Creek County commissioners look at sales tax increase to fund rural fire departments

CREEK COUNTY, Okla. - Weeks after a massive wildfire swept through Creek County, community leaders are looking at a way to help fund rural fire departments.

County commissioners met Monday morning to discuss putting a sales tax increase on the November ballot for voters to decide.

Commissioners say a permanent 0.33 percent increase would be designated to help fund fire departments in the county. Many rural volunteer departments have struggled to pay fuel and equipment costs after the demands of fighting massive wildfires late this summer.

"We fought fire for almost two full weeks, and stuff broke. They have stepped up and they have helped us fix a lot of that stuff. But we are one of many, and there are still going to be needs in the future," said Carolyn Smythe, a volunteer firefighter with the Freedom Hill Fire Department.

The tax would be split to fund fire department equipment and county roads.

"Those are the biggest needs in our county, and I think that's something we need to address at this time," said Creek County Commissioner Newt Stephens.

Crews tore down the 51st Street bridge outside of Mannford Monday morning. They say it shifted because of heavy traffic from the fires.

Commissioners say it's just one example of why roads go hand in hand with fire protection funding.  

"Most other counties have had a sales tax or property tax to fund fires for years and years and years. Creek County never has," said Mike Nunneley, town administrator of Mannford.

Officials believe a sales tax increase is the fairest way to better fund rural fire departments.

"A third of a cent is not going to be a tremendous load when you go someplace. You probably will never recognize it," Nunneley said.

Commissioners have until Wednesday to submit the sales tax proposal to be placed on the November ballot.

2NEWS Reporter Sara Goldenberg will have more on this story tonight at 6.

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