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April 1, 2012

Strong tax revenue speeds up jail payback

NORMAN — Thanks to surprisingly robust sales tax collections, Cleveland County commissioners have been able to pay an extra $7 million toward the bill to construct the new jail in north Norman.

Commissioner Rod Cleveland said that making a special payment in early March means the jail could be paid for several years earlier than projected.

“We’ve got seven years of principal payments that we’ve already done,”  Cleveland said. “We have been able to reduce the principal for the original $52 million bond  issue to $42 million.”

In early February, prisoners housed in the old jail in downtown Norman were moved to the new jail. Its official name is the F. DeWayne Beggs Detention Center, in honor of the late Sheriff Beggs, who repeatedly pressed for a new jail when he was sheriff.

Over the past three years, the county paid about $3 million in regular payments, reducing the overall indebtedness by about $10 million.

In 2008, county voters approved a temporary one-fourth cent sales tax to be collected over the next 20 years to pay for the jail. The bond issue also stipulates that dollars be set aside for maintenance and operation of the jail.

Assistant district attorney Dave Batton said that if sales tax collections continue to produce at the current rate, the jail could be paid for in 12 to 15 years — rather than in 20 years.

County officials had estimated that the one-fourth cent sales tax would result in about $500,000 per month.  But the revenue generated has been closer to $600,000 monthly.  In March, the revenue was about $640,000.

Other governmental entities also have been receiving hefty increases in sales taxes for several months.

Norman’s sales tax collections are running more than 4 percent above revenues collected for the same period a year ago.

 The communities of  Moore, Noble and Lexington also are showing gains in sales tax revenue.

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