DALLAS — A 10-year, $1.6 billion street improvement plan proposed by Tulsa City Councilman Bill Martinson would be financed with proceeds from $600 million of general obligation bonds and $1 billion in sales tax revenues.

The 10-year street project would begin in 2010 and extend through 2019.

Martinson’s “Back to Basics” proposal would dedicate to street projects 100% of the proceeds from $500 million of GO bonds supported by the existing property tax, as well as proceeds from $100 million of bonds supported by a 3.3 mill increase in Tulsa’s property tax rate.

Martinson’s plan is similar in intent to a recommendation from a citizen’s panel in December that called for more investment in the city’s deteriorating street grid. The 22-member Complete Our Streets task force recommended a transportation-dedicated 0.5% sales tax to support $650 million in GO bonds as part of a $1.6 billion effort.

The property tax increase, which would bring the city’s rate cost to the level levied by Oklahoma City, is the only tax increase in Martinson’s proposal. But he would also redirect to street improvements the city’s 1% third-penny sales tax that is scheduled to end in early 2013, as well as taking over Tulsa’s share of Tulsa County’s Four-to-Fix 0.167% sales tax that expires in 2012 and of the countywide Vision 2025 0.6% sales tax at its slated demise at the end of 2016.

The third-penny tax would 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 that otherwise would expire would generate a total of $245 million by 2020.

Martinson has asked the city’s finance department to review the assumptions of the proposal, especially the revenues that would be generated through the sales tax and the additional millage, and look at the plan’s effects on other municipal departments. He also asked the city attorney’s office to prepare the ordinances and resolutions needed to bring the proposal before voters sometime later this year.

Voters would also be asked to approve creation of a transportation authority that would issue the bonds and oversee the street program.

In a presentation to a city council committee earlier this week, Martinson said he expects the details of the plan to change as a result of council discussion and public hearings. He called it a “good starting point for discussion.”

Martinson said it would cost $1.1 billion over the next 10 years to bring city streets up to an acceptable level, along with $240 million for operational expenses such as engineering, repairs, and snow removal. His plan would provide funding for all maintenance and renovation efforts, as well as operational costs.

The currently available funding sources — GO bonds and the short-lived third-penny sales tax — would provide only $254 million for city streets over the next 10 years, Martinson said, or $1 billion less than what is needed.

The Back to Basics proposal would provide a surplus of approximately $330 million that could also be used for capital projects, such as street expansions and extensions.

The plan would devote all proceeds from the next bond package to streets. Tulsa voters approved a $250 million GO bond package in 2005 that provided $154.4 million for street projects, but also $32.8 million for sewers, $32.8 for storm drainage, and almost $25 million for public safety.

Dewey Bartlett, a Tulsa oilman who was co-chairman of the Complete Our Streets task force, commended Martinson’s effort. However, he said the councilman’s maintenance plan does not cover street extensions and expansions, which he said was an important economic development factor.

“I’m not in a huge disagreement with the plan, but I’m concerned there is little recognition in it of the importance of good streets to economic development,” he said. “In the long run it is economic development that will provide the tax revenues we need to finance all the street work that is necessary.”

“In my view, he and the mayor are to be applauded in getting this before the public.”

Bartlett said voters and city leaders are facing some tough choices.

“We need to deal very directly with the voters, and educate them on the need to adequately fund the streets,” he said. “There must be some significant policy changes in how we finance infrastructure.

“What I don’t want to see is the city just doing the minimum amount of maintenance, because that’s how we got into the position we are in today.”


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