By KEVIN CANFIELD
Two of Tulsa County’s three commissioners expressed strong reservations Wednesday about the county’s being part of an authority to oversee the construction, funding and operation of low-water dams in the Arkansas River.
“I’m out,” Commissioner Ron Peters said during a management meeting.
Commissioner John Smaligo said he was not enthusiastic about the way the trust is set up “and the extraordinary powers that it gives to the city of Tulsa.”
The Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force is putting together a proposal to construct or repair up to four low-water dams in the Arkansas River.
The dams are currently proposed for Sand Springs, Tulsa, south Tulsa/Jenks and Bixby and would be funded through a Vision 2025 sales tax renewal. The estimated cost is $298 million, which includes a maintenance and operations endowment.
The exact makeup of the authority has yet to be determined, but it is expected to include representatives of Tulsa, Sand Springs, Bixby, Jenks, Tulsa County and the Creek Nation. The city of Tulsa would likely have a minimum of six appointees — a fact that does not sit well with Smaligo or Peters.
“If you are one of 11 and six or seven of them are city of Tulsa (appointees) — based on what we have been going through with the Criminal Justice Authority — why would we want to be part of something we would really have nothing to say about it?” Peters said after the meeting.
Peters was referring to the on-going standoff between the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County over a new jail agreement and the role the Criminal Justice Authority has in operating the jail.
Peters said he is also concerned that the authority would be able to levy taxes in unincorporated Tulsa County without any input from county leaders.
City Councilor and Task Force Chairman G.T. Bynum said he understands Peters’ concern about working with the city of Tulsa. However, noted that task force members — including representatives of Tulsa and other communities — have worked in a cooperative fashion the last 19 months “contrary to the meetings of the Criminal Justice Authority.”
He also questioned Peters’ assertion that the authority could levy taxes, saying it would only have the power to request that municipalities put a tax on the ballot. The governing body of each municipality would have to call the election and the residents of those communities would determine whether the tax passes or fails, Bynum said.
No final decisions have been made about what the proposal will include or how the authority will be put together, Bynum said.
The task force will begin to answer those questions in the coming weeks as it reconvenes after holding a series of public meetings on the proposal, he said.
“I’m glad the commissioners are making their concerns known now so we can address them,” Bynum said. “They’ve been represented from the very beginning of our task force by Commissioner (Karen) Keith, and having Tulsa County continue to work with us on this is crucial.”
Keith was out of town and did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.