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Excise board meets with county commissioners to discuss changes to 2015 fiscal budget

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By Daniel Lapham,

The Canadian County Excise Board met with county commissioners, officers and department heads last week to discuss and clarify proposed changes to the 2015 fiscal year budget.

The meeting was requested to ensure everyone was on the same page before the official budget is presented for approval at the Sept. 23 excise board meeting.

Concerns from one department head about sheriff’s deputies being allowed to drive patrol cars home and for personal use were raised. Court Clerk Marie Ramsey-Hirst said the use of tax dollars to purchase gas, insurance and provide maintenance on patrol cars for personal use bothers her.

Part of the requested increase from Sheriff Randall Edwards is an additional $110,000 to cover increased fuel costs. Edwards defended his decision to encourage deputies to use their cars for personal use. He said studies show that continuous visible presence of law enforcement in communities lowers crime.

“We are the 24th safest out of 77 counties in the state and we are the fourth largest,” Edwards said. “It’s about getting the biggest bang for the buck.”

This was the second time concerns were raised regarding the sheriff’s department budget. A heated exchange took place at an Aug. 25 meeting between District 2 Commissioner David Anderson and Edwards.

Anderson had questioned the sheriff on how much of the county’s general fund is being spent to operate the sheriff’s office. Edwards took exception to the argument.

Thursday’s special meeting was requested by the excise board in order to hear from all parties.

County Clerk Shelley Dickerson presented the adjustments to the excise board and commissioners. The proposed budget contained adjustments that would balance the budget, leaving a positive balance of $7,509. The changes would provide for a 3 percent raise to all county employees who receive their check from the general fund, and would cut $57,681 out of the sheriff’s budget and $16,929 out of the assessor’s budget. The proposed changes also would provide for a $1,200 raise for the fair board secretary as well as a payment to the Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority, known as COWRA, and to the Canadian County Historical Museum for insurance.

The majority of the cuts to county departments would help provide for the cost of living raise for 334 county employees, and would cost $256,383.

Officials from two other departments offered areas they were willing to cut. The excise board recommended the additional funds should be placed into the county’s reserves, bumping the appropriated 8 percent reserves to a possible 8 1/2 percent surplus.

Anderson and District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart suggested the one-time fee paid to COWRA should be taken out of the use-tax fund.

“We have the funds in there and we have set those funds aside for one-time expenses,” Stewart said. “This would definitely fit.”

In addition to the COWRA payment, Dickerson said Wanda Armold, Election Board secretary, recently told her the department  would not need $12,500 that had been budgeted for special elections. A spokesman from the Gary E. Miller Children’s Justice Center said the center would pay $30,000 into the general fund to cover the center’s portion of an audit completed earlier this year.

“I know you are working on this, but I would really like to see you work on your reserves,” Linda Ramsey, excise board chair, told the commissioners. “Take the additional funds and put them into the reserve fund.”

Commissioners agree to temporary fix pending upcoming changes

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By Daniel Lapham,

Canadian County commissioners sparred Monday morning over  how to fill a first deputy vacancy left by the recent retirement of Theresa Ramsey.

District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson presented paperwork and a proposal to his fellow commissioners asking them to consider appointing Audre Knott, second deputy, to the vacant position and allow him to hire someone new for the second deputy position.

“I want to get things fixed before the end of my trip here,” Carson said. Carson is stepping down from the commissioner position following the November general election.

“Audre is already doing the job for first and second deputy positions and she is still being paid a salary for the second deputy position,” Carson said. “The salary for both positions is already budgeted through the end of the year, so I would like to see her compensated.”

David Anderson, District 2 commissioner, disagreed that filling the position now is the right approach. Because Carson is leaving his seat as chair of the commission in 90 days, Anderson said it would be in the best interest of the incoming commissioner to have a say in the selection of the commissioner’s first deputy position.

Carson’s seat will be taken by either Marc Hader or Justin Atkinson, who will face off in November.

