Randi's river revisionism

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Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller held a press conference today to explain why she absolutely has to have a higher sales tax rate in order to build the low-water dams that she promised would be built by the existing Vision 2025 tax.

Miller was responding to a proposal by Tulsa City Councilor John Eagleton, who called for paying for river plan implementation from the existing Vision 2025 sales tax, asking voters to extend that tax if its necessary to complete the projects, rather than increasing the tax rate.

I made a similar proposal in this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly. Tulsa County voters were promised three river related projects as part of Proposition 4:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Last week on KFAQ, Vision 2025 project manager Kirby Crowe said of these funds, only $275,000 has been spent, to cover the cost of environmental paperwork that must be completed prior to constructing the dams. The rest, he said, is "unspent and protected."

In my column, I point out that these dams were promised as a part of Vision 2025, and that County Commissioners committed to completing all the projects as promised, and as quickly as possible. (I do find it interesting that neither of the two Whirled stories, about Eagleton's idea and Miller's response, mentions that construction of the dams were promised as part of Vision 2025.)

Matching funds or not, County officials made a commitment to complete the projects that were promised. In a July 23, 2003, story in the daily paper about the potential for revenues to exceed expected project costs, County Commissioner Bob Dick said that the Vision 2025 package was structured to be sure that no project would be left incomplete. Commissioner Dick was quoted as saying, “I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it.” So any surplus was intended first to be used to finish the promised projects.

Miller claims that we can't predict if there would be enough surplus, and if there is any, it's already been promised to the suburbs for unspecified projects.

But I'm told that no such projects have been approved by the Tulsa County Vision Authority and no such commitment was made. Mayor Taylor denies that any such promise was made. Such a promise would directly contradict something Miller was quoted as saying later in the interview:

The commissioners' primary responsibility is to ensure that the Vision 2025 projects promised voters are delivered, she said.

And that means building the low water dams and refurbishing the Zink Lake dams has to come before any new projects are undertaken.

In fact, the ballot resolution makes a formal commitment to that effect:

While the cost estimates shown above are believed to be accurate, it must be recognized that the exact cost of each project may vary from the estimate shown. It is the intention of the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, that all projects shall be completed as funds are made available. If the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, determines that all of the projects listed above will be completed with existing and projected funds and that excess funds will be available for additional projects, such excess funds shall be expended for caputal improvements for community enrichment (which does not include appropriation of any such funds to any other entity for such purpose), as determined by a public trust having Tulsa County, Oklahoma, [and all Tulsa County municipalities], as its beneficiaries.

Emphasis added. No new projects until all the listed projects are fully funded to completion.

Miller also claims that we can't get to any of the surplus money until near the end of the tax period, around 2015 or so. But as she knows, Vision 2025 is not a pay as you go project. She and her fellow commissioners have issued revenue bonds, borrowing money against future revenues so that the projects could be completed early, long before we raise the revenue.

I don't know how much has been borrowed all ready, how much has been spent, and how much is committed in the near term, but if the river is a priority, I'm sure some projects can be delayed to so that money already in hand could be used to start work on the dams. I'm sure more could be borrowed against anticipated Vision 2025 revenues. If John Piercey doesn't think he can do it, perhaps we could put the financing out for competitive bidding and find someone who can make it happen without charging us an arm and a leg.

Interesting: According to this, the river projects and all other Vision 2025 projects should have been funded in the second bond issue. The first bond issue was for $242,150,000:

Program manager Kirby Crowe said officials plan to have just one more bond issue to fund the rest of the Vision 2025 projects.

The Arkansas River projects, Broken Arrow's funding for downtown and neighborhood beautification, construction costs for the downtown Tulsa arena and renovation of the Maxwell Convention Center -- as well as the rest of the funding for projects that were only partially funded in the first bond issue -- are anticipated to be funded in the second.

Here's Randi Miller from June 2005:

While they aren't ready to act on projections for what the 13-year, sixth-tenths of a penny sales tax will bring in, Commissioners Bob Dick and Randi Miller both believe the Arkansas River is a likely candidate to see additional funding.

"It's too soon to start spending money above those things that have already been identified," Dick said. "But there's one real easy one, to say if we do have that, I think a high priority would be on the river."

