April 24, 2013

Fairgrounds tax faces opposition

The Express-Star

TUTTLE — Members of the Chickasha Fairgrounds Board say they have received mostly positive reactions to the proposed continuance of the ¼ cent sales tax used to fund improvements to the facility but encourage people to vote as opposition still exists.

Board members spoke to gathered citizens Monday evening at the Fairgrounds about how money from the tax, which has been in place since 1999 and expires next year, would be used to fund improvements in an effort to increase activity and revenue for Grady County. It was the first of three meetings that will be held on the matter before the tax goes up for a vote on May 14.

“Our polling has about 70 percent to 75 percent in favor of continuing the tax,” Steve Standridge, Fairgrounds Board president, said. “There is a small minority that just does not like taxes. And, there are areas where people aren’t for it because they don’t feel that they are part of the county.”

For this reason, those in favor of continuing the tax should make it out to the polls, Board Vice President Jerry Arthur said.

“Please don’t be apathetic about the vote,” Arthur said. “Don’t think it’s just going to pass.”

Should the tax continue, the Fairgrounds Board has pledged to use it to fund a renovation of the outdoor arena that would seat over 2,000 spectators with the use of temporary bleachers and a permanent 1,400-seat covered stand. Rodeos, motocross, tractor pulls and other outdoor events would be hosted in the 150 foot by 330 foot outdoor venue. The money would also fund a brand new 102,000 square foot climate-controlled indoor arena designed to host cattle and horse shows, gun shows, and other multi-day events.

Standridge said much of the opposition could come from areas in the north of the county, such as Tuttle and Minco. Meetings similar to the one held Monday evening at the Fairgrounds will be held at the Tuttle City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on May 7 and at the Minco Senior Citizens Center at 6:30 p.m. on May 9, where the Fairground Board might face a tougher crowd.

“I’m not supportive of it and a lot of people up here are not for it,” Windle Hardy, Grady County Commissioner 1 whose constituency sits in the north of the county, said. “It doesn’t do anything for the north of Grady County, and I don’t think they’ll see even a tenth of it.”

Funding the Fairgrounds is the responsibility of the City of Chickasha, not the county, Hardy said. He also said he understands that it will bring in more sales tax revenue but that will not make its way to the entire Grady County.

“I understand Chickasha wants it, but it doesn’t benefit people in the north,” he said. “The city is not putting anything into it, and that’s my biggest problem.”

Former Fairgrounds Board member Loren Heavin, who resides in Verden, was on the board that saw funding from the ¼ cent sales tax in 1999 used to renovate the existing facility. He, his children, and his grandchildren were involved in stock shows, and he believes the county as a whole will benefit from more improvements.

“You leave here with a group of kids, they’ll stop in Verden if they go west, if they go north they’ll stop in Tuttle or Minco, and if they go south they’ll stop in Rush Springs on their way out of here,” Verden said.

State Sen. Ron Justice, whose District 23 encompasses Grady County, said he is in favor of the move that, he believes, lines the county up with the state’s main economic drivers.

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit with the Secretary of Agriculture and people with the tourism department, and the thing they emphasize is how important tourism dollars are,” Justice said. “Tourism is the third economic driver of our state. There’s also agriculture and oil and gas. This puts us in line with the three economic drivers and that’s why its important.”