“Before we go ahead and hire someone for this position permanently, I would like to see what some of the larger counties in the state are doing,” said Jack Stewart, District 3 commissioner. “I would like to see what responsibilities they are giving to their first deputies and how that fits with what we are doing and where we are heading down the road. I think as one of the fastest growing counties in the state, we are going to be making some changes.”

In the past Carson said he would have just made the appointment and not consulted the other commissioners.

“I am reaching out here in hopes you will see it my way,” Carson said.

Anderson said he was not comfortable making a permanent hire at this time.

“I am not convinced that Audre is the best qualified person for the job,” he said.

Stewart suggested a temporary fix as a compromise.

“I would like to see us go ahead and move Audre up as ‘acting’ first deputy,” Stewart said. “Then hire a temporary individual part time for the second deputy position. Then when the new commissioner comes in we can have time to evaluate our needs and make changes as necessary.”

One idea suggested was to contact Canadian Valley Technology Center to see if any students match the current needs and could be used on an internship basis.

No formal action was taken at the meeting. County Clerk Shelley Dickerson said she would gather further information and start the paperwork with Carson to move Knott into the first deputy position on a temporary basis.

Mustang-Yukon Girl Scouts to host Father-Daughter Wacky Olympics

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By Daniel Lapham,

The Yukon and Mustang Girl Scout troops will host a free Father/Daughter Wacky Olympics event from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at Sunrise Park, 550 S. Yukon Parkway in Yukon.

All current Girl Scout members and any girls interested in joining Girl Scouts can bring their dad and join in on the fun, said Lora Bedford, Yukon and Mustang Troop 547 leader.

“We are expecting about 50 girls based on previous years attendance,” she said. “The event is free for everyone and if girls who are not currently in a troop want to join a troop in their area, they can sign up on the spot. We have a form and our troop coordinator will take it from there. The membership is $15 to join through the end of next October.”

Bedford said the Mustang and Yukon Girl Scout troops hold a father/daughter event that varies throughout the years and this year the event coordinator thought it would be a great way to kick off the year.

“We think this will be a great way to show our girls what kind of fun they can expect over the next year,” she said.

Western Days arrives in Mustang

Front Page Western Days

By Daniel Lapham,

Reporter,

The 38th annual Mustang Western Days begins tomorrow as businesses across town decorate their windows to show off their western spirit. Beyond the window dressing, the event promises to be a weekend packed with rodeo exhibitions, a car show, carnival rides, free music and a 5K/1-mile stampede fun run for all ages.

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. at the Mustang Town Center, 1201 N. Mustang Road, with a Chili Cook-Off, followed by the Best Dressed Cowboy and Cowgirl Contest at 6:30 p.m. A free gospel music show will begin at 7 p.m. in the gazebo, followed by the Mustang Roundup Club Open Rodeo at 8 p.m.

Carnival rides and games will be open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday.

Starting out bright and early Saturday, the Mustang Kiwanis Club will host an all you can eat pancakes and sausage with its annual breakfast beginning at 6:30 a.m. and serving hotcakes until 10:30 a.m. The breakfast will be at Mustang United Methodist Church and the cost is $5 per person with children under 5 free.

The 34th annual Western Days Stampede is scheduled to begin with a bang at Bronco Stadium, as racers in four events line up to show their talents. The Mustang Pacesetters Club sponsors the event and it’s the biggest fundraiser for the Broncos cross country team.

The four races include the Elementary Mile (first- through fourth-graders), the Intermediate Mile (fifth- and sixth-graders), the Middle School Mile (seventh- and eighth-graders) and the Open 5K, which is a 3-mile race that anyone can run.

“This event is one of the longest-running races for children in the country,” Mustang head girls cross country coach Vickie Bailey said. “This means a lot to our community and our program.”

The OK Mustang Club Open Car Show, vendor booths and the library book sale are all scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Town Center.

“The car show during Western Days has been held for over 30 years and out of five shows a year, this is the only judged car show,” said show chairman and president Allen King.

The show is unique because it involves participant judging, it’s also an open class car show and any car or truck with four wheels or more is allowed in the show.

