City councilors and the mayor left a day-long meeting at Gilcrease Museum on Friday with a $1 billion Vision 2025 renewal package and more work to do.
The group is scheduled to meet again the first week of January to further refine the proposal, which must be presented to the Tulsa County Election Board by early February to allow for an April 5 vote.
The Vision renewal package is an extension of the existing Vision 2025 sales tax, which is paid throughout the county and expires at the end of 2016. However, the Vision renewal being considered by the city of Tulsa would include three funding sources: the 0.60 Vision sales tax; general obligation bonds; and an extension of the city’s 1.1 percent Improve Our Tulsa sales tax.
The city’s current general obligation package is expected to expire on June 30, 2019. General obligations bond are paid for with property taxes.
The Improve Our Tulsa capital improvements sales tax, meanwhile, is scheduled to expire no later than June 30, 2021.
Although the mayor and councilors made no final funding decisions, marquee projects such as Gilcrease Museum expansion, low-water dams and other infrastructure improvements along the Arkansas River received strong support for full funding.
Gilcrease originally asked for $75 million, but councilors earlier bumped it down to $69.3 million.
The $192.6 million river package generally went untouched Friday. The proposal calls for building a new low-water dam at 103rd Street and Riverside Drive and overhauling Zink Dam.
The biggest point of contention was public safety funding, with Councilor Karen Gilbert and Mayor Dewey Bartlett pushing hard for a package that would increase manpower levels by approximately 175 officers. The manpower increase was recommended as part of a University of Cincinnati study of the city’s Police Department.
Councilor Blake Ewing reminded his colleagues that the original Vision 2025 package focused on capital improvements and quality-of-life projects — not operating expenses.
“I just refuse to (accept) because they have badges they get fully funded and other departments don’t,” Ewing said.
In the end, public safety — which includes police, firefighters and street maintenance crews — received approximately a third of the funding.
The meeting began at 8:30 a.m. By mid-afternoon, with the cost of projects far exceeding the projected revenue the Vision 2025 and Improve Our Tulsa sales taxes could raise, councilors began moving projects into the general obligation column.
By the end of the day, $148 million in new road and park projects hand found a new home there.
But City Engineer Paul Zachary warned that the move would come at a steep cost to the city’s ongoing street maintenance program.
“We have really undercut our street program by moving them (the projects) over to bonds,” Zachary said.
General obligation bonds historically are used to pay only for street rehabilitation and repairs, Zachary said, and taking $148 million out of that program decreases significantly the funds available for that purpose.
At one point during Friday’s meeting, Councilor G.T. Bynum was asked to call one of the county commissioners to see if the county still wanted to be considered for funding in the city’s Vision package.
Commissioners on Thursday issued a press release saying they plan to move forward with a Vision renewal package of their own. Bynum stepped out of the room to take a call from Commissioner Ron Peters and returned to say that the county is still open to working with the city on the Vision package.
So, for today, the county remains part of the package and is slotted to receive approximately $60 million.