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September 5, 1997

Stillwater residents are anxiously awaiting the results of a special election on Tuesday, Sept. 9, to gauge the depths of the community's support for a major program designed to boost the Oklahoma State University's athletic facilities. Needless to say, there is a well-organized and active body of opposition working hard to make sure the proposition fails.

The election is part of a project to raise $45 million from the community, OSU students themselves and private donors. The smallest amount, $9 million, would be raised by means of a use tax to be voted on in Tuesday's election. Of the balance, $21 million is expected from private donors, most of them from outside Stillwater, and $15 million will come from OSU students voting a fee increase on themselves.

Most of us are not familiar with a use tax, and many of our friends in Stillwater had not previously heard of it, either, although a use tax has been collected by some Oklahoma cities since 1935. It is described as a sales tax that is levied on tangible personal property purchased in another state and then "used" in Oklahoma. In other words, it is imposed on mail-order items received from out-of-state vendors -- L. L. Bean, Land's End, and the like.

There will be no increase in local property taxes or city sales tax on goods bought in Stillwater or Oklahoma. The tax ordinance already has been approved by city leaders in Stillwater, but the public's approval through Tuesday's election is, of course, mandatory.

A vigorous campaign to marshal support for the proposition is underway, but there are those -- including part of the OSU academia community -- who are actively engaged in opposition, and the outcome is considered too close, to call at this point. We'll have to wait until the final tally is in.

If all goes well and the plan becomes reality, the $45 million will pay for expanding Gallagher-Iba arena by approximately 100 percent; construction of a new strength and conditioning center; spectator amenities and improvements for Lewis Field, where the Cowboys play football; a multi-sport indoor training room; auxiliary gymnasium and new wrestling practice facility; academic center for student-athletes; and new skyboxes to view Gallagher and Lewis Field.

OSU currently spends less on athletics than any other Big 12 university. Gallagher-Iba arena is now a 60-year-old facility, and OSU is way behind other Big 12 schools in its sports complex. Such things make recruiting double-tough, and OSU supporters would like to wipe out that handicap. The use tax also will prove valuable to the entire Stillwater community, enabling the return of several state-wide conferences which once met there but have since moved on to other locations because of inadequate facilities in Stillwater.

Selling the voters on an idea like this is always tough, as we in Perry know full well, along with many other state cities and towns. Stillwater and the OSU community have always seemed to have a close, friendly relationship, and civic leaders know how much is riding on the success of this proposition. How do the voters in Stillwater feel? The election will pretty well tell the story. Let's hope for the best for our friends over there in Payne county as they struggle to keep up with the Joneses in the Big 12 conference.