Council approves increase in recreation fees

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By Daniel Lapham,

Reporter,

Mustang residents who frequent recreational areas will see increases in their annual membership fees after a unanimous vote from the Mustang City Council Tuesday evening.

Assistant City Manager Justin Battles presented the proposed fee increases to the council after working with the Leisure Services Board in July to determine how current rates stack up to other cities across the state. The Recreation Center currently offers two membership options, the general membership and the deluxe membership, Battles told the council. There will be no increases for the deluxe membership at this time, which offers the same amenities as the general membership with the additional privilege of access to the weight/cardio room, free onsite baby-sitting and aerobics classes.

“We reviewed the rates for our general membership package,” he said. “It is hard to compare a general membership rate for a facility like this. There just aren’t a lot of cities around that run rec centers.”

The rates agreed upon will increase annual costs to members by $15 for individual residents, $40 for family residents, and an additional $5 card fee for senior members. Non-resident members will see rates increase by $15 for individuals, $25 for families and $10 for seniors. The increased fees will result in projected revenue increases of $33,000 per year.

“What effect do you think this will have on our membership numbers?” asked Jess Schweinberg, Ward 6 councilman.

lBattles said the memberships are based on a 12-month period and will only affect new or renewing members after their current membership is expired.

l“It will have zero impact on our membership,” Battles said. “The last increase we had was on the deluxe membership back in 2012 and it has been longer than that since we have increased the general membership.”

lIn other business, the council heard concerns from Spitler Lake Estates resident Walt Davis. Davis told the council he is concerned with flooding issues he and neighbors have experienced in their subdivision and asked for a written statement from the city, signed by the council that states there is no danger of flooding to their property.

“The concern I have is water drainage in our neighborhood,” he said. “We are being told everything is going to be OK. There is a history of high water and poor drainage since we moved in there in May 2006. The drainage plan looks fine on paper, but I have concerns.”

The council thanked Davis for speaking before them and continued with the meeting without responding directly to his request.

County Commissioner meeting gets heated

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By Daniel Lapham,

Canadian County budget talks turned heated Monday afternoon when District 2 Commissioner David Anderson questioned how much is being spent to operate the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Randall Edwards took exception to the argument made by Anderson.

The verbal scuffle between the sheriff and the commissioner came after an across-the-board 3 percent pay hike for all county employees was approved.

Commissioners met with department heads to discuss adjustments to the 2015 fiscal year budget. The adjustments also resulted in a $1,200 raise for the fair board secretary as well as a payment to the Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority, known as COWRA.

County Clerk Shelley Dickerson presented the adjustments, that moved the budget from the red into the black.

“If you remember last month we were down $599,000 in our general fund and now we are up $214,482,” Dickerson said. “I want to show you what changed to make the difference. As you know, there are two ways to adjust a budget, revenue and expenditures. There was a $149,000 gain in revenue and the rest was achieved through adjustments in expenditures.”

Dickerson presented the pay-hike proposal to the commissioners. She said the hike would be for the 334 county employees, and would cost $256,383. In addition to the raise, Dickerson said a $24,000 fee paid to COWRA was included.

Dickerson said the adjustments would leave the general budget in the red by just over $67,000.

Discussion then focused on how to trim the $67,000 so the budget could move back into the black. That’s when talks turned heated.

Anderson presented numbers that he said show the county is spending too much to operate its sheriff’s office.

“I have been doing a lot of research lately into county governments across Oklahoma,” Anderson said. “I have been studying this abstract of county data published by Oklahoma State University.”

The abstract details statistics related to county government spending, size and demographics. Anderson cited out four counties he said are “statistically” similar to Canadian County.

“I prepared these pie charts showing the percentage of general fund dollars that go to support the sheriff’s departments in Comanche, Rogers, Payne and Creek counties,” Anderson said. “To be fair, the other counties’ sheriff’s departments receive only a portion of their funding from the general fund, the rest comes from sales tax.”

Canadian County’s sales tax, collected at one-third of a cent, is dedicated to the Gary Miller Children’s Justice Center. Anderson said other counties have a similar sales tax percentage, but those choose to use it for the operation of the sheriff’s office.

