Council to reconsider cancer sales tax repeal

Apr. 20—A repeal of the one-eighth cent sales tax to expand and improve the McAlester Cancer Center is up for reconsideration by the city council.

City councilors repealed the one-eighth cent sales tax by a split 4-to-3 vote during the council's last regular meeting on April 9.

Voters in the city had passed the one-eighth cent sales tax with more than 55% of the vote during a 2018 election.

Following its repeal by the split city council vote, the only way the measure could come back before the council for reconsideration is if one of the four councilors who voted to repeal it on April 9 placed it back on a meeting agenda.

That occurred when new Ward 1 City Councilor Levi Gilmore placed the tax repeal action on the agenda for reconsideration.

As stated on the April 23 meeting agenda, the item is up for "Discussion and possible action to reconsider Ord. No. 2803, approved on April 9, 2024."

That's the ordinance that a majority of the city council voted to repeal by the April 9 split 4-to-3 vote, repealing the one-eighth cent sales tax to fund expansion of the McAlester Cancer Center.

Joining Ward 4 City Councilor Randy Roden during the April 9 vote in his motion to repeal the one-eighth cent sales tax to expand the McAlester Cancer Center were Gilmore; Ward 3 Councilor Chris Stone and Ward 5 Councilor Billy Jack Boatright.

Voting "no" on April 9 to oppose Roden's motion to repeal were McAlester Mayor John Browne, Ward 2 Councilor Justin Few and Ward 6 Councilor Kevin Beaty

"This is the absolute worse decision this council has ever made and we should be ashamed," Browne said in response to the repeal.

Browne later said he was hopeful some of the city councilors who voted to repeal the sales tax will reconsider their vote. Gilmore's item on the April 23 meeting agenda will give all the city councilors a chance to reconsider their votes on the April 9 repeal motion.

"I'm very pleased this is coming back up for a vote," Browne said after learning the item will be on the April 23 meeting agenda. "I think there's a very good chance the tax will be reinstated."

He called repealing of the measure on April 9 a misguided effort.

"Repealing this tax has the effect of removing $15 million worth of care for cancer patients," Browne said, referring to the $7.5 million the tax was projected to generate during the 15 years it was originally to stay in effect, along with a matching $7.5 million from the McAlester Regional Health Center.

Browne said the April 9 action to repeal the eighth-cent sales tax that was passed by a vote of the people goes against everything he believes about how government should work.

"Repealing the tax showed an obvious disregard for the will of the people," Browne said.

Roden made the April 9 motion to repeal the eighth-cent sales tax after McAlester City Attorney John T. Hammons concluded in a legal opinion that city councilors could repeal the sales tax approved by a vote of the people in 2018 to fund the McAlester Cancer Center expansion.

"The City Council may unilaterally revoke any tax ordinance previously approved by the people acting at election without the need to have such revocation submitted to the people for their ratification," Hammons stated in a legal opinion.

"Any tax ordinance revoked by the City Council may not be reinstated except upon resubmission of the reinstated tax ordinance to the people for their approval called for such purpose," said Hammons.

Since the measure did not come up for a vote as an emergency measure April 9, which if passed, would have caused it to take effect immediately, the repeal is currently set to go into effect 30 days after passage.

For now, the one-eighth cent sales tax is continuing to be collected and the proceeds are still being sent to MRHC for the Cancer Center expansion.

Hammons said the city of McAlester will notify the Oklahoma Tax Commission that the tax has been repealed.

"It will be collected until the Oklahoma Tax Commission tells the vendors to quit collecting," Hammons said following the April 9 meeting. Sources said that normally happens only once a quarter.

The McAlester Regional Health Center had nearly $3 million, or $2,988,9128.09 in the bank from the sales tax collections for the McAlester Cancer Treatment Center expansion, as of April 10, said MRHC spokesman Chris Plunkett.

During several previous council meetings, some local and area residents were critical of McAlester Regional Health Center CEO Shawn Howard's decision to transition the hospital from its longtime agreement of more than 20 years with the Oklahoma Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, which is physician-owned.

Currently, MRHC is transitioning into a new agreement with the Oklahoma University Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

Making the transition to join the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center gives the McAlester hospital the opportunity to align itself with the only National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center in the state.