LETTER TO THE ALL ABOUT HENNESSEY EDITOR
Rural Legacy Programs boost small rural towns
Prepared by Richard W. Simunek, Preservationist and Hennessey Town Council Trustee
Hennessey June sales tax collection per citizen was only 58% of Kingfisher per citizen.
Sales tax collection can fluctuate wildly from month to month and from year to year but the long-term trend for Hennessey sales tax collection is clear. Hennessey lags badly behind larger communities like Kingfisher in having sufficient funds for town services and amenities.
Kingfisher, with a population of 4,876 collected $518,512 in June sales taxes, or $106 per Kingfisher citizen. Hennessey, with a population of 2,212, collected $134,570 in sales taxes, or $61 per Hennessey citizen.
Hennessey June sales tax collection was $45 less per citizen as compared to Kingfisher. If Hennessey collected $106 sales taxes per citizen like Kingfisher, Hennessey would have collected $100,000 more in sales taxes in June and $1.2 million more for the year.
June sales data are taken from the June 23 Kingfisher Times and Free Press newspaper.
Oklahoma is the only state in the United States that does not allow towns and cities to annually collect property taxes to support community functions as police, water, sewer, parks, and streets. All Oklahoma towns and cities are thus forced to rely heavily on sales taxes to fund their government operations. The heavy reliance on primarily sales taxes limits budgets and therefore the capabilities to provide minimal services and amenities.
For example, the Hennessey Town Council was forced to cut the street budget by one-half in order to provide ambulance services. The Hennessey United Committee proposed and offered partial funding for restrooms at Memorial Park but the town did not have sufficient funds to complete the project. The recent rains have caused further damage to the pond at Bull Foot Park and initial repair costs there will now increase substantially. The swings are again in disrepair at Pat Hennessey Park, there is no basketball goal for the kids, and the memorial tower is in danger of collapse.
In addition, sales tax collections can fluctuate widely and unexpectedly, placing even more strain on small town budgets like Hennessey. Statements have been made that the bonds passed to build the Water Park should be paid off earlier than 15 years due to increased sales tax collections. However, in a petroleum based economy as is Hennessey, predicting increases in sales tax collections is a very iffy and uncertain situation. For example, June 2019 Hennessey sales tax collection declined 12% from June 2018.
If Iran complies with Western demands for cooperation, Iran oil will flood the market and the price of oil will undoubtedly drop along with Hennessey sales tax collections.
How heavily does Hennessey rely on sales tax collections? Sales taxes provide about two-thirds of Hennessey town revenues. The average for all Oklahoma towns and cities is 65% based on data compiled by the Oklahoma Municipal League.
In response to restrictive budgets, many rural communities and rural counties participate in Community Foundation Programs, often referred to as Legacy programs. Over forty rural counties participate with the Oklahoma Community Foundation of Oklahoma headquartered in Oklahoma City.
The Community Foundation of Oklahoma is specifically targeted for rural towns and rural counties. In addition, about fifteen rural northwest counties participate with the Cherokee Strip Community Foundation located in Enid. So there are about 55 rural counties participating in Community Legacy Fund programs.
However, even large cities like Oklahoma City have a Community Foundation Program. Oklahoma City’s community foundation program is over fifty years old.
The concept of a Community Foundation is simple. Citizens wishing to support their local community make a tax-deductible donation for a community purpose selected by the donor. In addition, community supporters many times provide for the community with donations specified in their wills and trusts. The gift might be for immediate use or the gift may be established as an endowment with the annual income perpetually supporting the purpose specified by the donor.
The goal is to maintain and/or provide amenities not otherwise attainable by the restrictive budgets imposed on small rural towns. Amenities could be parks, library, or water park. Donations for educational goals like student scholarships and teacher enhancement are quite popular.
In a Legacy program, donors are recognized with donor boards and in web sites. The Kingfisher County Library has a very nice donor board in their lobby entrance as does the Cherokee Strip Museum in Enid. Both Bass Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital in Enid have donor boards in their entrance lobbies.
Hennessey now joins with the many, many rural towns and rural counties which have already established Community Foundation programs by launching of the Hennessey Legacy Fund.
As a preservationist and Town Council Trustee, I will be delighted to meet with any group or individual one-on-one to explain and discuss the Hennessey Legacy Fund. I can be contacted at 202-744-1019 or RichardSimunek@gmail.com. My hearing is poor so I prefer texts or emails. As a member of the Hennessey Town Council, I will continue to support this most worthwhile program.