Regional News

Tulsa Council at Odds With County Board

DALLAS - A $700 million street bond program being considered by the Tulsa, Okla., City Council that would rely in part on a sales tax currently collected by Tulsa County has drawn the opposition of two of the three county commissioners.

The street improvement plan proposed by District 5 Councilman Bill Martinsonwould be financed with the proceeds from $636 million of revenue bonds and $62 million of general obligation bonds.

The sales tax bonds would be supported by extending until 2020 a combined 1.76% sales tax that includes the city's third-penny 1% sales tax that will expire in early 2013, the county's 0.0167% Four-To-Fix II sales tax that will expire in 2012, and the countywide 0.6% Vision 2025 sales taxes set to expire at the end of 2016.

The GO bonds would be supported by increases in the city's property tax rate over 10 years from the current 13.5 mills to 16.8 mills.

County Commission Chairman Fred Perry and District 2 CommissionerRandi Miller issued a statement Monday objecting to the use of the Four-to-Fix tax for the effort. District 1 Commissioner John Smaligo has not taken a position on the issue, a spokesman said.

Perry and Miller said the Four-to-Fix tax is the main source of funding that the county can use for capital improvements.

"It is the means of meeting the capital project needs both within the city of Tulsa and throughout Tulsa County," they said. "This dedicated source of funds is vitally important for the county to meet its responsibilities with county roads, bridges, park improvements, flood control, juvenile justice facilities, and other infrastructure needs.

"The commissioners believe that before a final streets packages is presented to the voters that discussions need to occur so that all available funding options and their impacts are fully explored and alternatives seriously considered," they continued.

The council must approve the package by May 29 to meet the deadline to get the issue on the ballot for June 29, when Oklahoma holds its party primaries. Of the 336,000 registered voters in the county, 215,000 live in Tulsa.

Perry said he will meet with City Council members on Thursday to outline the county's position on the street tax proposal.

"I'll meet with the council, but we can't have more than four councilors in the room at any time to avoid problems with the open meetings law," Perry said. "This is something you want to discuss in private, in a non-public location behind closed doors."

Councilman John Eagleton said he is eager for the meeting with Perry.

"The people of Tulsa are fed up with the state of our streets," Eagleton said. "If Commissioner Perry wants to shoot his mouth off in public about our plan and then desires to meet with us in private, I'll be loaded for bear."

Eagleton said he expects the city council to vote on the road bond package at a special meeting on Thursday night.

Perry said he concurs in the need to improve Tulsa's streets and bridges.

"We commend the council for taking this step," he said. "Something needs to be done."

Perry said the commissioners agreed with the city's plan to use the Vision 2025 funding when the current phase expires in 2017, but not the Four-to-Fix tax.

"The council needs to be better aware of what some of our responsibilities are," he said. "By state law, the county is responsible for the juvenile justice system, and our juvenile facilities are very much in need of repair.

"My point to them, which I will be making on Thursday, is that this current plan would really hurt the public safety needs that are being met with the Four-to-Fix tax," Perry said. "Most of the juveniles in the county justice system live in the city of Tulsa."

County voters in December 2005 approved an extension to the Four-to-Fix tax, which was to expire in October 2006. The tax is expected to generate $62 million before it expires in 2012.

The city's third-penny tax is expected to generate $84 million from 2010 to 2013, but extending it through 2020 would provide another $546 million, or $78 million a year.

Capturing the city's portion of the countywide sales taxes upon their expiration would generate a total of $245 million by 2020.



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