City councilors and Mayor Dewey Bartlett agreed Thursday it may be necessary to trim projects from the Vision 2025 renewal package to make room for Expo Square improvements and future capital improvement projects.
Bartlett said there may not be enough money to fund all projects currently on the list and that some simply aren’t well understood by the public.
In those instances, Bartlett said, “I think we need to consider putting them off to another time. We might understand them, but if the public doesn’t get it, we run the risk of failure.”
Councilors and the mayor also said they have no intention of increasing the total cost of the package, which sits at $1.1 billion.
A day after completing a series of public meetings on their draft proposal, councilors and the mayor considered what new projects might be added to the package, how many propositions will be on the ballot and how capturing the city’s existing Improve Our Tulsa revenue stream would affect the city’s ability to fund future capital improvement needs.
Councilor G.T. Bynum told his fellow councilors that he, Bartlett and County Commissioner Ron Peters met Wednesday to try to work out an agreement on the Vision package.
The county has said previously that it intends to move forward with a 0.1 percent Vision 2025 sales tax extension to fund its needs. That proposal, coupled with the city’s plan to extend 0.55 percent of the existing 0.6 percent Vision tax, would increase sales taxes in the city of Tulsa if voters approved both taxes.
But under the compromise unveiled by Bynum, Tulsa County would place a 0.05 percent tax on the ballot to cover its capital improvements if the city includes $35 million in capital improvements at Expo Square in its package. In addition, the city would agree to give the county all surplus funds from the existing Vision 2025 tax after the suburbs have received all the surplus funding they have been promised.
This would allow the county to fund its roughly $145 million in capital needs while keeping the Vision sales tax rate countywide at 0.6 percent.
Raw Space, a proposed innovation hub for engineers and tech workers, is the only project councilors agreed to take a another look at Thursday.
The council also explored ways to simplify the ballot voters will consider on April 5. City officials have said previously that as many as seven propositions could be on the ballot. But after a lengthy discussion with John Weidman, the city’s bond attorney, that number was reduced to four.
A group of city councilors will work with Weidman and city staff over the next week to try to finalize the ballot composition. As it stands, voters would consider four city Vision renewal propositions including public safety, transit, economic development and the river infrastructure, and parks. The county’s Vision ballot, meanwhile, is expected to include three propositions.
Still unresolved is the extent to which the Vision proposal would affect the city’s capacity to pay for future capital improvement needs.
A report from the city’s Engineering and Finance departments shows the city could lose as much as $135 million a year in funding for ongoing capital needs from 2020 to 2023 if the current Vision 2025 proposal is approved.
The loss of revenue is the result of the city’s plan to capture the Improve Our Tulsa revenue stream, once it expires, to pay for Vision projects.
Road repairs, sidewalk construction, traffic signals, facility repairs, small area plans and dozens of other ongoing capital projects would lose funding, according to the report.
Additional capital improvement projects that would suffer include repairs for police, fire and parks department facilities and replacement of guardrails and roadway lights.
In addition, the city’s capacity to raise additional bond revenue beyond what would be raised by extending Improve Our Tulsa is expected to be limited from 2020 to 2023. That would leave few options to fund non-Vision-related capital projects.
City Manager Jim Twombly said during the meeting that the city will have an answer to that question next week.
After the meeting, he said there may be a need to defer some street work until funds are available or do with less while not jeopardizing the integrity of the city’s street rehabilitation program.
“Maybe not staying where we would have been, but at least hit where we feel we really need to be,” Twombly said. “Maybe there are some things we can do that are temporary fixes — that we don’t go in and reconstruct a mile of arterial … still spending money but not spending $4 million.”
What the city does not want to see happen, he said, is have its Pavement Condition Index, used to rate street conditions, slide backward.
He added that some things on the city’s ongoing capital improvements list, such as improvement needed to comply with ADA regulations, must be done and will be funded.
The City Council and mayor will meet Thursday to discuss the Vision proposal. The city has until Feb. 4 to submit ballot resolutions to the Tulsa County Election Board.