Annexing the Fairgrounds

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I was on KFAQ this morning with Councilor Roscoe Turner, who is calling for the City of Tulsa to bring the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square) within the city limits. Currently, the fairgrounds, roughly 240 acres (3/8 of a square mile), is an unincorporated enclave surrounded by the City of Tulsa on all sides. Annexing the fairgrounds is a good idea, and it should have been done a long time ago.

Some background: Tulsa County acquired the fairgrounds when the site was well outside the city limits of Tulsa. Eventually, new housing developments surrounded the fairgrounds, and they were brought into the city boundaries, but the fairgrounds as a whole were never annexed. Parts of the fairgrounds to the west of the Pavilion, used for temporary housing during WW II, were annexed by the City and later deannexed. A small tract of land near the corner of 15th & Louisville is still owned by the City and is within the city limits. (This was the location of a large water tower which once provided adequate water pressure to the higher elevations of midtown. The tower is gone, and now the water used in these neighborhoods that has to flow downhill from some other reservoir then back uphill. But that's a rant for another time.)

There is a similar situation with LaFortune Park. When it was created it was outside the city limits. The City grew up and around it, and I can remember seeing city maps that showed nearly all of that half-section from Yale to Hudson, 51st to 61st, marked as "OUT." Only the Memorial High School campus was within the City of Tulsa's corporate boundaries. Later most of LaFortune Park was annexed, except for the old County Farm, a rectangular plot of land southwest of 51st and Hudson, now known as the Gardens at LaFortune Park. (I can remember our third-grade class going out to the County Farm in 1971 to sing Christmas carols to the residents.) Ultimately this, too, was brought within the City boundaries. The ownership of LaFortune Park did not change. It is still owned by Tulsa County, but it is subject to City of Tulsa ordinances and City of Tulsa sales and property taxes.

Can the City annex the fairgrounds? Yes, and they can do it without the County's consent. Oklahoma state law provides that if a municipality surrounds a piece of unincorporated territory on at least three sides, the municipality may annex the land without the consent of the landowners.

This has been the law for a long time, but new legislation (from 2005, if I recall correctly) requires that the strip of surrounding land (the "fence line") already within the municipal boundaries has to be at least 300' wide, and the annexing municipality must extend city services to the annexed territory within a certain period of time. Neither of the new stipulations would hinder this annexation: There are miles of Tulsa surrounding the fairgrounds on all four sides, and Tulsa already supplies water, sewer, stormwater, fire, emergency medical, and hazmat services to the fairgrounds, nearly every city service except law enforcement, which is handled by the Sheriff.

Again, it has to be emphasized that annexation wouldn't change ownership. The fairgrounds would still be owned by Tulsa County and run by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the fair board), which consists of the three county commissioners and two other members, currently Jim Orbison and Clark Brewster. Annexation wouldn't affect the fair board's ability to enter into long-term, non-competitive sweetheart contracts.

But annexation would eliminate the anomalies in law enforcement and tax rates. The fairgrounds and the surrounding land would be subject to the same zoning ordinances and zoning process. The same sales tax rate would apply to businesses on and off the fairgrounds. The same hotel/motel tax rate would apply to the fairgrounds motel and to nearby motels. The same noise ordinances would apply on and off the fairgrounds.

When the fair board considers a lease, they'd have to consider whether the proposed activity complies with city ordinances. I'm sure existing uses would be grandfathered in, but any zoning relief needed for whatever replaces Bell's would have to pass muster with the City of Tulsa's Board of Adjustment (which applies the law as it is; one of Bill LaFortune's positive legacies) or the Tulsa City Council. Currently, anything the fair board (made up mostly of the county commissioners) wants to allow only needs approval by the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) or the county commissioners themselves. There's no independent check on fairgrounds development.

This is a good thing to do, and I appreciate Councilor Turner for raising the issue. The additional revenue will help the entire city, and the uniformity of laws will benefit neighboring homes and businesses.

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Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I agree wholeheartedly. But I have to tell you, I waited until Saied Music was at the Fairgrounds to buy my piano this year. It's nice to have a tax holiday every now and again.

Bob said:

Yes, the sales tax of just above 5% charged at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds does make me wax nostalgic for the hedonistic 70's, when Tulsa's combined city/state sales tax was a mere 5%.

Then, with our economy in the dumpster back in the oil-bust mid-eighties, the self-proclaimed Man in The White Hat, Governor George Nigh declared a "State of Emergency" to push through a "temporary" 1-cent state sales tax increase. without a Constitutionally required Vote of the People. That was 17 years ago for that "temporary" tax.

Then, along comes 1980, and Mayor Big Jim Inhofe seizes the euphoric oil boom driven local economy to push through a "temporary" 1-cent city sales tax for Street Improvements. Temporary meaning it's 26 years old this year, and has a look of rather permanence. After all, it has picked the pockets of Tulsans of over $1.2 billion since the inception of the "Itty-Bitty Penny". It's just a penny......The Itty Bitty Penny.

Then, the 5/12 cent "temporary" tulsa County Jail tax with 3/12 cent permanent tax got approved in 1995. Then, cleverly the 2/12 cent expiring tax of the 5/12 cent Jail Tax was morphed into "4-to-Fix the County" in 2000; then re-approved by an "overwhelming" majority of votes added up by the Tulsa COUNTY Election Board. Sigh.

Then, in 2003 we get the 6/10 Cent VISION 2025 tax, another 13 year "temporary tax", foisted upon us by Commissioner Dirty Bob Dick and Mayor Bill "Major" MisFortunate backed by a Million dollars in promotion money, to line the pockets of the Rooney, Flint, Lorton and Kaiser Oligarch families and P.S. Save Downtown. Yeah, right.

Sigh. I sure miss paying ONLY 5% sales tax. AND, NO SALES TAX on Beer and Liquor, too, back in those hedonistic '70's. Gov. Nigh did away with that tax break, too. Thanks,George.

What a SWELL guy! So deserving of his sinecure awarded by the State Regents making him President of CSU Edmond for services provided to the bloated Education Establishment while serving as Governor for eight LONG years.

My HERO? No, a ravenous Tax Vampire ZERO.

Mark Sanders said:

I suppose annexation would then permit a taking by the City through eminent domain. In light of the cloud over the Fair Board's management, this might be a positive and progressive development.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 21, 2006 12:37 PM.

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