The Tulsa Regional Chamber has informed city and county officials that it won’t fund the Vision 2025 sales tax renewal campaign if the proposal includes a significant amount of money for public safety and does not have broad support among the parties putting the package together, several sources have told The Frontier.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
Historically, the Chamber has raised private funds to hire consultants and advertising agencies to educate the public on major initiatives, including the original countywide Vision program in 2003.
Mike Neal, chamber president and CEO, shared the organization’s position with local leaders at a private meeting last week. Later in the week, Mayor Dewey Bartlett and city councilors tentatively agreed to allocate approximately $269 million in Vision funds to public safety.
The Vision 2025 sales tax is 0.60 percent (six-tenths of a penny). Neal told those attending Thursday’s meeting that the Chamber would not support spending more than 0.10 percent on public safety, sources say.
The $269 million figure agreed to by councilors and the mayor on Friday would take up about two-tenths of the Vision sales tax renewal and be permanent.
As currently composed, the Vision package totals $1.1 billion and includes three funding sources: Vision sales tax; general obligation bonds, and an extension of the city’s Improve Our Tulsa capital improvements sales tax. An additional $72.2 million in Improve Our Tulsa funding has been earmarked for public safety in the Vision 2025 renewal.
Bartlett and councilors plan to refine the proposal in early January before bringing it to a vote of the people on April 5.
Neal’s remarks are consistent with what the Chamber board of directors has been saying for at least two months. After the board voted on the issue in November, the Chamber issued a statement expressing support for a “separate, sustainable, dedicated funding solution” to address the city’s public safety operational needs.
Vision funding, according to the Chamber statement, should be used for its intended purpose: “providing for large-scale, game-changing capital investments that position the city of Tulsa to successfully compete with our peer cities in talent attraction, economic development and citizen quality of life.”
Monday, LToya Knighten, senior vice president of communications for the Chamber, did not confirm or deny whether the meeting took place last week.
But she did say that the Chamber’s board of directors believes the city needs a long-term solution to its public safety needs “with a comprehensive review necessary to ensure any funding amount Tulsa’s citizens are asked to support is appropriate, needed and addresses the full problem our community faces.”
She also reiterated the Chamber board’s belief that Vision should remain focused on its original purpose of funding game-changing capital improvements and quality-of-life projects.
“The draft Vision renewal proposal developed Friday would have a significant impact on our community for many years, and merits a careful review by our leadership before any stance is taken,” Knighten said. “We will begin our formal review process once the proposal is in a final form, and will take it before our executive committee for consideration at its January meeting.
Vision 2025 was overwhelmingly approved by county voters in 2003. The tax expires at the end of 2016.
Area communities announced earlier this year that they were going to abandon the countywide approach to the Vision program and put together their own Vision proposals.
Jarred Brejcha, the mayor’s chief of staff, said he attended last week’s meeting with the Chamber but had to leave early. He does not recall Neal mentioning a specific percentage related to public safety funding, but said Neal did stress the need for unity.
That has been accomplished, Brejcha said, pointing to the tentative agreement reached Friday by councilors and the mayor.
“Everybody has their preferences,” Brejcha said. “At the end of the day you make a package out of consensus. At this point, I think it’s time to move forward with unity.”
The city could not use public dollars to market the Vision campaign if the Chamber were not involved, Brejcha said, but he expressed confidence private donors would step up if the need arose.
City Councilor David Patrick accused the Chamber of trying to manipulate the process.
“It’s not up to them; it’s up to the city,” Patrick said. “It’s time for them to either get on board or get off.”
Councilor Anna America said there is still work to be done on the proposal and her hope is that the final package is one the entire community can support.
America said she knows the Chamber has the city’s best interests in mind. However, she said the city is “not putting a package together for the Chamber to vote on; we are putting a package together for the citizens of Tulsa to vote on.”
The Vision renewal package is also expected to include funding for the construction of a low-water dam at 103rd Street and Riverside Drive and the overhaul of Zink Dam and other river-related infrastructure projects.
Quality-of-life projects expected to be on the ballot include a $69 million renovation of Gilcrease Museum and at least $30 million for Tulsa Zoo improvements.
The city and county, meanwhile, appear to be headed in separate directions on the Vision proposal.
The county announced last week that it intends to move forward with its own 0.10 percent Vision proposal, regardless of whether the city allocates funding for county projects in its Vision package.
That would mean a sales tax increase for Tulsans, who now pay 8.517 percent. If both the city and county Vision packages were approved, the sales tax rate within the city of Tulsa would be 8.617.