Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and the City Council want voters to approve funding for a dam on the Arkansas River that may never be built.
The Muskogee (Creek) Nation sent a letter to the city on February 15 indicating they would not pledge $18,000,000.00 for a maintenance fund for the Jenks dam project that will be on the ballot April 5. City leaders have decided not to build the Jenks dam if the money doesn’t come in and use the construction money for a maintenance fund for another dam project.
Councilor G.T. Bynum has reportedly said that the tribe’s position has not changed but they are waiting to see how the April 5 votes in Tulsa and Jenks go before agreeing to the $18,000,000.00.
On April 5, Tulsa voters will determine the fate of three proposals that will raise sales taxes in Tulsa by $884,100,000.00.
Some of the new sales taxes are permanent, some are “temporary.” The county sales tax (Vision 2025) was passed in 2003 by county voters as a “temporary tax” but it will change into a permanent tax step by step if Mayor Dewey Bartlett and all nine city councilors have their way.
The propositions are:
- Proposition 1: This is a permanent sales tax of .16 percent of a cent beginning January 1, 2017. This funding is targeted for public safety, including the addition of policemen and firefighters.
- Proposition 2: This is a permanent sales tax of .85 percent of a cent beginning January 1, 2017, for streets, traffic and other public transportation.
- Proposition 3: This is a “temporary” sales tax of .305 percent of a cent that begins January 1, 2017. It increases to .805 percent of a cent on July 1, 2021, and decreases to .305 percent on July 1, 2025 and then expires on December 31, 2031. This will fund “economic development” including dams on the Arkansas River and other projects that are not specified on the ballot.
No elected official in the city has voiced public opposition to this expansion of municipal government. A massive promotional campaign is being directed by the chamber of commerce.
A grassroots group, Citizens for a Better Vision, was formed in 2012. With virtually no funding, that group helped defeat a tax increase for dam improvement in 2012. The vote yes group spent more than $1,000,000.00 to get that tax passed.
Tulsans have rejected raising taxes to pay for low-water dams in the Arkansas River in 2007 and 2012.
If the three propositions pass on April 5, the anticipated street improvement package (extension of the Third Penny sales tax) would force a vote for an even higher sales tax rate.
Citizens for a Better Vision allege that Bartlett and the councilors choose to put this $884,100,000.00 issue on a special election ballot in April rather than on the November presidential ballot because a low turnout favors passage. The only other issue on this ballot for Tulsa voters is a special election for Tulsa County sheriff.
Critics said it is unwise to raise taxes while Tulsa’s sales tax revenues are dropping and while Bartlett has instituted a hiring freeze. Also, the State of Oklahoma is looking at across-the-board budget cuts for state agencies due to a projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall due to declining oil and gas production.
The dams on the river are the biggest part of the “economic development” in Proposition 3.
The low-water dam at Zink Lake on the Arkansas River has been a maintenance nightmare for Tulsa.
Michael Bates of Batesline.com and a spokesman for Citizens for a Better Vision said the projects being promoted as “economic development” won’t do that but are primarily amenities. Bates said promoters of Vision 2025 in 2003 made the same promises – including boosting sales tax revenues for the city – and that has not happened. Bates said if all three propositions pass, it would mean a 17-percent increase in sales taxes for Tulsa.
Another parallel problem with Vision 2025 and the April 5 propositions is cost overruns. Former Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick promised that the arena – the centerpiece of Vision 2025 – would cost $142 million. Instead, it cost over $200,000,000.00 – a cost overrun of more than 30 percent.
And Bates said Dick and others promised development around the arena but that has not been as much as expected.
Citizens for a Better Vision, in a press conference, said there is a “dirty dozen” list of capital spending projects in the three propositions that are not the responsibility of the city. That includes OSU-Tulsa, Langston University, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Public Schools, a BMX (private group) headquarters, and others.
Owasso, Jenks, Collinsville and Glenpool will also vote on sales tax proposals on April 5.
Tulsa sales tax keeps dropping
The City of Tulsa’s March sales tax check, which covers the period from mid-January to mid-February, as reported by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, totaled $17,661,721 showing a 5.9 percent decrease from the same period one year ago. This total is 6.9 percent below budget estimates.
Sales tax collections for the fiscal year are flat. The sales tax total since July 2015 is $178.1 million compared with $178 million for the same period last year, showing a slight increase of 0.1 percent. “Overreliance on sales tax proves time and again to be an outdated and insufficient model for cities to operate,” Mayor Dewey Bartlett said.
Use taxes for March totaled $1,697,096 which is down 9.7 percent from the same period a year ago, and 15 percent below budget estimates.
Use tax collections for the fiscal year are lower than one year ago. The use tax total since July 2015 is $17,740,012 compared with $18,269,770 for the same period last year, showing a 2.9 percent decrease.
Sales tax and use tax collections provide two-thirds of the City of Tulsa’s general fund. Vital services such as police and fire protection, 911 emergency dispatch, snow and ice removal from streets, pothole repair and mowing of grass in medians and parks are supported by sales and use taxes.