The Vision 2025 sales tax renewal package under consideration by city leaders would temporarily remove two revenue sources that provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to repair and rehabilitate city streets, according to figures presented to the City Council.
The $1.1 billion Vision renewal proposal calls for capturing two funding sources — the Improve Our Tulsa sales tax and the Improve Our Tulsa general obligation bonds — once they expire. Those revenue sources currently provide about $110 million a year in road repair and rehabilitation projects.
The $918 million Improve Our Tulsa package was approved by voters in 2013. The program includes more than $625 million for street-related projects, including $482 million for street repair and rehabilitation The remainder of the Improve Our Tulsa funding, $293 million, is paying for non-street-related capital improvements .
All of the general obligation bonds issued in the Improve Our Tulsa program — about $71 million annually — are dedicated to the repair and rehabilitation of streets. In addition, approximately $39 million a year in sales tax revenue from the program is going to road repairs, according to the city’s Finance Department.
Under the Vision renewal proposal, those funding sources would be captured but a much smaller percentage of the revenue would go toward street repair and rehabilitation.
The general obligation bonds would be extended three years, beginning in fiscal year 2020, to fund $148.8 million in Vision projects.
None of the projects are strictly street rehabilitation projects.
The GO bonds would pay for a street widening project along Mingo Avenue and streetscape and infrastructure projects along Peoria Avenue and implementation of the bicycle/pedestrian master plan, commonly known as the GO Plan.
Other projects to be funded through the general obligation bond extension include the Center of the Universe Transportation Hub ($10 million); Discovery Lab ($10 million); and phase 2 of the Mohawk Sports Complex ($13.3 million).
The Vision renewal also calls for extending 1.0 percent of the existing 1.1 percent Improve Our Tulsa sales tax — commonly known as the third-penny sales tax — for two years beginning no later than July 2021. The extension would cover the cost of $142.5 million in projects, none of which are directly related to street repairs and rehabilitation.
The 15-year Vision 2025 renewal package does include approximately $3 million a year to hire additional street maintenance crews.
But city Finance Director Mike Kier acknowledged last week that the money included in the Vision renewal for street maintenance would not offset the loss of general obligation and sales tax revenue now going into streets in the Improve Our Tulsa package.
“Something to think about,” Kier told councilors and Mayor Dewey Bartlett during a Vision discussion Thursday at City Hall.
City Manager Jim Twombly said the city is working to better understand how the proposed Vision renewal package would affect funding for street work.
“Part of what we’re trying to do right now is evaluate that,” Twombly said. “We are looking at, is there a way to structure the GO bonds and third penny so that it kind of mitigates that?”
Beginning in 2008 with the passage of the Fix Our Streets program, Tulsa has made a concerted effort to improve the quality of its long-neglected streets. At the beginning of the Improve Our Tulsa program, city officials said their goal was to improve the Pavement Condition Index for city streets to 64 by the time the GO bond program ends in 2019.
The latest Pavement Condition Index figures provided by the city show the city’s arterial streets were rated at 60 in 2010 and non-arterial streets were rated at 63 as of 2013. An updated score for the city’s arterial streets is expected to be available this summer.
Councilor Phil Lakin has asked the city Finance Department to provide a more definitive figure as to the actual reduction in available funding for roads if the Vision proposal were approved. He noted that at least four projects to be funded with GO bonds are street related: the GO Plan bike/pedestrian master plan; South Mingo widening; the Peoria Connection; and the $3 million annual allocation for road maintenance.
Another factor to consider, Lakin said, is that about 70 percent of the Improve Our Tulsa package is dedicated to streets. Given that, it is not accurate to assume that 100 percent of the revenue raised in an Improve Our Tulsa extension should or would go to streets, he said.
“Now where are we really at?” Lakin said. “That is what I have asked Finance to do.”
Councilor Connie Dodson said she has advocated for a separate public safety tax in part to ensure adequate funding for such things as road repair and rehabilitation. She described the current proposal as a trade off.
“That was one of my biggest reservations, extending into those future funding packages without the voters having more input in the process that would be utilized in the package that is traditionally for roads and other infrastructure,” Dodson said.
Councilor David Patrick said the proposed Vision package would not leave the city short on funding for street rehabilitation.
“They’ll be going several years after that tax expires before they can get all of that work done,” Patrick said. “Three years out, that is just about the time or so that they are going to be winding down the last of the projects and at that point we can renew the package with more streets so we keep the momentum going.”
Councilor Blake Ewing said the city needs to work toward a more balanced approached to funding its capital improvement needs rather than pouring all of its money into what is determined to be the most urgent need at a particular point in time.
“The reality is we don’t have the luxury of shoving off every other capital project … and only taking care of roads,” Ewing said.
The City Council and Mayor’s Office have scheduled three meetings to discuss the latest Vision 2025 sales tax proposal. The City Council must vote present the ballot resolution to the Election Board by Feb. 4 to get the proposal on the April 5 ballot.
The first public meetings will be held 6 p.m. Monday at Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave. The other meetings will be held 6 p.m. Tuesday at Kirk of he Hills Presbyterian Church, 6040 S. Pittsburgh Ave.; and 6 p.m. Wednesday Tulsa Community College Southeast Campus, 10300 E. 81st St.
Proposed Vision Package
Total: $1.1 billion
Term: 15 years (Public safety and transit funding would be permanent)
Projects: Public Safety ($341,326,000); Ec. Dev. ($499,848,000); River Infrastructure ($192,610,000); Transit ($60,000,000)
Vision 2025 sales tax: 0.6 percent (0.2 percent public safety; 0.05 percent transit; 0.05 Tulsa County; 0.125 percent Arkansas River; 0.175 percent ec. dev.) also includes Vision use tax funds
Two-year extension of Improve Our Tulsa sales tax, beginning no later than fiscal year 2022
Three-year extension of Improve Our Tulsa general obligation bonds, beginning in fiscal year 2020.