As Anderson began to lay out his statistics, Edwards began to become noticeably agitated.

“We are one of the fastest growing counties in the country and we have two of the safest cities in the state,” Edwards said. “We do what we need to, to protect the citizens of Canadian County and keep a higher quality of life here in our county. We are responsible for keeping that trash out of our county.”

After a pause, Anderson continued.

“We in Canadian County dedicate more to the sheriff’s department than any of the other counties,” he said. “We spend 40 percent of our general fund to fund the sheriff’s department. We cannot continue to dedicate so much of the general fund without sacrifice.”

Anderson said Edwards is asking for $144,000 to cover out-of-county inmate costs that are not reimbursed by the state because they are in and out of county custody within 72 hours. In addition, Edwards requested an additional $110,000 to cover increased fuel costs, Anderson said.

“We cannot afford to pay both,” Anderson said. “I want you to choose one. I would like to see you present us with a budget with $100,000 less coming out of our general fund.”

Edwards was not impressed.

“Just go ahead and take it,” Edwards said, his voice raising with emotion.

The sheriff continued to rebut Anderson, saying the funds they receive from the county are still not enough to cover expenses.

“We use our cash funds to cover our operational expenses. I am pretty sure this is even illegal but you leave us with no choice,” Edwards said.

District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart asked the sheriff for clarification on what he meant.

“So what you are saying is you spend more than you get from us?” Stewart asked. “What is the compromise?”

County Assessor Matt Wehmuller agreed to absorb some of the cuts by reducing his budget to an increase of 4 percent with the understanding the sheriff’s office would also lower its increase to 4 percent.

Stewart made a motion to decrease both the sheriff’s request to a 4 percent increase in addition to the $144,000 requested to fund out- of-county prisoner costs.

The motion was approved in a 3-0 vote.

County Fairgrounds to expand

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By Daniel Lapham,

The Canadian County Free Fair just celebrated its 60th year and members of the board who oversee the event were busy over the four-day fair asking people about the next 60 years.

Members of the fair board were on hand during the fair, passing out and collecting surveys asking county residents their thoughts on a possible new fairgrounds. Fair board vice chair Dan Wedman said more than 100 surveys were turned in during the fair.

“Right now we are looking at doing some more survey work across the county to get more information on public interest,” Wedman said. “We have an independent firm that has offered to donate services to tabulate the survey results so we can have all of the information together to present to the public.”

The current fairgrounds was built in the 1950s, on North Country Club in El Reno. With about seven acres, the site is fairly well landlocked. Wedman said for now the main goal is to get an idea of what Canadian County residents might want in the way of a new fairgrounds.

“Once we get their input, then the fair board can react with what the public wants. We do know the size of the county has grown exponentially,” Wedman said. “If we want to stick our heads in the sand we can, but if we want to keep up with the growth of the county, we need to look at our potential growth.”

The survey asked questions like “Do you think renovated or new facilities would better serve existing and attract new events?” and “Do you think relocation of the fairgrounds to a larger, more accessible site should be considered?”

Wedman said right now 75 to 80 percent of the survey-takers were in favor of better, newer accommodations and a location that is more accessible.

“If we are going to build for the future, we need to build in an area that will allow for future growth,” he said. “We are asking questions about what areas do you use and how many times do you attend a year? We, as a fair board, are excited about where we are. All three of our county commissioners are on board and are pushing forward to find out the information we need to better serve the Canadian County community.”

The idea for a new fairgrounds has been discussed for several years. In 2007, members of the fair board talked about possibly locating a new fairgrounds on county-owned land, just east of the Gary Miller Children’s Justice Center on state Highway 66. Fair board members have said other locations are being considered as well.

Hader to be Republican candidate

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Marc Hader will be the Republican candidate in the November general election for District 1 Canadian County commissioner.

Hader, 50, of Surrey Hills defeated El Reno Republican Wes Higgins in the Tuesday runoff election, capturing a little more than 59 percent of the vote, while Higgins received just over 40 percent. In actual numbers, Hader had 1,341 unofficial votes to 927 for Higgins.

