Tuesday, November 16 2021 - Sallisaw City Manager Keith Skelton has released the annual State of the City and Future report for residents and interested parties. Skelton's statement is included below in its entirety.
It is hard to believe, but the end of 2021 is fast approaching, with Christmas just around the corner. 2021 has been both rewarding and challenging for our community. Sallisaw has remained strong financially, while fighting through numerous issues brought about by the pandemic. Now that the pandemic seems to be easing up, hopefully we can all look to the future and get back to a normal routine.
As we came out of the worst parts of the pandemic, we were able to continue, and/or launch, numerous projects that are vital to our community. The wastewater treatment plant emergency flow basin expansion project is still active. We made significant strides during the summer months to complete this project. With the end finally in sight, we can now turn our attention to the installation of a new bar screen at the plant. What is a bar screen? A bar screen is basically a filter screen that removes all of the solids in our wastewater stream. This equipment allows the solids to be removed before entering the plant’s headworks and causing damage to our pumps and monitoring equipment. With the completion of these two (2) projects, the city will have invested over $2.2 million in improvements to our wastewater treatment operations. These projects are vital to our wastewater treatment operation, and they are a prelude to a new wastewater treatment plant, which is estimated to enter the planning and engineering phases in 2028. Original portions of the plant were built in 1970; 51 years ago.
In October 2021 we were able to award contracts for the rebuild of our North Electric Substation, a project that also involves the Grand River Dam Authority. Contractors for both the City and GRDA are now onsite, and the project is proceeding well. Total investment in this project, by both the City and GRDA, is approximately $1.7 million, with $480,000 of funding coming from a grant from the Economic Development Administration. This rebuild will significantly improve electric service reliability and capacity in Sallisaw.
Another project that is close to launching is the installation of a methane collection system at our municipal landfill facility. This is a public/private partnership that will allow methane to be harvested from our facility, sold and injected into gas transmission lines. This partnership is a great benefit for Sallisaw because the city would have been required to install this type of system within a few years, at the total expense of the city. In addition to the methane project, the city is also in the engineering phase of a new 60 acre expansion to our landfill facility.
These are just a few of the projects the city has undertaken to improve services for our community. These projects are not cheap, but through proper planning and looking at projects from all perspectives, the city has been able to plan finances to fund projects such as these with our current revenues, sales taxes, and grants.
Where does the funding come from to operate a community such as Sallisaw?
When citizens see us spending millions of dollars on projects, it is important that we discuss where the funding comes from. Cities and towns across Oklahoma are heavily dependent upon sales tax for their general operations. It is no different for Sallisaw. Oklahoma is the only state in which municipalities are entirely dependent on sales tax for general operations. The State of Oklahoma provides no support funding for Oklahoma cities and towns. It is up to the citizens of Oklahoma communities to figure out how to fund their local government. Unfortunately, this means that communities must turn to sales tax as a resource to fund projects when costs are outside their normal revenue streams. To complicate this, sales tax is also regarded as an unpredictable source of revenue, heavily dependent upon each community and the economy.
In Sallisaw, we are fortunate that we have revenue streams from utilities, especially electric, that not only helps fund daily general fund operations, but smaller capital projects as well. Being a Public Power Community is extremely important to Sallisaw in that it helps fund those services that do not generate revenues, such as parks, streets, and public safety. Even though we have revenues to cover daily operations and small projects, large capital and quality of life projects must be funded in other ways that normally require months, if not years, of planning. For these projects, we will sometimes turn to sales tax, as does many communities across Oklahoma. To make this matter even more difficult, county governments, school districts, and hospital authorities are also competing for the same sales tax. In a 2015 survey of the Oklahoma Municipal League, it was estimated that sales tax revenue made up over 61% of Oklahoma municipal government revenues, compared to 15% across the entire United States.
For bigger projects that require large amounts of funding, the support of a sales tax is the only viable way for cities and towns in Oklahoma to fund those projects outside of their normal revenue streams. If a community wants to grow and thrive, and have quality of life amenities, then a sales tax to support the projects will most likely be the funding mechanism, outside of any grants that might be obtained. It is important to note that grants usually require matching funds. Some as high as 50% of the project cost. So, even in the case where a grant might be obtained, matching local funds would still be needed for the project.
When a sales tax, or other types of taxes are being considered as a funding mechanism, it has been said that the Board of City Commissioners, or city staff, is increasing taxes. Can they increase taxes without an election?
No! The Board of City Commissioners, or city staff, cannot increase or extend taxes without an election. A lot has been said lately about school boards and city councils increasing taxes. It is often implied these boards can increase taxes with a simple vote of the board. This is absolutely not true. If a project is important for Sallisaw, city staff will come up with project details and discuss with the Board of City Commissioners. If the Board wishes to proceed, and that project Page 3 of 3 requires sales tax funding, then the Board will call an election and ask the citizens a simple question, “Is this a project you would like to see in Sallisaw?” The citizens then say yes, or no, with their vote on election day. The Board of City Commissioners and city staff are only doing what they are elected or hired to do; plan for the future and betterment of Sallisaw! Our motto for the City of Sallisaw is Built on Pride – Dedicated to Excellence. This is exactly what your city staff and elected officials strive to do for the citizens of Sallisaw every single day.
What is in our future?
As we move into 2022, the City of Sallisaw has several infrastructure projects that are either active or in the planning phases. One active project is the replacement of electric and water lines at Brushy Lake Park. This project is proceeding well, and we anticipate the park will be open again soon. Other projects in planning phases include additional street paving, water and sewer line projects, expansion of the landfill facility, and additional improvements to our electric distribution system. We are also looking at automated side load sanitation trucks, which will make our sanitation operations more efficient, as well as safer for our employees.
As we grow, maintaining our infrastructure is very important for our community. Quality of life projects are also very important. We continue to improve our parks systems, stretching available funding as far as it will go and seeking grants. The new walking trail and exercise equipment at the sports complex is used daily, and we are planning more enhancements for that area. We are looking at a new swimming pool, skateboard park, soccer fields, dog park, and tennis courts. As Sallisaw continues to grow, these quality of life projects, and many more, will become even more important for our community.
Sallisaw has been, and continues to be, a progressive community. We have always been blessed with strong, stable leadership from our city commissioners. The decisions made years ago help us overcome the obstacles we face today. Those commissioners that serve today not only make decisions about current policies and operations, but they continue to plan and make decisions that will affect our community for decades. When you look at the new veterans’ facility, you must realize this didn’t happen overnight for Sallisaw. Holding true to the legacy and history of Sallisaw, this success was the culmination of years of hard work by community leaders and unmatched community partnerships.
We invite you to visit our website at www.sallisawok.org. Our website contains a lot of information on our community. We are working hard on improving the website, as well as our social media activity. Our organization is open and transparent. We are more than happy to provide any information you may need.
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