Sales tax approved to pay off judgment in Delaware County
BY SHEILA STOGSDILL World Correspondent
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
4/04/12 at 7:41 AM
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Original Print Headline: Voters back sales tax to pay judgment
JAY - Delaware County voters overwhelmingly approved a 17-year, half-cent sales tax Tuesday night to pay off a multimillion-dollar civil rights judgment the county incurred as the result of former female inmates who claimed they were raped and sexually assaulted by members of the sheriff's staff.
According to unofficial returns, with all 22 precincts counted, the measure passed by 93.37 percent.
Election Board Secretary Dixie Smith said it appeared turnout was high. Of approximately 22,000 registered voters, more than 6,600 voted, she said.
"I'm glad that it passed, but it's nothing to celebrate about," said Delaware County Commissioner Doug Smith.
"It was the best of two evils - I think we did the smart thing."
The $13.5 million settlement is three times the county's annual budget of $4.5 million and has the potential to affect the county for decades.
State law mandated the cost of the judgment be paid with property taxes for a period of three years unless there was another option, such as a sales-tax increase.
Smith said he didn't know when the sales-tax increase will go into effect, but an early guess is between 30 and 45 days.
"I have to say that I am in tears right now," said Bobbi Parris of Jay.
Parris addressed county commissioners in November and suggested they look at a sales-tax proposal instead of raising property taxes.
After the meeting, Parris gathered more than 1,500 names on petitions seeking a sales-tax increase to pay off the judgment.
"If we hadn't stepped up to the plate, it would have, by Oklahoma law, been forced on the property owners," said Doug Anderson of Grove.
"Thanks to the votes of many fine citizens, we will all share equally in the burden."
Anderson said it was important for residents to hold public employees accountable.
"It can happen to you, too," Anderson said. "Get involved. Get informed. Elections do have consequences."
"I still feel the property tax would have been the way to go," said Larry Parham, owner of Grove Radio Shack.
"Appliance stores and lumber yards will have a harder time on those $1,000 purchases."
Had the sales-tax initiative gone down in defeat, county officials would have been forced to raise property taxes as much as 18 percent per year for three years to pay off the settlement.
Parham said the average person will spend an extra 25 cents a day versus the average property owner who would have had to come up with an extra $200 for the next three years, he said.
"You can afford a quarter, not $200," Parham said.
The two largest communities in the county, Grove and Jay, will see their sales tax jumps to 9.3 and 8.9 respectively.
The civil rights lawsuit was filed by 15 female inmates who accused former Sheriff Jay Blackfox of ignoring their complaints of sexual abuse.
Blackfox was not accused of any sexual wrongdoing and denied any wrongdoing.
County commissioners approved the settlement on Nov. 2 rather saying the evidence supported the women's accusations of rape and other sexual related assaults and a judgment could have been as high as $50 million.
Lonnie Hunter, the former jail administrator, and Bill Sanders Sr., a volunteer deputy, were at the center of the lawsuit.
Hunter was fired in November and does not have a listed telephone number could not be reached for comment. Sanders died in November 2008.
An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation into the sexual assault allegations is ongoing.