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Proposed county sales tax would help out fire departments

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COMANCHE COUNTY, Okla._Comanche County officials have a week left to convince residents to vote in favor of their proposed sales tax.

The money would go toward the rising costs of operating the county jail amongst other uses. The proposal would extend a current one-eighth cent tax and add another one-eighth to it. The sales tax doesn't just fund the jail, it's also crucial to keeping the 19 volunteer fire departments in the county running.

“It's a great asset but without it, it's going to greatly effect our equipment and upgrading equipment and what we do in the future," said Cache Fire Chief Dale Winham.

Being a fire chief, Winham says he has to see things in dollar bills. A response to a wildfire can lead to dents in the truck and that's money out of their budget and those costs can add up. It's definitely not just the small things either, Rescue 1 is their most used vehicle and Winham says without the sales tax they wouldn't have it.

“This truck was pretty much 99% paid for by tax money," explained Chief Winham.

More than a year ago, the county added a new fire department which meant the existing tax revenue had another department to help fund. This tax not only helps offset the addition of the department but gives a little more to all the other departments.

The Cache Fire Department is one of the larger departments in the county, and so Winham says a loss in the tax could have a bigger impact on those smaller departments just starting up.

"Building that department is just a total nightmare,” Said Chief Winham. “Even the cost of one piece of fire equipment you're looking at $200,000 plus. You got to buy air packs, you got to buy bunkers, radios…it goes on and on and on. It would be quite a challenge to start a new department with the budget we have and try to build it without that extra county tax money coming in."

County Commissioner Gail Turner says he can see that some people may have confused the county sales tax with the Lawton proposed Capitol Improvement Plan, but they're not the same and he says they are also set up differently.

"On the county sales tax, everything is specifically earmarked, whether it goes to the fire department, or whether it goes to the capital improvements, or the sheriff's office, or the fairgrounds or to the jail. Every dollar is exactly earmarked and will be used that way," said Turner.

Turner says if you have any questions about the tax, or if you want to see firsthand of some its benefits, there will be an open house at the Eastern County District Barn in Elgin on Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

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