The $5.6 million allocated in Vision 2025 for river projects only pays for a portion of two low-water dams. It is supposed to be used along with federal funds, but Miller said officials may need the extra money to make sure the dams get built.

"If there's any money that's available, in my opinion because we do not have enough for the dams, then I'm going to go with river development," she said.

From the same article, John Piercey provides an early estimate of a surplus and is game to try to make it available early:

Vision 2025 financial adviser John Piercey, a senior investment banker with Capital West Securities, said that virtually all of of the $65 million surplus will be collected in 2016 and 2017.

"The question becomes: Is there a way to have those funds early? We're working on that," he said.

And as recently as this January, Piercey said:

"It looks like they'll (local officials) be able to deliver everything they promised to voters, and then some."

Make it so.

TAKE ACTION: If you want County Commissioners to keep their promise and fund the low-water dams from the Vision 2025 tax, you need to let them know. The vote to put a new tax on the ballot could come as early as next Thursday. Here are phone and e-mail contacts for each:

District 1, John Smaligo: jsmaligo@tulsacounty.org, 596-5020

District 2, Randi Miller: rmiller@tulsacounty.org, 596-5015

District 3, Fred Perry: fperry@tulsacounty.org, 596-5010

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TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.batesline.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/2984

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5 Comments

Bob said:

The Tax Vampires roll on, in their relentless Tax Blitzkrieg against the overburdened, struggling families of Tulsa County.

Is there no DECENCY in them, to give those struggling Tulsa families who are being POUNDED by $3.00 per gallon gasoline, $3.59 per gallon milk, higher EVERYTHING, higher natural gas and electricy rates, 9.9% higher state college tuition, higher EVERYTHING, etc.

THANK GOD the Federal Minimum Wage is now $0.70 per hour higher. But, there's a past-due claim on every red cent of their long-sought raise in the Federal Minimum Wage.

Tulsa County Families should Vote NO against proposed the Kaiser River Tax scheme, and give themselves a well-deserved RAISE!

JW said:

It should also be mentioned that Fred Perry will be getting feedback at the Hardesty library on July 30th, 7 pm. I think you should plan to go and read this blog out loud verbatim to drill it home. Perry said he is looking for feedback, I think this is the best feedback yet.

J Thomas said:

Emails to commissioners sent tonite! Done! And they weren't kind either.

Shadow6 said:

How does a politician that finished dead last in a primary for mayor, with 22% of the vote of her party, all of a sudden wield such incredible authority? Since her pitiful drubbing in the mayoral race, Randi Miller has gotten about a ton of favorable ink from the local rumor-rag, derisively and decisively spanked the city council and mayor over annexation, been one of the leading voices in the merciless and unforgivable banishment of Bell's Amusement Park, and now is in the drivers seat to foist another tax on us to build bridges that should be built with Vision 2025 money. When was this woman elected Empress of Tulsa?

sbtulsa said:

All this talk about large scale projects set me to thinking. Is this anyway to manage a tax base?

Tulsa is funded by a tax on transactions (sales tax). That is supposed to coveropertionsas wel as capital investments (arena, river development, etc.). While I don't know the exact percentages, it is reasonable to assume that the baby boom bubble spending is a big part of the tax base the city has operated on. These people are now moving in to retirement. Their spending will go down in volume, some will be moving way. Thus, city revenues will go down since no oter age group is as large. Could this not have been foreseen 10, 15 years ago? Projects advanced that would be on line an poducing revenue by the time. The only thing the Savage adminstration put out ws two arena packages. After the defeat of the first, should not they have looked towards river development?

We are now faced with stacking both projects on top of each other. The river and arena are on the taxpayers backs simultaneously, at the same time city sales tax revenues are strapped just to keep the grass mowed, no thats not getting done. Just to keep the pools operating, no thats out too. Just to keep the streets lit, not that either. Guess we're farther in the hole than I thought.

Is this what happens to a city thats run by backroom decisions? Where were the "in" families when the city needed foresite? If they want the rewards from running the city their way, it seems they should also be responsible for looking ahead and thinking rationally about the city's future. otherwise, they should get out of the way and let people who know how to plan actually do it.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 26, 2007 11:14 PM.

Dams, not studies, promised in Vision 2025 was the previous entry in this blog.

Swinging Saturday -- Texas Playboys, Billy Mata in Bristow is the next entry in this blog.

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