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Duncan voters to decide fate of 1 percent sales tax

DUNCAN  Voters will decide on an additional 1 percent sales tax on Feb. 13 to be used specifically for the city's police and fire departments.

The tax would be permanent and, according to the proposition on the ballot, expenditures of the tax will be for the limited purpose of public safety expenditures, and all revenues from the tax are to be deposited into into a special fund used solely for that purpose. 

The total sales tax rate in Duncan is now 8.7 percent  4 percent for the state, 3.5 percent for the city and 0.7 percent for the county.

Examples of expenditures include hiring, retention and payment of wages, salaries and benefits of police and fire department personnel; payment for the training and education of police and fire department personnel; construction or repair of buildings for police and fire, and equipment for police and fire. 

Master Officer Ryan Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Duncan, said the tax is something that has been in the discussion phase for years.

"For the last seven years we haven't even been at full staff," Atkinson said. "Training budgets have been reduced for the last eight years. About three years ago, we started a discussion with the city. This wasn't an overnight deal. There were several things that had to be ironed out and discussed in order to find the best solutions."

He said the proposition on the ballot a group effort of the police union, firefighters union and city administrators.

"If passed, the plan is to hire three new full-time police officers, the equipment for those police officers, vehicles and a police retention program; five additional full-time firefighters; a new up-to-date fire station; as well as a firefighter retention program," Atkinson said.

"The proposition states the money collected on this one percent sales tax will be deposited into a separate account used exclusively for police and fire," he said. "That's the day-to-day operations. It can be used for equipment and buildings, just as long as it's used for public safety. The proposition itself protects those rights."

In Atkinson's opinion, the greatest need now is for a new fire station. He said firefighters are operating out of a mobile home at Fire Station 3 at U.S. 81 and Spruce Avenue.

The mobile home was meant to be a temporary solution.

"That's been there for three years," Atkinson said. "That was put there after a flood ... It's in a floodplain. The bays are too small to even accommodate newer trucks."

"That is the furthest north fire station we have," Atkinson said, and there are several large neighborhoods and businesses that could be better served.

Recruitment, training, retention

The tax also will be to support recruitment, training and retention of police officers. Hiring three officers may not seem like a lot, but it's huge for the police department now, according to Atkinson.

"It's not uncommon for us to operate with three patrolmen per shift and a supervisor," Atkinson said. "Sometimes we have four, but still, four is dangerous."

Atkinson said last year's shootout between Chickasha police and a gunman is an example of the need for more officers. Several police officers were injured while attempting to serve a warrant.

The Lawton Constitution

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