Muskogee County commissioners have two weeks to decide how they will respond to calls for a special election, asking voters to support a $20 million general obligation limited tax bond package.

The bonds would provide funds for economic and community development efforts. Muskogee County Economic Authority, a public trust created by commissioners in November, hatched the idea earlier this year, and Muskogee City-County Port Authority adopted a supporting resolution on Jan. 26.

Both resolutions urge commissioners to authorize a May 11 special election. Muskogee County Election Board Secretary Kelly Beach said a resolution would have to be adopted by commissioners and filed with his office by March 11, the deadline for filing propositions for a May 11 special election. 

Marie Synar, industrial development director at the Port of Muskogee, said her office is working with "a number of prospects that are waiting for this bond money to become available.” Those prospects, she said, would be evaluated by MCEA members, who would assess the local economic impact of any project proposed, and county commissioners would grant final approval before a project is funded by bond proceeds. 

"This vote is not expected to result in any property tax levies, so long as the revenues ... available from each project satisfy the debt service," Synar said. "It would be expected that projects receiving these funds demonstrate their ability for repayment."

Synar said should a beneficiary default for any reason, assets pledged as collateral to secure any mortgage "should be sufficient to cover the debt service." If those measures are put in place, she said "no increases in property taxes are expected."

"The recruitment of new industry to rural America is more difficult than ever," Synar said during a public hearing convened this week by commissioners. "Due to the level of competition for projects, having the ability to issue long-term, fixed-rate financing ... could make the difference in a company's decision to locate or expand in Muskogee County."

Synar said her office "participated in numerous meetings" during the past month with those who are interested in the program being proposed and the special election. She said while there were some questions, the feedback generated by those meetings was "very positive."

Stakeholders, she said, expressed curiosity about how the amount of the $20 million bond package was determined. They also asked about program eligibility and application requirements.

"The last two bond authorizations I mentioned were in 1998 for $7 million and in 2001 for $8 million — that's two bond elections within a three-year period," Synar said, noting the costs associated with each election. "With the demand we're seeing right now for this program, and loan amounts up to $5 million, the Muskogee County Economic Authority felt $20 million would be appropriate." 

The program would be open to all businesses as long as proceeds are available from the $20 million bond package should it be presented to voters and it is approved. Applications would be processed by MCEA, the public trust created by the county.

District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke, who also serves as MCEA chairman, said applicants would be vetted thoroughly before a recommendation is forwarded to Muskogee County Board of Commissioners. The board, he said, would have final authority for any decision made. 

Muskogee County Assessor Ron Dean said the program being proposed certainly "is something to be considered ahead of a possible vote in May." He said it is important for voters to have a "full understanding of exactly what is proposed ... when they step into that booth to vote" should the measure be placed on a ballot.

MCEA Vice Chairman Tim Thompson, who works for OG&E as its community affairs manager, said he believes the proposed bond program would spur economic growth.

"I think this is going to be something that we can use," Thompson said, noting the slight differences that end up being determining factors in the site-selection process. "It's going to help us out whenever we're in competition with other cities our size in the state and surrounding areas."

Port Director Scott Robinson told Muskogee City-County Port Authority members their efforts would be instrumental in the campaign to push the measure across the finish line. 

"We will need to design a campaign and fund that campaign," Robinson said. "It'll take an educational campaign. And we don't want to sell that short."

Commissioners could consider a resolution authorizing the special election as early as Monday. 

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