Running for Pottawatomie County Commissioner Dist. 1 are incumbent Melissa Dennis and Bill Meek.

Running for Pottawatomie County Commissioner Dist. 1 are incumbent Melissa Dennis and Bill Meek.

Dennis has served as Commissioner for District 1 since 2011. Prior to her election as County Commissioner, Dennis was Pottawatomie County Road and Bridge Coordinator and an auditor in the office of the Oklahoma State Auditor.

Meek has been active since 2008 with Cargo Ranch youth program and currently serves as board president. He is also involved with Shawnee’s Neighboring 101 initiative and currently serves as a facilitator in the “Getting Ahead” program.

Both are Republicans; no Democrats filed, so the winner June 26 will claim the position.

The first in a series of three candidate forums was held Thursday at Shawnee City Hall, where candidates for the Pottawatomie County Commissioner Dist. 1 seat offered answers to public questions. Ronnye Perry Sharp served as moderator.

At the forum, candidates answered written questions submitted from the audience. Among them, responses were:

QUESTION: What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in this county?

MEEK: Pressing needs probably have to do with roads, I would think. I know there are a lot of roads that are not paved and a lot of roads that are needing some assistance to better handle the traffic. With county government, I think the needs are leadership and the commissioners with the other elected officials. I think there's a lot of need of coordination of effort so that our county government runs very smoothly. I know that there are a lot of tax dollars that this county gets and they must be used wisely, and I would hope to be part of making sure that happens. … Equally as much is the spending of tax dollars and watching how they are spent.

DENNIS: I agree. Roads is probably the biggest one. I have replaced all the bridges except one in District 1, so the bridge situation is pretty much taken care of. In Title 61, Section 103, any project over $50,000 has to be bid — that is the Oklahoma Competitive Bidding Act. So, as far as taking the taxpayers' dolalrs, sales tax is our biggest revenue source in District 1. You cannot go around asphalt any roads in Pottawatomie County District 1 without going out to an engineer. You will have to have that geo teched, engineered and that will cost you at least $600,000 — compared to chip-and-seal, which will cost you $45,000. I am doing 15 to 18 miles every year, and I am using your taxpayer dollars to the best benefit now.

QUESTION: Do you support TIFs (Tax Increment Financing)? Do you consider them a good economic development tool?

Dennis: I may get something thrown at me here. Yes and no. I support TIFs because they do give tax breaks, but they are taking away from schools. … It basically takes away from your schools. The City of Shawnee sets up a base, and they give tax credits. It freezes where those tax credits are, for a period of however long those bonds are — 20-25 year — whatever those ad valorems are, they go to pay for the improvements of the city, which is a great idea.

MEEK: I think it can be used as an economic development tool. I am more familiar with what goes on in Texas and I saw a lot of things down there that I didn't like. You saw there, people taking advantage with TIF programs and so, am I for them particularly, no, unless they are really well-defined. I don't really have more of an opinion than that, just from the standpoint of never dealt with one, only read about them.

QUESTION: How do you propose county commissioners and city commissioners work together effectively?

MEEK: In Oklahoma, communities of 5,000 or less are required to work with the county commissioners, or the county really is required to work with the cities or the towns over roads and infrastructure. A city like Shawnee, because their boundaries meet those of the county, you need to work together and maybe even share where you can. I know there are agreements that can be arrived at in doing so. I think it's very important that county commissioners work very closely with all towns, with all communities, with all city officials to make sure the county is looked at first, and not just that 'fiefdom' that some people look at. It's very important I think for the community as a whole to work together.

DENNIS: Actually, it's the law that the county has to take care of a city that has a population that has a population under 5,000. We have to take care of the streets in that town. Anything over 5,000, we can work with them with a mere local agreement. We work well with Shawnee. That is just a given. We have a wonderful relationship — just like with the TIF District. I sat on that committee when the City of Shawnee did that district. I think it's a good idea, and I actually put something in there for the courthouse. I said, if we're going to have to give up some of this ad valorem tax and schools are going to have to give up some of their money, I want something in there for the courthouse. And it's in there. We work very well together. There hasn't been a better relationship in the past.

QUESTION: Would you continue supporting the county sales tax for schools and the Family Justice Center?

MEEK: Oklahoma has, for many years now through the state legislature, taken money away from the schools. I support, 100 percent, any sales tax that goes to the schools systems. I feel like the infrastructure of the school systems has deteriorated in Oklahoma. I do not like that the schools don't get what they really need. We are so low in this nation about supporting our school systems. So, I'm thrilled that this county has a sales tax that goes to them, and the justice system, that really helps in so many ways with people who are in need. So, I think that if we can maintain this tax — I'm not advocating to increase it — but I am advocating for our state legislature to put the money back to the schools where it needs to be. We're still going to need this extra money to help us.

DENNIS: We stepped outside the box with superintendents Charlie Dickenson, Tom Wilsie and the Bethel superintendent. They stepped outside of the box and came to county commissioners, and we put that on the ballot. We didn't know how it would public would respond to it, and it passed overwhelmingly. I have watched the schools be able to put roofs on, buy a brand new gym floor … it can be used for anything except salaries. We didn't want to get in the grades business or the salaries business. That's not for us to determine. That is one thing I can say, that Pottawatomie County has done that no other county has done. We can hang our hat on that. It's different than our 1-cent sales tax. I would absolutely support it, and would support it again when it comes up.

QUESTION (directed to Meek, but Dennis allowed also to respond): In the newspaper, you stated that chip-and-seal was not sufficient for some roads. Can you tell us what it would cost to put in one mile of road, and where would you get the funding?

MEEK: Chip-and-seal runs around $40,000 per mile, I am told. To do a pavement on one mile, approximately $90,000 — that doesn't include all the engineering that probably went into it, for both. I know when you have heavy traffic, it's very important that you have a paved road, because chip-and-seal does not hold up well under heavy traffic. Where do you get the funds? The funds come from vote taxes, the one-cent sales tax, it comes from various fees that county commissioners have to maintain the roads. I can tell you that you need to look very closely when you look at a road — at what kind of traffic it gets — as to how you are going to pave that road. Although chip-and-seal is preferred over gravel, we all know that — I used to live on a gravel road; it wasn't fun — … I think it needs to be looked at from an engineering standpoint and from a use standpoint.

DENNIS: (Directed at Meek) I chipped-and-sealed your road. I disagree with one thing. It costs a lot more than $90,000 to asphalt a road. You can't put less that four to five inches on a road to make it work. And in Title 69, if you're going to spend more than $400,000 on a road project, it has to be engineered, and then you'll want to geo tech it, and then before it's said-and-done, you're spending more than $500,000. I know that because I just did it. We've just done it. So, I'm going to spend $40,000 to $45,000 on chip-and-seal and I'm going to save the taxpayers' dollars. Because I'm not going to do one mile of road and spend $500,000 — it's just not feasible, and that's what it's going to cost.