Hader said Wednesday he credited his victory to spending a lot of time knocking on doors and meeting people.

In November, Hader will square off with Justin Joe Atkinson, D-El Reno. While the district, which covers most of Piedmont, north Yukon, Surrey Hills and a bit of north El Reno, is predominately Republican, Hader said he won’t take anything for granted. He said he was “trying to get a little rest” on Wednesday, but expects to be back on the campaign trail in the near future.

Hader said he knows Atkinson and they have “met from time-to-time” while campaigning. He said he expects the race to continue to take the high road, saying he and Higgins both ran campaigns based on issues and not on “personalities.”

An engineer who has worked in both the public and private sector, Hader said he wants to bring a “professional” outlook to the commissioner job if elected.

The winner of the November election will replace Phil Carson, who is retiring.

Sinnett brings first indoor mural home

Mural Two

By Rachel Brocklehurst,

Imagine you’re in the most calming and profound area of the world where you can see the ripening of the sky as the air from the wind comes in to blow underneath it and the most beautiful scissortail is gracefully expanding her wings, as though not even the air itself can touch her.

That’s what comes to mind when thinking of Mustang native and artist Rick Sinnett. Well, in a couple words.

Sinnett has painted many outdoor murals across the state, until now. The Mustang Library is where his first indoor mural is located.

The Friends of the Mustang Public Library hired Sinnett to paint a mural for the Mustang Library’s Teen Area. The mural features Indian Blanket wildflowers, a Scissortail Flycatcher, wheat stalks and horses.

The mural is 792 square feet, or 67 ft. wide by 12 ft. tall and will be a major addition to the Library and Teen Area.

Twelve teens were a part of a focus group that discussed the mural project. The teens gave suggestions on what symbols could be incorporated in to the design. One popular suggestion was that the space needed color.

Sinnet’s other public art is visible in towns such as Norman, Tulsa, Pauls Valley, El Reno and Bristow. Currently, Sinnett is working on a series of murals along The Mother Road, America’s famous Route 66, from one border of Oklahoma to the other.

He’s finished three out of 11 of the Route 66 murals, so far. Each one has taken two weeks to finish. In addition to creating fine art murals, Sinnett is also a master printmaker.

He has spent 20 years mastering serigraphy and stencil-making, with paint on paper. It’s only been four years since he started painting murals/creating public art.

Sinnet works with a program called Public Arts Project, which is a group of people that want to connect the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain and support the arts in America.

He said Mary Beth Babcock is not only instrumental in the P.A.P., but also was a huge influence for him as far as his art goes. Sinnet’s journey began when one of his friends purchased a piece of original artwork and wanted it painted as a mural.

“I wanted to paint something you don’t have to pay for to see,” he said. “For colors, I normally use between 14-16 of the same colors on the painting palette.”

He paints animals to represent the state and local community. For the Mustang Library, it took him a week and a half to complete. He has created artwork for renowned musicians, notable clothing manufacturers and a leading shoe label.

Sinnett’s work also includes letterpress printmaking, glass etching and sculpting.  Sinnett hit his first milestone at the age of 5, it was drawing actively and creating art through pen and ink printmaking.

His second was when he turned 18. By this time, Sinnett had a printing job in Oklahoma City and was printing some of his designs on t-shirts to sale. This print shop was in Wheatland and lasted five years.

He wound up moving to California where he worked as a print maker in the garment industry. He did what they called sampling where he would “decorate” pieces of clothing from Levi’s or Calvin Klein before they actually got sewn together.

He was in California for seven to eight years. “My goal in this industry is that I want to make people smile with my art,” Sinnet said. “I want them to feel uplifted and I want to make a positive impact. I think art is important in communities.”

He said his style is definable yet unintentional at the same time. “Most people take ownership innately and it gives off a still renewed pride in a community,” Sinnet said. “It’s like it’s no longer mine, it’s the peoples’ and I walk away from it. Within rural communities, my art is a history of their community showcased.”

