A series of public forums this month hopes to have answered questions about a proposed tax increase for some Carter County residents. If passed, a new ambulance district would be created to manage the revenue from a 3-mil ad-valorem tax imposed on property owners in five school districts.
The push for support is coming from the Citizen Advisers for Regional EMS (CARE), a group of area residents and employees of Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service (SOAS). The Carter County Commission approved the ballot initiative last month that will be decided by voters during a special election on Jan. 14, 2020.
About 20 people were at the Ardmore Public Library on Thursday evening and heard from a panel made up of SOAS staff and CARE members. Panel member Cody Noble said after the Thursday forum that similar meetings have been held recently in Springer and Lone Grove.
“We looked at other organizations across the state and that seems to be what everybody is going with,” Noble said, adding a 3-mil ad-valorem tax is the maximum for ambulance service under state law. He said the committee also considered other revenue sources, like sales taxes or utility assessments, but decided on property taxes for their stability.
“Of course sales tax can be up and down, where a property tax can be a more stable approach to this so it would greatly help with budgeting,” he said.
The proposed tax increase would only affect property owners within Ardmore, Dickson, Lone Grove, Plainview, and Springer school districts. According to CARE, property owners in Healdton, Ringling, Wilson, Zaneis, and Fox/Graham have been paying a similar tax since 1999 and would not be impacted by the proposed 3-mil increase.
If approved by voters, the proposal would create a 522 ambulance district that includes a board to manage the revenue and oversee the service. While SOAS, incorporated in 1961, would have to compete to be the ambulance service provider for the area, SOAS executive director Bob Hargis said that cost would not be the only thing considered.
“The regulation doesn’t actually require competitive bids, it requires that the board be responsible and select a quality service provider,” Hargis said.
If the proposal is rejected, Hargis said ambulance service would be severely stressed within two years. “With probably little to no reserves,” he said.
The deadline for voter registration is Dec. 20.