Economic development projects approved as part of Vision Tulsa, including work on Zink Dam, may be paid for in five years instead of 15 through advance funding. SHANE BEVEL / The Frontier

Economic development projects approved as part of Vision Tulsa, including work on the Arkansas River, may be paid for in five years instead of 15 through advance funding.
SHANE BEVEL / The Frontier

Now that Tulsans have approved the $884.6 million Vision Tulsa package, one can’t help but wonder when work on the projects will begin — or, better yet, when the projects might be completed.

Sooner than you might think, it turns out.

City officials said last week that they hope to have most of Vision Tulsa’s economic development projects funded and some perhaps even completed within five years of when the tax takes effect.

That’s fast, especially considering that the city won’t begin collecting the 0.55 percent tax until Jan. 1 and that the economic development portion of the tax (.305 percent) will run for 15 years.

(Read the city’s final list of all Vision Tulsa projects here.)

The key is advance funding. The city is considering issuing bonds in the first five years of the Vision Tulsa package to raise money for the economic development projects. The bonds will generate approximately $24 million a year and be paid back with Vision Tulsa sales and use tax revenue.

City Finance Director Mike Kier said one of the key factors in determining whether a project is advance funded is what it would cost to build down the road.

Often, the debt service paid to advance fund a project today is less than what the city would pay in higher construction costs, due to inflation, five or 10 years out, Kier said.

“You can either make it a $10 million project today, or you need to set aside $15 million if you’re not going to do it for several years,” Kier said.

The trickier part of the process has been taking place behind closed doors for months — figuring out how to implement the program.

Paul Zachary, director of the city’s Engineering Services Department, keeps a spreadsheet on his computer that lists every economic development project funded in the Vision Tulsa program. Next to the project’s name is a series of X’s, or empty spaces, indicating such things as whether the project will receive funding from other sources and the status of planning documents.

It’s information Zachary and fellow members of the mayor’s Vision Steering Committee use to determine how much money each project will receive annually.

For example, a project with few concrete plans will first get money to do those plans, nothing more.
“If there was not a specific scope defined, there will be a master plan or a programming component that will be done” first, Zachary said.

Then there are projects like the Zink Dam overhaul, whose planning is much further along. It is set to receive $3.7 million early in the process to complete design and mitigation plans.

Ultimately, funding decisions come down to “who is ready and who can spend the money first,” Zachary said.

The revenue stream matters, too. The city can only raise so much money annually by issuing bonds, which means it only has so much money to allocate in a given year. Some Vision Tulsa programs, such as citywide beautification, will be pay-as-you-go projects and receive funding annually over the life of the program.

When funding needs outpace available funding, “then, yes, we need to spread them (projects) out a little bit,” Zachary said.

The main difference between how the Vision 2025 program was implemented and the city’s Vision Tulsa program will be implemented is that the city, not a private entity, will oversee each project and cut the checks.

“Our biggest thing is these entities must have a very transparent and open way in how they hire their consultants, in how they hire their contractors, how they process things. … So we are going to take them through how you spend public money,” Zachary said.

What happens if a project comes in over budget?

“Either you reduce what the end project is, or you match it with some other money,” Zachary said.

Kirby Crowe, owner of Program Management Group, knows the drill. His company was hired to manage Tulsa County’s Vision 2025 program shortly after it was approved by voters in 2003.

He said it’s not uncommon to have to change the particulars of a project to stay within budget.

“It happens on every project,” Crowe said.

“I’ll give you an example: the community center at Chandler Park. If you had unlimited monies that would have been a masonry gym, but they didn’t have unlimited money, so they made a value determination to do that as a metal building with a multi-layered dry wall installation.”

And then there was the BOK Center, where designers originally hoped to put terrazzo flooring throughout the entire arena, but thought again when faced with the price tag.

“Polished concrete worked just fine,” Crowe said. “The secret — and the architects are all good at it — is spending money where you need to spend money and being frugal where you don’t need to spend money.”

The Vision Steering Committee meets twice a month and (will begin) reporting monthly to the city’s Sales Tax Oversight Committee.

In addition to Zachary, Oversight Committee members include City Manager Jim Twombly, Planning Director Dawn Warrick, Community Development and Transportation Director Dwain Midget and other city personnel.