Owasso water line cuts in line


Getting caught up after some time away during my son's school's fall break:

After granting the Mayor three weeks to make his case, the Tulsa City Council voted unanimously to allow the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) -- the water board -- to issue $18.5 million in revenue bonds to pay for ten projects, including $4.725 million for Phase 1 a controversial water line to serve new development in the City of Owasso. The revenue bonds will be repaid from future water system revenues -- that means that all Tulsa water customers will be paying for the new Owasso line, not just those who stand to benefit directly.

The Owasso line -- officially called the North Annexation Area Water Line -- has been on a fast track. Until April of this year, the line wasn't a part of the City of Tulsa's Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). The CIP is the City's "to-do" list, and when the City decides to finance capital improvements, they look at this list to determine what to fund. $474 million is the estimated cost of all the water system improvements that have been identified and included in the CIP. (You can download this large PDF file of the CIP inventory. The water system section begins on page 8-35.

Most projects sit on the CIP for years without being funded. Inclusion on the CIP just means we know we need to get around to it some day. That's why it's remarkable that this Owasso water line has gone from being off the radar to fully funded in a matter of six months. The water line was added at the April 22, 2004, Council meeting, without much fanfare. It was approved with a long list of other items that were presented to the Council as routine clerical matters.

It is hard to understand why there has been such a rush to make this happen. There are no imminent plans to develop the area within the Tulsa fence line that would be served by the water line, and Owasso has the resources, thanks to funds earmarked for Owasso infrastructure in Vision 2025, to pay for the line itself. So why is this project being allowed to cut in line, ahead of dozens of other projects that would serve unserved areas within the city limits or that would benefit all users of the system?

The Reason Public Policy Institute (RPPI) is a think tank focused on using the discipline of the free market to make government services more efficient. RPPI has a paper on water-system pricing which recommends the use of system development charges, which would have those who would be served by a water line pay a one-time fee up front for the cost of building it, rather than having current customers pay for connecting new customers. This seems like a fair approach, and it's what Councilor Chris Medlock and others have been advocating.

So why the rush, and why not have those who stand to benefit directly pay for the line? About 2 hours and 50 minutes into the meeting, Deanna Oakley, a north Tulsa County resident, asked a very blunt question of Council Chairman Randy Sullivan. She asked him whether the rumor was true that he and two other councilors and Tulsa Metro Chamber Chairman Bob Poe stood to benefit financially from this water line extension. Sullivan gave a non-answer after several seconds of stunned silence. The rumor is that there are plans for a residential golf development at 106th Street North and 97th East Avenue (Mingo Road). One of Bob Poe's companies, Pittman Poe, developed Bailey Ranch in Owasso and Battle Creek in Broken Arrow, along with many other similar developments across the country. If true, the rumor would explain a lot of otherwise unaccountably frantic behavior on the part of Mr. Poe and the Cockroach Caucus councilors.

In the end, it was Councilor Sam Roop who cleared the way for the Owasso water line to be funded in this package. Without his vote, there were not enough votes to amend the package and replace the Owasso water line with a project that would serve Tulsa. The opponents of the Owasso line felt it was more important to move ahead with the other projects on the list than to hold them up in hopes of persuading Roop or other councilors to see sense on the Owasso line.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 17, 2004 11:35 PM.

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