Wagoner County Commission's second thoughts

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When you've been away from blogging for almost a week, it's hard to know where to begin again.

We returned Thursday night from a week-long family vacation in Branson. We spent several days at Silver Dollar City, visited Branson Landing one night, went to the Butterfly Palace, and swam in the pool most days. They were long full days, and what little time I had on the computer (after the kids were finally in bed) was mainly spent handling emails from work.

I was happy to learn that the Wagoner County Commission voted to rescind their call for a special election for a quarter-cent sales tax to build a county fairgrounds, an animal shelter, and a location that would be leased to Bell's Amusement Park. While I very much want to see Bell's up and running again, a tax increase is not the right way to make it happen. There are better approaches, such as tax increment financing, that wouldn't add to the taxpayers' burden. In addition, there were concerns about vague terms in the lease, a lack of financial numbers for the cost to operate the fairgrounds, and the lack of public discussion prior to putting the tax issue on the July primary ballot.

The two county commissioners who voted to rescind the election deserve credit for backing down in the face of the public's concerns, for choosing to put together a better plan rather than trying to force a bad plan down the taxpayers' throats. Here in Tulsa County, the likely reaction to public qualms would have been to pour more money into the "vote yes" ad campaign -- full steam ahead into the iceberg -- and then blame the public for voting it down.

A classic family amusement park would certainly bring people and dollars into Wagoner County. We just dropped a pile of money in Branson because of Silver Dollar City. We spent money at the park and in town, buying meals at restaurants, groceries, souvenirs, and gas. Last fall, during a visit to SDC, we bought season passes for 2010 because the park offers fun for everyone in our family. While we love the Bartlesville Kiddie Park, our oldest has outgrown all but a few of the rides and our middle child is close to that point. Were there an amusement park close to home, I imagine we would still visit SDC once a year, but probably wouldn't buy an SDC season pass.


The Looper, Knoebels Amusement Resort

Last summer, during our vacation in Pennsylvania and Delaware, we drove three hours each way to spend a day at Knoebels Amusement Resort, a family-owned amusement park in central Pennsylvania that first opened in 1926. Knoebels is not a theme park, but a collection of rides that grew over time -- now more than 50 that range from kiddie rides to two giant roller coasters. Knoebels began as a country retreat, shaded picnic grounds, swimming hole, campground, and cabins, and all those elements are still present, mixed in with the rides. I remember thinking how nice it would be if a resurrected Bell's was in a shady rural setting.


The Flyer, Knoebels Amusement Resort

A TIF may be the right approach for providing infrastructure for a new Bell's Amusement Park, particularly if the TIF can be structured, like Bixby's Regal Plaza/Spirit Bank Event Center deal, so that taxpayers are not put at risk. As an attraction with the potential to attract visitors from beyond Oklahoma's borders, a new location for Bell's might qualify for state tax incentives, too.

I hope to see Bell's up and running soon. I wish the Bell family and Wagoner County officials all success in finding a way to move forward that doesn't involve raising the tax rate.

MORE: Here's a PDF of the lease agreement between Wagoner County and Bell's.

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Bob said:

Glad you're blogging again.

Good comments Michael about a Wagoner County Commissioner trying to tug the heart strings of voter sentiment, using Bell's Amusement Park as bait in order to pass a TEN YEAR sales tax.

At least two of the other Wagoner County Commissioners showed some adult leadership.

beate said:

That looks very good. Thanks for the pictures. I think because you can have fun. The Looper looks very good.


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 5, 2010 10:12 PM.

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