If too many Jeannette Kings and Karen Chapmans show up to vote April 5, the city’s billion dollar Vision 2025 renewal proposal could well turn into a billion dollar bust.
King and Chapman challenged city councilors at Monday’s town hall meeting to explain how and why they decided to move away from the traditional Vision format — a straight 0.6 percent sales tax — to one that includes multiple funding sources, some permanent some not, that do not all begin and end at the same time.
“I predict it won’t pass because it won’t even make sense,” King told a packed auditorium at Greenwood Cultural Center, adding, “this, to me, seems sneaky and not up front.”
Tuesday’s Vision 2025 town hall meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church, 6040 S. Pittsburgh Ave. Wednesday’s meeting is 6 p.m. at Tulsa Community College Southeast Campus, 10300 E. 81st St.
Chapman elicited some of the loudest applause of the evening when she questioned why the Vision renewal proposal calls for revenue to be used to pay for operating costs in the city’s Police, Fire and Street Maintenance departments. Chapman pointed to the fact that the current Vision 2025 package, which expires at the end of the year, is dedicated solely to capital improvements and economic development.
“This Vision 2025 is not viable,” she said. “It’s not a good package.”
Councilors Phil Lakin, Blake Ewing and Karen Gilbert responded to King’s and Chapman’s concerns, noting that the draft package represents the City Council’s best effort to address the city’s needs as communicated to them by the public while not raising taxes.
“Lots of surveys were done, and lots of calls were made trying to figure out what the appetite of the Tulsa community was,” Lakin said. “The Tulsa community does not want a tax increase to pay for all of these things.”
As for King’s assertion that city leaders are trying to pull a quick one, the facts don’t bear that out. The City Council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett have held dozens of well-publicized and well-attended public meetings over the past several years as they’ve worked to put the Vision renewal package together.
But it’s also true that the composition of the package — including what funding sources would be included — has been fluid up to and including the Dec. 18 City Council/mayor retreat to finalize the draft proposal.
As recently as June, councilors held public meetings to discuss using as much as half of the expiring Vision 2025 sales tax to build low-water dams in the Arkansas River with the other half going to economic development projects. This was happening at the same time that Bartlett was pushing for using 0.2 percent of the Vision renewal for public safety.
By August, Bartlett and Councilor Karen Gilbert had announced a compromise plan for public safety that called for using 0.2 percent of the Vision 2025 renewal and another 0.1 percent of the Improve Our Tulsa sales tax when it expires no later than 2021. Both taxes would be permanent.
As Ewing noted Monday night, any question about whether the city’s public safety needs could be put off until after the Vision vote was put to rest when a University of Cincinnati study found that Tulsa needs 175 more patrol officers.
At that point, Ewing said, city officials could not go to the public and say, “Trust us, we’ll get to public safety after we get to the river.”
Which brings us to another question asked of councilors Monday night: Just how many Vision propositions will Tulsans be asked to vote on in April?
City Finance Director Mike Kier told the crowd four: two permanent taxes, one for public safety and one for transit; one for Arkansas River Infrastructure; and one for economic development projects.
But speaking to The Frontier later in the meeting, he confirmed that he was referring strictly to questions related to how Vision 2025 sales taxes revenue would be spent.
Because the City Council and the mayor are also using Improve Our Tulsa funds to pay for Vision projects, an additional three questions will be on the ballot, Kier said.
Those include one proposition to extend a portion of the city’s Improve Our Tulsa general obligation bonds for three years beginning in 2020 to pay for transportation and street projects, and one proposition to extend a portion the city’s improve Our Tulsa general obligation bonds for three years beginning in 2020 to pay for Parks and Recreation projects.
The seventh ballot proposition would be to extend 1.0 percent of the Improve Our Tulsa sales for two years beginning no later than 2021 to pay for a variety of projects.
But that’s not the end of it. Tulsa County officials have said they plan to ask voters to approve a countywide 0.1 percent Vision 2025 sales tax renewal to fund approximately $150 million in road, street and building projects.
Depending on how the ballot is put together, that could mean an additional three or four Vision-related propositions Tulsa voters will have to decide come April 5.
So, yes, when it’s all said and done, Tulsans could be asked to vote on as many as 11 Vision 2025-related ballot questions.