By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Muskogee’s elected leaders climbed on board with the fire chief Tuesday after he laid out a plan to construct a new multi-agency training facility.
Chief Derek Tatum said a training tower at the Muskogee Fairgrounds that has been used since it was built in the early 1970s is structurally unsound and dangerous. Tatum said it is imperative a new structure be built in order to maintain a well-trained department and the city’s excellent fire protection classification.
Voters approved in 2009 a capital improvements package that included funding for a new multi-agency training facility from a temporary 0.18 percent sales tax. The ordinance, however, required the portion of the five-year sales tax used to construct the facility be matched dollar-for-dollar with private funds.
Efforts to secure those matching funds have proven futile, with requests submitted to the City of Muskogee Foundation and Assistance to Firefighters Grants being rejected. Tatum asked city councilors Tuesday during a Finance Committee meeting to amend the ordinance authorizing the 2009 capital improvements sales tax so he can move forward with construction.
“I am asking the City Council to release me from that obligation so we can proceed with the construction of a new training tower,” Tatum said about the requirement to secure matching funds. “The tower we have has been condemned — the I-beams are deteriorated to the point it is unsafe to use.”
Deputy Mayor David Jones questioned the legality of amending an ordinance that required voters’ approval. He was assured by the city’s legal department the needed amendment was authorized by provisions of the ordinance on grounds of practicality.
Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said amending the ordinance to exclude the matching funds provision will free up funds that have been collected but cannot be used. The release of those funds would allow Tatum to conduct the engineering needed before construction, which could facilitate future efforts to secure matching dollars.
Tatum said a new training facility could include burn rooms in which firefighters could battle live fires. Other confined spaces inside any new facility could be used for police training, and Oklahoma State University’s fire service training program could use the facility to train firefighters from other departments.
“That is something I have been trying to sell,” Tatum said about his efforts to secure matching funds. “All of these different types of training at this facility could draw people into Muskogee for a day or two.”
With final approval expected Monday when city councilors meet for their regular meeting, the city’s legal staff will begin drafting an amended ordinance that would allow Tatum to move forward with his revised plans.
If the amended ordinance wins City Council approval, revenue from the 0.18 percent sales tax, which expires Sept. 30, 2014, could be tapped to build the training tower. Once all the procedural issues have been resolved, Tatum said construction of the new training facility could begin late next year.
Tatum said he plans to form a committee to look at what kind of facility should be built and what types of training props should be incorporated in the design.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.