The Pryor Times

April 23, 2013

Fire tax debate gets heated

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

— The Mayes County Commissioners received a letter from the town of Langley's attorney which they reviewed at the meeting Monday.

“They are demanding the redistribution of this money, saying we don't have the authority to do what we've done,” said Commissioner Alva Martin.

The letter, signed by Jones & Gardner, Langley attorneys, outlined their position.

“Please be further advised that I have been informed by my client that Mayes County may not be equally dividing the proceeds of the 0.25 percent sales tax which initiated in Jan. 1, 2003, for the support of the Mayes County Fire Departments. Please consider this letter as formal demand that the proceeds of the sales tax be reallocated to provide for an equal distribution of all sums among the various fire departments as provided by the sales tax county question and that payment be made to the town of Langley for any past sales tax that were not so properly allocated,” the letter said.

The letter concluded by saying that Jones & Gardner is “authorized to initiate legal action against the Board of County Commissioners and the Mayes County Treasurer if this request is not met.”

“I'm of the opinion that they probably need to go ahead and sue. If we are in the wrong on this, then we were already wrong when we divided among the 13 departments instead of the originally stated 14,” said Martin. “These guys need money to operate, I understand that. But 10 years ago when this all started they were getting $3,000 a month, now they are up to $6,000.”

Martin said the larger fire departments need more money than the smaller departments as they are the ones wearing out equipment to assist the smaller departments.

“There has been a gross abuse of funds. One has embezzled something like $26,000. One is sitting over here with two fire departments and a meeting room and they only cover a six-square-mile area. Strang is driving around with an unmarked chief's vehicle. Disney wants an addition to their department because they only have eight inches of clearance to back their truck out while Pryor is getting by with much tighter quarters,” said Martin.

“I'm of the opinion they need to sue,” said Martin. “We're under four lawsuits already. But ya know what, we've got an under-funded jail and a building at the fairgrounds with mold. So I believe they should just sue, we'll take it to a vote of the people and maybe divide our money to either the jail or the fair building so people can see an actual realization of their tax funds.”

“One of these days ya'll will need these departments’ help and they won't be there,” said Commissioner Ryan Ball.

“Well, I don't think it's our job to sit back and let them waste money,” said Martin.

“But it's not even county money,” said Ball.

“If they'd all go to Title 19 departments and audit themselves and prove that they are clean, I'd be willing to allot them more money,” said Commissioner Darrel Yoder.

“A few bad apples have really made this decision,” said Martin. “Now, they are being held accountable and have to make runs to get their money.”

“For the life of me I can't understand why, if a department is clean, they won't do an audit to prove it,” said Yoder. “We aren't benefitting one iota from this. We're just protecting the people's money.”

“We shouldn't have to get an attorney to get records, they shouldn't be burned in a parking lot,” said Martin. “Firefighters are supposed to be the good guys.”

“If I'm paying $50 a year for fire service and they do an ATM withdrawal and keep no records then they are taking my money,” said Mayes County Treasurer, Demecia Franklin. “If we did that, we would go to jail. So how can we let them take our money like that? Everyone should be held accountable.”

“I think our funds give them the ability to abuse their funds,” said Martin. “I called a couple of departments about a year ago and they kind of had a 'go to hell' attitude.

“They save lives, I support them but we can't let them continue like this without stepping up to monitor them,” said Martin.