House Bill 1374 passes Senate, aims at increasing public safety in Oklahoma

Posted at 4:05 PM, Mar 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-23 23:53:06-04

An effort to enhance public safety in the state of Oklahoma jumps another hurdle.

House Bill 1374, promising to use property tax to fund law enforcement and fire protective services, is now headed to the Senate. The bill creates the Oklahoma Public Safety Protection Act which would allow counties to call special elections for the purpose of asking voters to approve an increase in mills assessed on properties for the purpose of funding law enforcement and fire protection agencies.

It is something lawmakers have been working on for quite some time. Right now, Oklahoma is the only state that relies on sales tax to provide funds for public safety. But the state's struggle could soon be over if taxpayers choose to pay more in property taxes.

"He's the first baby in my family of 9 generations to bear my last name, so he's a big deal," Jason Meierstein said.

The father stares at his 10-month-old son, Robert, who is a miracle child.

"I have brain cancer," Meierstein said. "Doctor's told me with the chemo and radiation and the diabetes and the high blood pressure... [they] told me that having a child would be a 95 percent chance of not happening."

But his son's smile and giggle says it all. His parents would do anything to make sure their child is safe.

"We need more protection than what we already have," Crystal Forrest, Robert's mother said.

She's referring to the shortage of police officer's in the city. It's a shortage that is due to the lack of funding provided by the city's sales tax.

However, hope lingers among legislators as a bill to allow municipalities to use property tax for funding law enforcement and fire departments awaits the senate. The passing of this bill means, if county voters approve, property taxes could increase.

"I wouldn't mind paying extra money for my kid, for more safety," Meierstein said. "That would be peace of mind for me."

Meierstein said officer's not only deserve, but need the resources.

"I respect them greatly, because I know their jobs are not easy," he said. "They're putting their lives and safety in danger every single day."

Officials said property tax funds could increase the police and force and provide better pay. The money would also go toward fire protection services.

"I think it's time they get with the times," Meierstein said.

The bill would place Oklahoma with the rest of the states in the country that rely on property taxes to fund public safety.

If the bill passes, it would need to be approved by taxpayers in the county that puts the proposal on the ballot. The increase in property tax would be based on the value of your home, and would involve the levy of no more than 5 mills against a taxable property.

For example, an average Tulsa home property valued at $150,000 would see an increase of $82.50 in property tax per year.

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