a timely response. She says she is pleased with OML and we should just keep doing what we are doing.
This McCurtain County town has a population of 771. Patsy Guest, the clerk, says sales tax is good and use tax is up this month. She sometimes uses the OML Inquiry Department and thinks they are doing a good job.
I could see across the desk from me, their computer screen showed OML on their “favorites” list. It was nice to hear her say we were a “favorite” and a resource she looked to.
About 15 volunteer firefighters assist the paid fire chief; the department is primarily funded with grants. The police department has two paid and one volunteer officer. Valliant has very little crime, with speeding and seat belt citations comprising most of their violations.
They tell us things are going great. Their location on a major highway generates quite a bit of sales tax revenue as a result of all those truck stops, stores, and fuel stops. Patsy says, “We’re holding our own, really doing good. I’m just amazed some months that a little town like this is doing so good.”
Valliant owns a building and shares expenses with the county for a nutrition center which is funded through Kiamichi Nutrition. The chamber of commerce has put on Valliant’s Watermelon Festival for nine years now. Valliant operates its own water, sewer, and trash system.
Although she will not be able to attend the OML Conference, Patsy plans to attend the court clerks conference in October, and says she likes going to training when it is nearby. I encouraged her to attend the OML District Dinner meeting this fall.
As I left, I saw a sign that read “Home of Senator Jerry Ellis.” Ellis has been in the House and has been their Senator for several years. He represented Valliant for several years as both a member of the House of Representatives and now the State Senate.
Driving in I noticed the pretty entrance into Wright City. Once I arrived at the town hall, I met with Jackie Harris, a Wright City native who has been the clerk-treasurer since April 2007. I also got to visit with Georgia Boles, the deputy court clerk and secretary of the PWA. Georgia is also a retired postmaster of many years. Together they were a great source of information and were very knowledgeable about the Town of Wright City.
They think Wright City has one of the best K-12 school systems in the county. The town recently assisted the chamber with their Centennial celebration which featured a parade and rodeo, and was scheduled around homecoming to share with the folks returning for that event. It was a good time for a celebration.
The city sales tax base consists of a couple of cafes, an EZ Mart, the lumber yard, and a bank. Unfortunately, a large grocery store went out of business recently.
The volunteer fire department consists of approximately 13-14 firefighters; and the police department has a chief, two full-time officers and one reserve officer. Both the police and fire departments are larger than those in other towns of similar size.
About 200 workers were unemployed when Weyerhaeuser left about a year and a half ago. Weyerhaeuser did not pay much sales tax, but they did purchase about $4,000 - $5,000 per month in water, and that revenue loss hurt Wright City in many ways. Weyerhaeuser’s load on the city’s lagoons resulted in a DEQ consent order; so a USDA grant/loan combo, mostly loan, helped build a $1.8 million sewer treatment plant to facilitate Weyerhaeuser. When Weyerhaeuser left, the town struggled and finally increased utility rates, which was difficult for those on fixed incomes. Their request for loan forgiveness from USDA went to Washington and was refused. USDA allowed Wright City to pay off four of the original USDA loans with revenue earmarked for savings. When USDA makes loans, it requires monies to be automatically deposited into a savings account. That savings sometimes grows into a hefty sum.
Wright City utilizes the OML Inquiry Department, and they say it is always helpful; however they also try to be resourceful and find answers for themselves.
|Posted on August 12, 2010 at 2:02 PM|
The Town of Slick was founded in 1920 by Tom Slick, and quickly became an oil boomtown with exploration and drilling, which drew business and industry. During the boom years, it was a thriving town with five banks, a movie theater and two schools. Kassie Gass, Slick’s clerk-treasurer of two years, says the town’s population and businesses dwindled as the drilling did.
A few years ago the town implemented Tom Slick Day as an October festival in honor of its founder, as well as to raise revenue. On display at town hall, I noticed a scrapbook filled with pictures of past festivals. The town’s former clerk-treasurer lost her husband in a fatal accident last year, so the money raised at the festival was given to help the family.
The Slick Town Hall was previously located in an old school building that was built in 1929. It closed as a school in the ‘50s, but the building continued to house the town hall until 2004, when it was condemned. A museum now holds all the school history and memorabilia from 1929, and town hall resettled into a trailer.
