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Commissioners discuss upcoming projects including Council Chambers, swim complex and covered arena

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2021 - City officials looked toward the future during a special meeting Tuesday discussing several proposed improvement projects.

The Board of Sallisaw City Commissioners opened the special meeting by accepting bids and awarding a contract to MGS Construction of Sallisaw for a $520,157 remodel of the Council Chamber at 113 N. Elm. The panel also approved a change order deducting $21,225 from that contract, dropping the total cost of the project to $498,932.

City Manager Keith Skelton said the project would allow all city-related meetings to be held in the same space, leaving the Wheeler Event Center – where the City Commissioners currently meet – open for use as a Civic Center.

To finance the project, Skelton said, three city vehicles have already been removed from the budget and the city will use $68,000 from funds it had previously reserved for a future Police Department remodeling project. There is still money set aside to begin the architectural work on the SPD project, Skelton noted.

The commissioners unanimously approved awarding the contract to MGS and City of Sallisaw Building Development Director Keith Miller said city crews could begin working on remodeling the council chamber immediately.

As Sallisaw officials continue eyeing the future, they have many projects on their minds.

Since 2019, Skelton said, “we've discussed a covered events arena.” At the meeting, Skelton presented an animated concept of what the arena could look like by GH2 Architects.

As currently designed by GH2, the arena's seating capacity is 2,638, which is “a little on the low side,” Skelton said, but there are options for creating more seating room. The arena itself is 130 feet by 235 feet, which Skelton said is “more than enough” for a rodeo. The concept design also includes cattle pens, bucking chutes, concession stands, restrooms, roll-up doors that line the back of the arena and much more. The planned location is at the old Blue Ribbon Downs facility. Skelton said he would also like to see a small camping area set up out there as well.

The City of Sallisaw has many other projects in the works in addition to the arena, including a skateboard park and a new aquatics facility. But those things cost money. The city uses the current half-cent sales tax to help finance such projects. Skelton said Sallisaw's sales tax revenue has been “excellent,” so much so, the city is going to be able to pay off some key bond issues a bit early. Unfortunately, that means the current half-cent sales tax will end when the bond issues are paid off, which may make it necessary to bring the issue of extending the half-cent sales tax to Sallisaw voters as early as Feb. 8 to finance future projects.

Though they know how most voters will react when they hear about extending the half-cent sales tax, the commissioners hope folks will see how much the city is growing and how much good the projects are doing for the community.

“Everybody who spends money in Sallisaw pays this sales tax,” Sallisaw Mayor Ernie Martens said. “That's everyone coming off the Interstate, everyone. It's not just the people of Sallisaw paying this half-cent sales tax. Half a cent is a really small amount, but there's a lot of people helping us pay it off,” he said.

“This discussion has been going on for quite some time,” Martens said. “I have been a proponent of both of these projects (the aquatics center and the arena). I think if these are aggressively marketed and run correctly they have the potential to be very valuable to this community and this area. We don't have anything like this in Eastern Oklahoma.”

City Commissioner Julian Mendiola said the important thing for voters to remember is that, “We're not raising taxes!”

On Wednesday Skelton issued the following statement to help clarify any questions regarding the proposed vote to extend the current sales tax.

City staff is currently working on two plans to submit to the voters for consideration in extending the ½ cent sales tax currently in place for the Sallisaw Sports Complex. Plan A consists of funding for a new swim complex as well as funding to assist in a new covered events arena. Plan B consists of a new swim complex, new skateboard park and accessories for soccer and tennis courts currently in the works (accessories such as lighting). In order for Plan A to be submitted to the voters, several things have to fall in place with the partners we are in conversation with regarding the arena. If Plan A is not feasible due to time constraints, then Plan B will be submitted to the community to vote on. With either plan, the priority for the funding is a new swim complex. With the low interest rates we currently have, obtaining as much funding as we can for these quality of life type projects, within a reasonable payback time, is beneficial to the community. Our priority, with either plan, is for the community to have a new swim complex.

This particular ½ cent sales tax is already in place, and the extension of the tax will result in no increase to our current sales tax rate, which is 9.917%. Of this sales tax amount, the City retains 4% for various city purposes. In the past, this particular ½ cent has been used on two occasions for the Carl Albert Sallisaw campus, as well as the Sallisaw Sports Complex. Our community is in need of a new swim complex, and this funding will ensure we have a complex the community can be proud of for years to come.

As we get closer to finalizing the plans for these projects, we will be sharing more information regarding the plans, as well as the information on the tax extension. Our current plan is to submit this to the voters of Sallisaw on February 8, 2022.

Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer

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