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OKMULGEE residents to consider proposal to pay for sewer system improvements

OKMULGEE, Okla. (AP) _ Okmulgee residents will consider a sales tax proposal this week that would pay for improving a sewer system the Environmental Protection Agency has criticized for years.

The measure is one of the elections being held Tuesday. Residents in Creek and Osage counties also will go to the polls, which open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

In Okmulgee, residents will vote on a half-cent sales tax increase that would raise $26 million. The cost to improve the sewer system has been estimated at about $16 million.

``The issue is not whether we're going to be doing the repairs,'' Okmulgee City Manager Beverly Rodgers said. ``It's really going to be, how are we going to pay them off.''

The EPA has fined Okmulgee more than $130,000 during the past six years for violations at its facility, an EPA spokeswoman said. The penalties have centered on effluent violations, meaning the plant was breaking limits set by its discharge permit.

The plant was blamed last September for releasing partially treated sewage into the Deep Fork of the Canadian River near Okmulgee, said Michael Dean, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The oxygen-depleting sewage reached seven miles downstream and killed thousands of fish and other aquatic life before dissipating, Dean said.

Okmulgee city leaders would like to spend $8.3 million of the proposition for repairs to the wastewater treatment facility and $7.6 million for a collections system, Rodgers said.

If the sales tax issue doesn't pass, city officials plan to pay for the upgrades by adding a $21.80 per month surcharge to the water-sewer bill, the city manager said. The proposed utility increase would last for 20 years.

``It's really important for the majority of the citizens,'' Rodgers said. ``With a minimum bill right around $7, you can see what kind of a hit that would be for the majority of our citizens.''

Other purchases would call for about $1.5 million to $2 million for a new fire truck, rebuilding the eastside fire station and remodeling or building a new central fire station, the city manager said.

A total of $200,000 would go toward the construction of a new nutritional center for senior citizens, $500,000 would be allotted for matching funds for a library expansion and $400,000 for matching funds for a YMCA-partnered public swimming pool, Rodgers said.

If the measure is approved, city officials would like to borrow about $3 million under the $26 million allowed in the proposition's language, she said.

In other elections, Henryetta residents again will consider candidates for the Ward 3 council seat. In the April 3 race for the seat, incumbent Jim Xezenatos unofficially defeated Trygve Jorgensen 325-315. Dusty Peavler finished third with 209 votes.

Jorgensen, however, filed a petition alleging voting irregularities, claiming 15 people who voted at one precinct were ineligible because they resided outside the city limits.

A judge determined that 12 votes were improperly cast by nonresidents of Henryetta, and that the number of disputed votes exceeds the margin of victory.

In Creek County, Drumright voters will decide whether to grant a 20-year extension for a half-penny sales tax increase to help fund $1.2 million in improvements to Drumright Memorial Hospital.

Three propositions are on the ballot in Pawhuska in Osage County, including one on whether to grant a 25-year franchise to Oklahoma Natural Gas.
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