Gass grew up in the area. Her parents own a bail bond service and she still works occasionally as a process server. Most of the area kids attend Bristow or Beggs schools.
Offices hours at Slick are Monday evening 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. A new town board has formed and includes Violet Hayes, Mayor and Melissa Riley, Trustee. The office of vice-mayor is currently vacant. Kassie reports that with a new board, many citizens are watching them closely to be certain they are conducting their meetings properly, making her a frequent user of OML’s Inquiry Service. She wants to be certain Slick’s minutes and meetings are correct. Kassie and the new councilmembers are planning to attend one of OML’s upcoming New Officials Institutes this fall.
Like much of Oklahoma caught up in the early July deluge, Slick’s 4th of July Fireworks Celebration was rained out (twice). Donation buckets had been set up around the town for citizen contributions to pay for the fireworks and they are still hoping to have the display, perhaps during the fall festival.
Slick has several improvement projects underway. Fences are going up around the ballpark and water tower, a slab is being laid for handicapped parking and the pavilion is being improved.
The town has a convenience store and owns and operates its own water system through the Slick Public Works. The system was funded with a USDA loan for infrastructure improvements. Kassie says it is difficult to stay in compliance with all the DEQ rules, which she says she is still learning.
Karla St Cyr Poe, Clerk and Emma Hill, Treasurer, are officials in this Aldermanic city of 1,364. They reported some difficulty in getting an accurate census count and appreciate the helpfulness of the census class they attended at the OML conference. Poe says it was a great class which both she and Emma enjoyed. Poe has been with the city for 13 years, and has previously held the office of treasurer.
Beggs’ sales tax base is comprised of a Dollar General, two convenience stores and a grocery store. Economic hard times are to blame for the loss of three businesses. They definitely need more businesses to locate in Beggs. Financially, the city is holding steady but revenues are at a lull. Sales taxes are starting to show a little improvement.
A $4.2 million wastewater system is scheduled for completion within 90-120 days. A DEQ consent order forced them to obtain an OWRB loan, enabling them to build the system, but it will unfortunately require an increase in Beggs’ water rates. The previous council had begun building a mechanical plant for the facility, but the wastewater treatment plant became a priority and the mechanical plant caused delays and setbacks. Since the previous council had already begun implementation, DEQ made them stay with the old plan. It has caused a hardship for Beggs but it will be finished soon.
REAP and CDBG funding is important to Beggs, particularly since they did not receive any stimulus dollars because their project was already underway. Next up on the project list is to replace water lines.
Police Chief James Poulin stopped by while I was there. I discovered he is also a minister in Tulsa, and Beggs’ mayor, Rich Mitchell, is the fire chief in Okmulgee.
I had a very pleasant visit over lunch with City Manager Bob Baxter and Mayor Brian Priegel. Bob is our newest OML Board of Director, representing District 2. I took the opportunity to personally deliver his copy of the OML Board of Director’s handbook to him.
Bob said he appreciated the OML Sine Die Report he recently received, and he had already visited with his department heads to discuss the impact of some of the new legislation. One issue of concern was the implementation of SB 1900, http://www.oml.org/npps/story.cfm?ID=1996 which will require the city to provide building permit applicants, information, and a list of state taxes that may be assessed against anyone applying for a building permit, whether in or out of state. The bill also directs the clerk or other employee to request applicants for occupancy permits, to submit proof of registration with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, under the Oklahoma Business Registration System. Baxter believes that these new regulations may be a challenge to implement.
Another bill we discussed was SB 1998, http://www.oml.org/npps/story.cfm?ID=1996 which allows counties to assist smaller cities with street improvements. After returning to OML, I was able to provide him with some additional information.
Baxter spoke of some ongoing issues regarding county services for their 9-1-1 system. Okmulgee and the county continue to be at odds over 9-1-1.
Lastly, Bob said his intentions as the District 2 boardmember are to get out and visit communities in his OML District very soon.
Please note: you can find out about these bills mentioned in this article and many more that affect municipalities on the OML web site at www.oml.org, 2010 OML Sine Die Legislative Report.
In this charming town of 950 people, I visited with Brenda Wilhite, the Town Clerk since 2003. Before becoming clerk, she worked for the senior center for 15 years, which is in the same building as town hall. They just completed their 2010 census and report that numbers remained level with last year. The census workers utilized a town hall office but ran into some difficulty in getting good results at first. Some folks, especially seniors, were reluctant to open their doors to the census takers, but once they did, they discovered it was a painless and simple process.
