My Point of View
By Zonelle Cox Rainbolt
Just when I think the Washita County Commissioners can’t possibly come up with yet another way to hurt Cordell, they stun even those with the lowest possible opinion of their ability to make good decisions.
Their latest mind-rattling action is to take another stab at closing the only hospital in the County while padding the coffers of the County General Fund.
As a bit of reminder, consider these ongoing activities:
• Continuing Road Construction
The one-way only traffic on Crider Road from Highway 152 north to Highway 183 and on 14th Street from Highway 183 to Crider Road has been dragging on since the project began on December 17, 2013. Originally set up to be completed in 210 calendar days, the clock began ticking on the project on September 3, 2013, and should have been completed by April 1, 2014.
We are now past mid-June and there is clearly a great deal more work that needs to be done! Not one inch of new road is ready for vehicles and work has not even begun on the closed half of the streets.
True, the project contractor is certainly responsible for the missed deadlines, but, according to Brent Almquist with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Washita County Commissioner James Gee, along with Monte Goucher with Circuit Engineering District #7, approved the terms of the contract with Cornell Construction Company (CCC). Those terms include a minimal $750 a day penalty for late completion of the project.
In comparison, Cornell’s contract on the I-40 project at Sayre included Liquidated Damages of $2,000 per day.
Obviously, CCC dedicated equipment and personnel to the I-40 project, with no work done on the Cordell project for weeks.
So for the last nine months, and counting, area residents have been left to drive on narrow, extremely rough streets if they are in the habit of driving north on Crider Road or west on 14th Street.
Of course, if you need to get from Sonic to your home on Partridge Lane, you must drive south on Glenn English to the stoplight, east on Highway 152 to Crider Road, north on Crider Road (on a very dangerous, one-lane road with an extremely steep drop off) to 14th Street, and then back west on 14th Street (again on a very dangerous, one-lane road with an extremely steep drop off) to Partridge Lane.
And for a time, before it was brought to the attention of the Washita County Commissioners, traffic on 14th Street was one-way going east, meaning residents of the Pheasant Run addition had to go to a section line road east of the cemetery in order to get to town.
Of course, James Gee doesn’t live in Cordell (nor do either of the other two commissioners), so it wasn’t a problem that it was taking residents 20 minutes to get from their home to the grocery store, a trip that usually took two or three minutes, at most.
Oh, and did I mention that both of Cordell’s doctors live in the Pheasant Run addition and it added that many minutes to their travel time to the hospital? Not great in an emergency.
• Washita County Courthouse Renovation
What a mess. County offices began moving out of the Courthouse June 13, 2013 - over a year ago - on a project County Commissioners told residents might take up to two years. Really? Two years? This project has already gone on past a year, and the Courthouse and grounds are a total wreck, making approaches into Cordell from the east and west unbelievable eyesores.
While demolition is, hopefully, complete, the amount of work remaining to be done both inside and outside is massive. It is hard to see how it can all be completed by this time next year. And in the meantime, the Courthouse Square that brought tourists to town, and which defined many of the activities special to Cordell, is a total wreck. Even the grass has been left untended, giving the entire area the look of a building more on the way down than one being renovated.
To top all that, however, it appears the interior will have very little of the historical charm of the original, with much lower ceilings, heating and air conditioning duct work that drops below the tops of the windows, and no attempt made to duplicate the flooring, millwork, or decorative moldings that made the building unique in Oklahoma.
The original estimate of the cost, including renting office space for the various County departments, was about $4 million. I haven’t seen any figures on what has been spent or what the completion cost is estimated to be, nor if there are any penalties for going over the original time estimate.
All of this was done with virtually no input from County residents. No public meetings were held where plans were shown or comments were invited - just the Commissioners plowing ahead with a multi-million dollar project (that included a mortgage on the Courthouse) - and the inevitable threat that a metal building out by the jail could be built more cheaply.
Commissioner Gee complained in a recent Cordell City Council meeting that he thought the public wasn’t getting all the information about the Courthouse, but he is the one who, twice, refused to allow a representative of this newspaper to ask questions in the Commissioner’s meeting, and he has never presented the newspaper with a press release regarding the road or Courthouse projects.
So what is the Commissioners’ latest plan to hurt Cordell? They want to make the scheduled vote on the 1/2 cent sales tax for the hospital invalid. If they are successful, and the proposed new 5/8 cent tax is approved, there will be no funds left to help support the hospital.
And, by the way, most of that 5/8 cent tax will probably go to the County General Fund, not to the fire departments and ambulance services.
As reported in the January 8, 2014, edition of The Cordell Beacon, a maximum of $504,000 would be divided between the 11 County volunteer fire departments and the three ambulance services, with each of the 14 services to receive a maximum of $3,000 a month. (Take a close look at the wording of Proposition 1 on the Sample Ballot on page 5.)
The balance of the money collected, an amount estimated to be over $562,000 in the previous 12 months, would go to the County General Fund.
The Washita County Commissioners are willing to risk extreme financial harm to the hospital in order to find more dollars for the County General Fund, presumably to cover the cost of the multiple construction fiascoes currently taking place in and around Cordell.
Where do they think an injured fireman will have to go for treatment? Or maybe they don’t think it is important to have a local emergency room for accidents or sudden illness since all of them live closer to a larger metropolitan area with a hospital?
It is my opinion that it is way past time for us to let these men know they are not acting in a responsible manner. Issues that affect so many residents of the County need to be better thought out and the input of voters requested. Such high-handed decisions as the ones made recently should be questioned at the highest levels of state government.