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Comanche County looking to raise sales tax

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COMANCHE COUNTY, Okla._The rising cost of running the Comanche County Detention Center has county officials wanting to add to an already existing tax.

When the detention center was built the plan was to rent out multiple beds to the Department of Corrections and house some of their inmates. But an increase in local inmates has cut those rentals and forced the detention center to look at other funding options.

We have an already existing jail tax that is an eighth of a cent. The County Commissioners want to add another eighth of a cent to that tax to offset the cost they lose from the rentals. Commissioners want to combine those taxes with the already existing eighth of a cent county tax that benefits the county. Essentially the jail tax would double to being a quarter of a cent and would be combined with an eight of a cent county tax, 3/8 of a cent total in tax versus 1/4of a cent.

"It's the responsibility of the county to operate the county jail, and we either do it by renting beds out to somebody else, or we have to come up with the revenue here,"said Commissioner Don Hawthorne, District 3.

At last check, the detention center was housing 300 inmates, the capacity is 283. The cost per inmate is close to $33.00, that's $7.00 more than when the jail opened and food costs have gone up 60%. County Commissioners believe the extra eighth of a cent will offset those cost and then some.

"This will allow us to be able to take away the DOC contract to free up more beds, and lower operation cost of the facility," said Commissioner Gail Turner, District 1.

The extra eighth isn't the only change. If passed, the county sales tax would be distributed differently than it is now. The tax now gives 54% to economic development, which helped bring in Goodyear and BAE in Elgin, but now will only get 48% with the other 6% going to other areas. Turner says they're prepared to make that cut.

"They've built up a pot and so I don't think it will affect them majorly, and I think the small increases will make a big benefit to the places we've put it at," said Turner.

Those increases are an additional 2% to the fair grounds. An extra 2% more would go to fire departments because of the addition of a new department. Capitol improvements and the sheriff's department would both receive a 1% increase. Commissioner Johnny Owens, who over sees the aging courthouse, says they are trying to make repairs instead of just putting on band aids, and this will help accomplish that.

"Preventive maintenance is the most important thing you can do to a facility this size, and when something is starting to wear out you need to replace it ahead of time," said Commissioner Johnny Owens, District 2.

The tax will be up to vote on June 24 and if passed will go into effect January 1, 2015.

The proposal would raise Comanche County's sales tax by an eighth of a cent and is subject to a year end audit to ensure the money is spent for its intended purposes.

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