Dewar has some wonderful assets, and one is TJ’s Diner, a little restaurant, which coincidentally opened the day of my July visit! TJ’s features home cooking by locals. The other is a Mexican restaurant, Pancho Villas. Both serve up delicious food.
Dewar is very familiar with REAP grants, which they receive frequently. They have used them to remodel city hall, to buy new lawn mowers, a tractor and other equipment; and they are working to obtain a CDBG grant for the sewer lagoon system.
A one-quarter penny sales tax pays for equipment and uniforms for their all-volunteer fire department. Other fire department expenditures are budgeted from utilities or by grants, like the one that recently paid for a new fire truck.
Dewer’s citizens love sports and their girl’s fast pitch softball won state last year. They have a K-12 school system with between 300-400 students. Their school is associated with the Family Career & Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), a school program on parliamentary procedure. They dress in uniform, practice parliamentary procedure, and this year, returned from the Chicago Nationals with 1st place in their division and 2nd in the nation. Last year they took 1st in the nation, and have been awarded ten gold medals from the nationals.
Brenda and Kimberly Wadsworth, Deputy Clerk, attended the NOI in Stillwater last February and loved it. Brenda reports that they use OML’s Inquiry Service frequently.
One of the biggest challenges in the town government is enforcing its own rules. Citizens are good neighbors and friends, and have lived in the vicinity for 20-30 years. Through the years, the town has had to add on fees and deposits these long-time residents have never had to pay before. It used to be that when they built their homes, they could have all the animals they wanted; yet now their neighbors live closer and the town has to enforce code regulations that are not always popular.
Police Chief Nathan Bartlett was recently involved in an auto accident and is currently on workers’ compensation. Everyone is hopeful that he will be back in a month or so and Dewar reserve officers are filling in. Municipal court is held once a month, mostly for traffic-related matters.
Brenda gave me a delightful example of what it’s like to serve in her community. While she was visiting her daughter one weekend, a neighbor saw Brenda’s car and called her daughter to see if Brenda could get her dog out of the pound. Now that’s small town life!!!!
Nancy Shannon is new to the clerk/treasurer position, having resigned her town trustee seat to take the position. She also agreed to take over the duties of court clerk, but is still learning those additional duties. She reports that she is a frequent user of OML’s Inquiry System.
Nancy is working ardently to bring the accounting up to date and get Weleetka’s books in order. She reports that Weleetka’s books are not currently auditable and, therefore, they are not able to apply for grants. Although they hired a CPA, he was only able to get the books updated through 2006 before the town ran out of funds to pay him. With the help of a citizen volunteer, Nancy is sifting through the remaining documents. On his own time, the volunteer set up a QuickBooks program for Nancy and is training her to be proficient. She commented that he and most Weleetkans are pretty good to help when they know it is needed; and in fact, many citizens have volunteered to help with Weleetka’s records situation.
Weleetka has had to increase its water-sewer-trash rate by 35 percent in recent years and has hired an engineer to oversee the water-sewer plant, which is under a DEQ consent order.
The only restaurant in town burned a few years ago, which led to the decline in sales tax revenue, so the citizens were very excited about the new restaurant, “Home Plate,” that just came into town. Nancy reported that she had just eaten there on the day I arrived “and it’s good!” Other Weleetka businesses include a bank, flower shop, gas station and grocery store, which sells ready-made sandwiches and pizza.
Weleetka operates a K-12 school system, which has about 400 students currently enrolled.
Before I left, Mayor Jimpsey Micco popped in and said a quick hello.
Nancy was very excited about Carolyn’s visit. “Her visit really helped me,” she says. After returning to OML, Carolyn notified the OMCCA district representative of Nancy’s new court clerk responsibilities and the rep was able to assist her through the OSBI reporting on tickets. “She was helpful on other things as well. I really appreciate what she did.”
Nancy was happy to hear that the Weleetka story will be printed in Carolyn’s Good Will Tour article and blog and that she is looking forward to reading about other towns and how they are solving their problems. She also reported that an article she recently read in the Oklahoma Cities & Towns about a new requirement for house addresses to be visible from the streets has prompted her to alert the citizens of in her town.