Moore residents will decide Nov. 12 if they want to fund water system improvements with a one-eighth cent sales tax.
If the sales tax measure passes, the money will go towards much-needed improvements in the city's water infrastructure, said Brooks Mitchell, Moore city manager. The city has identified two major projects that the city needs improved: replacing old water lines and refurbishing nine of the city's water wells.
Mitchell said the sales tax, if passed, would replace a one-eighth percent county sales tax set to expire. Cleveland County has a one-quarter percent sales tax that will end March 2020 and is asking county residents to pass a one-eighth percent tax during the Nov. 12 election.
The current countywide sales tax was implemented in 2009 to help pay off the county's jail bonds. The tax was set to remain in effect until the bonds were fully paid off, but the county is ahead on scheduled on payments. The county is seeking the one-eighth percent sales tax to help fund the continued operation and maintenance of the F. Dewayne Beggs Detention Center, provide upgrades to the Cleveland County Regional Detention Center and its juvenile programs, better equip rural fire districts and increase county deputy pay.
Mitchell noted the measures are separate, and Moore residents can vote to approve or disapprove one or both measures. He said the county looking to decrease its tax rate influenced Moore's decision to create a ballot measure.
"This is an opportunity for us to make investments in our water system infrastructure and be able to pay exactly the same sales tax rate we are paying today if both measures are passed," he said. "This allows our citizens to be able to invest in our water system infrastructure, and the current sales tax rate won't increase."
Currently, 23% of the water lines in Moore are 45 years or older, and those lines have been responsible for 82% of all water line breaks since 2016. Part of the revenue from the sales tax would go towards systematically replacing the older water lines and investing in technology to determine which of the water lines might have problems in the future.
Part of the revenue would go towards refurbishing nine of the city's water wells, which have been offline since 2000. The wells went offline after the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the level of arsenic allowed in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. According to Robert Pistole, project manager for Moore, tests in each of the nine offline water wells in 2000 measured about 40 parts per billion.
Pistole said the city decided to stop using those wells and instead buy more of their water from Oklahoma City.
"It didn't benefit the tax-paying citizens of Moore to treat the arsenic in the wells when we could just purchase the water from Oklahoma City," Pistole said. "The technology to lower arsenic levels was much more expensive then, and the rates to buy water from Oklahoma City were lower."
Moore has received about 60% of its water from Oklahoma City over the past several years while the city has provided the other 40%. Pistole noted, however, that the Oklahoma City rates have increased and will continue to increase by about 7% in the next five years, while the technology to lower arsenic levels in water has decreased since 2000.
Lowering the arsenic levels in the nine offline wells would help the city reach its goal of generating 60% of its water supply, Pistole said.
Mitchell said reactivating these nine water wells would save the city about $700,000 per year, and could also work towards stabilizing the rates that Moore residents pay for their water.
"If this measure passes, it will go a long way towards solving our short term and long term water problems," Mitchell said. "It's about trying to be cost effective now, and this is a great opportunity to do that. It's one of those things where we can spend a dollar now or $5 later in the future. I think most people would prefer to spend the dollar now."
Along with these two projects, part of the revenue would also be allocated towards other water infrastructure projects that were identified following the 2016 Moore Master Drainage Plan. These projects would include smaller drainage issues across the city.
Mitchell said the cost of the sales tax on the average Moore household, which is estimated to be $61,000, would be about $12.25 per year.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Wednesday. Early voting is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov 7-8. Election day is Nov. 12. For more information on the ballot measures, visit www.cityofmoore.com.