The box we're in

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Tulsa City Council Chairman Bill "Landslide" Martinson is not one of my favorite city councilors, but I've been told by other Martinson non-fans that he does have a good mind for numbers and financial analysis, which could be an asset as the city confronts with its budget problems.

Recently Martinson presented to his colleagues a thorough and impressive summary of the financial box the City finds itself in. Municipal Revenues and Fiscal Constraints is available for your perusal on the City Council's website. Every citizen ought to read it and digest it.

Some highlights:

  • Charts showing how much of the general fund is used for personnel costs, particularly public safety personnel costs.
  • A chart on page 12 showing the city budget adjusted for inflation over the last 10 years. The budget grew faster than inflation during Susan Savage's tenure, didn't keep up with inflation in the wake of the telecom crash during LaFortune's term, and with last year's budget returned to the same level as 1996-7 in constant dollars.
  • Why less than half of the city's revenue is available for operations.
  • How the city balanced its budget during the lean years -- cuts to parks, street maintenance, street lighting, code enforcement, graffiti abatement, right-of-way mowing -- all areas that affect the city's "curb appeal" and quality of life.
  • Why the same percentage of sales taxes (2% for operations) hasn't been sufficient for maintaining the same level of service.
  • The impact of federal policy shifts -- reduction in direct federal aid to cities since the 1970s, reduction in Medicare reimbursements for ambulance service, increased environmental mandates on cities, failure to deal with illegal immigration.
  • Why the state has a surplus, while cities struggle to provide services -- the state has multiple, complimentary revenue sources, including income taxes, sales taxes, and oil and gas production taxes.
  • Why only one of those three options is available to the City of Tulsa.
  • Restrictions on the use of property taxes by cities.
  • The impact of sales tax exemptions.
  • Tulsa County government's discovery of sales tax as a source of operating revenue.
  • Tulsa County government's refusal to restore a share of property tax to Tulsa County municipalities.
  • The impact of suburban flight on the city's finances.

Again, every active citizen needs to read this. So do all of our state representatives and state senators and county officials. This is what Chris Medlock was talking about when he called for Tulsans to reject the county's attempt to renew Four to Fix the County and when, as a candidate for state house, he called for adoption of an urban policy at the state level -- how do we finance Oklahoma's cities, the state's economic engines, and protect them from a spiral of decline?

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7 Comments

Shadow6 said:

Non-Resident income tax of .5%?

3% Income bonus for city employees (And Tulsa Public School employees) who live in the city/district?

Dan Hicks said:

Michael,

I am always frustrated when City leaders throw up their hands in defeat claiming that Tulsa is out of money and that the only solutions are to raise taxes or slap a new fee on something. This would assume that every single penny of Tulsa’s $547 Million budget is being spent wisely.

The taxpayers don’t by it. With more than half a BILLION of our dollars to spend, the City of Tulsa needs to prioritize spending, make some tough choices, and balance the budget WITHOUT RAISING TAXES!

When we allow City leaders to take the easy way out by raising taxes, we enable them to continue misspending our money. Don’t be an enabler.

I agree with you and Chris that 4-to-Fix should go away. Of course, I voted against it from the beginning. Both County and City governments need to get smaller, not larger.

Dan Hicks

Joseph Wallis said:

The biggest thing we could do to get revenue in is start enforcing all of the codes and laws we have on the books. Make Tulsa a "fine" city and clean up or get rid of all the riff raff along the way. This would have some very positive side effects:

Make people aware of Tulsa ordinances.
Make them pay for the ones they break.
Shed light on the stupid ordinanances, and get them changed or abolished.
Improve the overall quality of the city, as the ordianaces intended to do.

Singapore is a model of this. Also called one of the cleanest cities in the world. If you block a busy intersection at a red light, you get a fine. If you spit on the sidewalk you get a fine. People dont like it, but guess what, they shouldnt be doing it either.

I've seen some of the fine amounts on Tulsa's ordinances, only writing a few tickets a day would pay for the code enforcers. And these arent even the traffic violations, which rake in the big dough.

Paul Tay said:

Yeah, right. Like we need yet ANOTHER genius to run the numbers. There are ONLY three over-riding City interests: Public safety, streets, and utilities. Everything else is FAT: EDC, the overbloated motor pool and the attendant fuel costs, AND management of Gilcrease and PAC.

It's a whole lot easier and faster to cut the fat, than to raise taxes. Make Life SIMPLE.

sdmickey said:

Thanks so much for calling attention to that report. It explains a lot of things about Tulsa. You are correct. Everyone should read it.

R.A. Alexander said:

Mr. Hicks mentions that city government needs to get smaller, not larger, and Mr. Tay mentions that it is easier to cut the fat. This has been a standard line for decades now. As a city worker, I can tell you that it is not a matter of the city government wanting to grow, simply maintaining the level of service being offered is the main goal.

Fat has been being cut for years due to declining revenues and tighter budgets. Now the cuts are going right to the bone. This isn't too say that there isn't fat out there. but we're to the point now that the fat being cut also takes some meat and bone with it. Training in essential areas is being cut, equipment is not being updated, wages have been kept artificially low making it hard to maintain employees, and on and on.

At this point, the cutting of services seems to be the main option. Only when you begin cutting services does the public truly begin to appreciate the benefits of a strong city government.

Paul Tay said:

Well, Mr. Alexander, it all depends on which services we cut, right?

Like we really need a $2.3 MILLION subsidy to a private entity from the Hotel-Motel Tax, which the said entity in turn uses to LOBBY the City and affect legislation favorable to the said entity, AND, to the detriment of TAXPAYERS.

Like we really need all those FAT City employees tooling around in BIG-ass SUV's, instead of riding a bike or walking. Like we really need to blow the bank on SOARING employee healthcare costs, simply because the said FAT employees don't want to get OFF their BIG fat ya know to get some exercise on their way to meetings and official business.

Hey, PD, you guys NEED some WORK on the WAISTLINE. Not only will cops on bikes, in a BIG way, NOT just a couple of guys tooling around the Arena, affect your waistlines, but, we are also talking about the City's BOTTOM line. We can't afford for you guys to make the donut runs, without the attendent EXERCISE.

And, DON'T even get me started on Gilcrease and the PAC. Annexation is nothing but a band-aid to a much larger PROBLEM. The City will ALWAYS over-spend, NO matter the revenue amount.

I hate to say it, but, I'm with Mensch on this one. County budget is less than $70 million. City, OVER half BILLION. Somewhere in there, there's a million or two we can live without. GET REAL, Mr. Alexander.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 11, 2007 5:31 PM.

Tulsa's top cop search -- Taylor looking for a gun grabber? was the previous entry in this blog.

Michael Bates to retire is the next entry in this blog.

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