Sinnet has had some loyal followers that make it a point to go to every mural he’s done. He also likes finding out about other artists who do the same thing.

“I view the state as one whole community,” he said. “There’s a journey from one mural to the next and there’s an economic impact that other aspects can branch out from from the art itself.”

“The difference in feeling from murals to other items in general is that there’s certain serenity within items in general and murals are more engaging for people,” Sinnet said.

Sinnet credits Thomas Surrat, Jake Harmes and Tanner Frady with helping him on the projects. Harmes helped Sinnet with his first two murals and Surrat has helped with several Route 66 projects.

“Surrat is an off-the-record, phenomenal artist,” Sinnet said. “He’s got what it takes to do my style of art. He’s also really busy, so I’m glad he’s been able to help the way he has.” Frady is an excellent artist in Yukon.

As far as influences, Sinnet appreciates his parents encouraging him.

Sinnet said he has “tech guys” changing up his original website, www.mothcollection.com constantly, but there is another website to where there are stock photos of certain designs he’s made and you can create that design on either an iPhone case, tie, messenger bag, mouse pad, decal, t-shirt, other cell cases, etc. This site is www.zazzle.com/mothcollection.

He’s also having an art exhibit with opening reception that’s open to the public at the Myriad Botanical Gardens. The reception is Oct. 16 and the actual event is from Oct. 15-Nov. 11. He will be showing between 20-30 of his pieces at this exhibit and they will be on sale all month long.

Rachel Brocklehurst is a reporter for the Mustang News. She can be reached at rachelb@mustangnews.info.

Mustang to raise water rates

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By Daniel Lapham,

The Mustang City Council voted 8-to-1 on Tuesday to approve a $4.50 capital improvement fee that will be added to all Mustang utility customers’ bills, effective in October.

The council also voted unanimously to increase water and sewer utility rates by 7 percent and signed a contract with Oklahoma Environmental Management Authority that will decrease curbside trash services by $1.50.

Mustang resident Michelle Fuller was the only resident present to speak out against the utility rate increases. She told the council she has abnormally high utility rates and because of this she is concerned with further rate increases.

“Anytime there is a proposed increase in city taxes or fees I have stood against them,” Fuller said after handing the council and city staff copies of her utility bill. “If you look at how much I pay you’ll see why.”

Fuller told the council she knew the rates would probably go through, but needed to be on record with her opposition. Prior to the council’s vote, City Manager Tim Rooney thanked her for respectfully speaking out against the increase.

“It is challenging to stand up here alone and speak against something the city is for,” Rooney said. “We need citizens like you to speak up and I thank you for letting your concerns be known, please continue.”

Rooney and Assistant City Manager Justin Battles presented numbers to the council showing increases in commercial water rates from Oklahoma City over the past several years.

“This 7 percent increase is meant to get us back to even,” Mayor Jay Adams said. “This way we are not taking money out of the general fund to make up the difference in what we are paying Oklahoma City for water and what our customers are paying us.”

Battles presented current and future steps the city is taking to improve Mustang’s infrastructure and decrease dependency on Oklahoma City to supply water.

This led to the approval of the $4.50 capital improvement fee, which is $3 more than Rooney initially proposed at a work session last week.

“Mustang could see a 48 percent increase on their water bills over the next three years,” said Jess Schweinberg, Ward VI councilman. “If this keeps happening, it won’t be long before no one could afford to live in Mustang because of the cost of water. We need to be aggressive with these capital improvement needs. Water is going to go up and we need to start today, $125,000 is not going to make a difference.”

Ward III Councilwoman Linda Bowers voted against the $4.50 increase, saying she agreed there needs to be investment, but an added fee of $4.50 is too much all at once.

“I think we need to do it in stages,” Bowers said.

Adams framed the immensity of the need to be self-sustaining.

“Water is the new oil. This isn’t going away and we need to address these things now.”

Daniel Lapham is a reporter for the Mustang News sister paper, the El Reno Tribune. He can be reached at dlapham@elrenotribune.com.