By Jeff Harrison
Del City voters will head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 14 to decide on a ½ percent sales tax for public safety.
City officials say the new sales tax is needed to provide competitive salaries and benefits for police and firefighters.
If approved, the measure would increase Del City’s sales and use tax rate from 4 percent to 4.5 percent. The overall sales and use tax rate would increase from 8.5 percent to 9 percent. The state sales tax rate is 4.5 percent.
City Manager Mark Edwards said the sales tax revenue is necessary to attract and retain police and firefighters. The sales tax will generate about $1.35 million annually. The funds will be divided equally between the police and fire departments to provide salary and benefits with similar sized municipalities in the metro.
“We won’t be able to keep up with Oklahoma City, Midwest City and Edmond, but we’ll be able to keep up with the other major players in the area,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the additional funding will raise pay for police and firefighters of all experience levels.
“It will raise the starting salaries, but it will also increase across the steps so we can keep our experienced and trained people,” Edwards said.
City officials say revenue issues are not unique to Del City, but are felt in cities across the country. Midwest City approved a ¾ of a cent sales tax last month, which will be largely used for police and fire departments. The city’s new rate of 9.1 percent will be effective Jan. 1, 2018.
The upcoming sales tax election is nothing new for Del City voters. It will be the third time in nearly two years that Del City is called for a special election about sales taxes.
In September 2015, voters approved a ½ cent increase. The revenue is earmarked for business incentives and neighborhood improvements. And last August, voters passed a 15-year extension of an existing 1 ½ percent sales tax, which had been set to expire Jan. 1, 2018. The tax will fund capital projects including a waste water treatment plant.
Del City currently uses a portion of that temporary 1 ½ percent sales tax for public safety staffing. The temporary sales tax also funds capital projects such as the new police station, public works department building, fire station and library. The portion dedicated to public safety funds three police officers and three firefighter positions.
As part of the new sales tax extension, city leaders modified the language regarding police and firefighter pay. The original language allowed a portion of the funds to be used to “maintain staffing levels” and for police, fire and the street department. The new sales tax resolution allows funds to be used to maintain salaries for police and firefighters and keep pay competitive with similar municipalities.
Edwards said the current dedicated sales and the proposed sales tax, if approved, would generate about $1 million. The dedicated sales tax generates about $300,000 annually.
“The two of them together will give us enough to where we can actually keep our police and fire here,” Edwards said.
The city has seen a rash of vacancies within the fire department in recent years, which fire and city officials say is due to pay. Since 2011, the city has seen six firefighters retire and 13 other well-trained firefighters leave for higher paying positions in the metro.
The city recently filled six vacancies in the fire department, which will provide three shifts of eight firefighters. Edwards said they eventually hope to add six additional firefighters, allowing the department to operate with 10-person crews. In the police department, Edwards hopes to expand the patrol division and hire additional dispatchers.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
28 Sunnylane Family Church, 4221 SE 41st St.
29 Del View Baptist Church, 2500 S. Bryant Ave.
30, 31 Del City Community Center, 4505 SE 15th St.
32 Del City First Church of Nazarene, 4701 SE 26th St.
33 Townsend Elementary, 4000 Epperly Dr.