DALLAS - The Tulsa City Council reversed its earlier approval of a 12-year, $2 billion street improvement plan and decided instead to send a five-year, $451.6 million program to the voters in November.
The council on Thursday night split 5 to 4 in favor of the substitute street plan after councilor Dennis Troyer withdrew his support of the 12-year plan that passed on Aug. 21 by an identical vote. Troyer said he would vote for the five-year plan after being deluged with telephone calls and letters from constituents opposed to the lengthier street program.
The $451.6 million street maintenance plan, offered in early August by Mayor Kathy Taylor as a less-intensive alternative to the $2 billion street improvement plan she had endorsed earlier, will be financed in part with $285 million of general obligation bonds. Financing for the $2 billion program would have included $770 million of GOs.
"The 12-year plan is good for the streets, but I don't believe it is good public policy for a balanced approach to city funding," Taylor said at Thursday's council session.
Taylor said if in five years Tulsans approve of how the street program is going, they could vote to extend it to the full 12-year program.
The council's earlier approval of the 12-year program was criticized by the unions representing Tulsa police and fire personnel, and the local chapter of the NAACP.
In addition to the GOs, the five-year street program would be financed by extending for two years the city's 1% "third penny" sales tax set to expire in early 2013 and taking over and extending Tulsa County's 0.167% sales tax that will expire in 2012.
After the vote to put the five-year program onto the November ballot, Taylor asked councilors to forget their differences and get behind the proposal.
"We need to move forward, and we need to move forward in unity," she said. "That's how we'll make this city reach its potential."
District 5 councilor Bill Martinson, who chaired the council committee that developed the $2 billion proposal, said he would not support the mayor's alternative plan.
"It is worse than no plan at all," he said. "When you look at breaking it into a five-year plan and then a seven-year plan, the cost will be $400 million higher than it would be with the 12-year program. That is way too high a premium."
Among other factors leading to the higher cost, Martinson said, the five-year program eliminates the proposal in the 12-year plan to spend $390 million to add 100 workers to city street maintenance crews.
"Over the years we've reduced our street maintenance crews to 69 guys, and only 50 of them are actually on the street," he said. "The 12-year plan provided enough time to justify bringing on the people to handle a lot of the minor maintenance work, but it is not feasible with the five-year time frame."
District 7 councilor John Eagleton said he would not support the five-year program, which he said was simply a continuation of Tulsa's current and inadequate street maintenance effort.
"It is pretty much the status quo, with lots of bells and whipped cream to make it better," he said. "It is a train wreck. I cannot in good conscience go to my neighbors and tell them this program will make the streets any better."
Tulsa's GOs are rated Aa2 by Moody's Investors Service and AA by Standard & Poor's.