Property tax increase proposal on Tuesday ballot for Tulsa County voters

Monday, February 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Tulsa County voters have an appointment at the polls again, this time to decide something that wasn't on anyone's radar screen just five months ago.

The Tulsa City-County Health Department wants a property tax hike of more than $2-million, almost half of that would go towards preparing for bioterrorism. The rest would pay for mosquito control and school anti-violence programs.

News on Six reporter Tami Marler says the health department is asking for help on the front line of a new kind of war.

These people are waiting for immunizations, one of the services offered by the Tulsa Health Department. Chances are they won't be exposed to any of the diseases they're guarding against. If they are, they'll be prepared. September 11th and the days that followed brought a whole new threat to public health, the threat of bio-terrorism.

First responders ran to dozens of anthrax false alarms, in other parts of the country, it was all too real. "Times have changed; our lives have changed. They're never going to go back to where they were before. Uh we're living in a different age that wars are going to be fought differently as we have seen; and it's not ever going to go away again." Janice Sheehan says the health department responded by adding two epidemiologists and an infectious disease nurse.

The anthrax scares had hundreds of people calling for answers - and comfort. "This certainly wasn't budgeted for, but uh no one knew this was going to happen and when it did happen, we saw how lacking we were." That's why the health department is asking for $900,000, to pay for a bio-terrorism security consultant, an infectious disease physician, an environmental HAZMAT specialist, and a symptom surveillance system. "All of the things that are potential indicators of bioterrorist agents that could have been released, so that when we see something unusual occur, we know that if something's amiss, we can look into that. Just like with the anthrax you know. Somebody was really on the ball there, and this was out of the norm. And this is what surveillance will do for us."

The health department has already hired three experts to deal with the threat of bio-terrorism. They say if this tax doesn't pass, they'll be forced to make cuts.

The last property tax hike for the health department was 25 years ago. The cost for the average property owner. For every $50,000 of property, you'll pay about a cent a day.