Skiatook official asks about courthouse annex

Robert Smith
The increasingly obsolete Osage County Courthouse became a topic of conversation again Monday before the county Board of Commissioners. Skiatook City Manager Dan Yancey suggested seeing how much county business a south-county annex and a commitment to providing online government services will take care of before determining how large and expensive a new courthouse might actually need to be. He argued for a feasibility study approach.

The city manager for Skiatook asked Osage County commissioners Monday whatever happened to a proposal to establish a county courthouse annex in the south-end community.

Skiatook, with a population of about 7,900, straddles the Osage County/Tulsa County line. Its municipal government buildings are in Tulsa County, but its schools and much of its recent economic growth are in Osage County.

During Osage County election campaigns four years ago, County Assessor Gail Hedgcoth and District Judge John Kane took part in discussions in Skiatook about the potential establishment of a county courthouse annex there, which would make county services much more conveniently available to residents in the south end of the county.

The issue of making county services readily available via the internet also received attention during that electoral season, with attention being given to how much more Tulsa County makes available for its residents online than does neighboring Osage County.

Four years have passed, but little has changed. There is no courthouse annex in Skiatook.

“Where is that particular issue at right now?” Yancey said.

“I think it’s still very much under discussion to put an annex in Skiatook,” said District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay, who served as a Skiatook city councilor before being elected to the county commission. “It’s kind of a toss-up right now as to how we want to approach it.”

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, who is running unopposed this year for re-election, said the question of setting up an annex hasn’t been forgotten.

“The annex in Skiatook is on our mind,” McKinney said, but he voiced concern about the possibility of a proposal being defeated at the polls by tax-averse voters.

“If we put it on the ballot, people would think we were trying to force it through,” McKinney said. “I think we have one more chance and I don’t want to waste it.”

All three county commissioners said they support doing something to help Skiatook, but no one articulated any clear idea how funding for such a project might be secured.

Yancey said he didn’t think a Skiatook annex project necessarily had to be coupled with an effort to renovate or replace the Osage County Courthouse in Pawhuska. He also said the city of Skiatook’s approach to establishing a courthouse annex did not include constructing a new building.

Skiatook’s approach had been to suggest renovating an existing building and setting up a courthouse annex with as little additional cost to taxpayers as possible, Yancey said.

“Obviously, we are prepared to help the county in some regards,” Yancey told commissioners, indicating the city could look at a reduction of utility costs for an annex.

He pointed out that Skiatook is in a position where it necessarily has to economize and get by the best it can. The Skiatook Police Department is housed in a 90-year-old structure, while its city hall is some 60 years old and its fire department is in a building not suited for it, Yancey said.

He argued that it would probably be wise for Osage County, before proposing any sort of funding package for a new courthouse, to find out what portion of the county’s administrative business a Skiatook annex and a committment to doing business online would address. That way, the county could potentially spend a lot less on a courthouse.

“I don’t know that I expected anything out of that meeting,” Yancey said in a telephone interview later Monday. He explained that he gave a similar talk to the commissioners two years ago.

He said, however, that he wanted to make it plain to the county comimssioners that Skiatook voters are not interested in supporting a sales tax increase to foot the bill for a large, expensive courthouse that may well not be what Osage County residents need. Skiatook would come out against the county if it were to move forward with such a proposal, he said. Sales tax in Skiatook is already at nine and a quarter cents, Yancey said.

County Clerk Shelia Bellamy said during the Monday county commission meeting that Osage County doesn’t have debt, but its current revenue stream would not support making debt payments on a new courthouse. The county has spent more in the past year on courthouse repairs than in previous years, she said.

County Assessor Gail Hedgcoth said about 80 percent of the taxes the county collects on real estate go to support the public schools.

Commissioner Paslay said he thought it would be a bad thing to give up on working with Skiatook .

“I would like to keep pursuing it,” Paslay said. “I think that’s the worst thing we could do — to forget about it.”