Street tax -- where's the bid basis?

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I had been planning on writing a column about the various streets proposals -- Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear -- but each week a bigger and more urgent issue cropped up.

I've got worries about all the packages, but especially about the big one -- a 12 year, $2 billion commitment. Supporters of the big package say that the other plans won't get the job done and won't bring our street conditions up as far and as fast as the big package.

I finally sat down tonight and looked at the project list and allocations for the $2 billion package. I'm bothered when I see a nine-digit dollar figure with no explanation for how that number was derived. For example: $221,500,000 for "street maintenance" to include "vegetation / mowing; snow and ice removal; graffiti abatement; pavement crack and joint sealing; permanent pavement patching (6 crews); special projects; street milling; street paving crews." There's another $128,100,000 for traffic engineering, $32.2 million for street-related administration, and $8.8 million for engineering services and inspection. That's just the operational part of the package -- a mere 20% of the total.

That's as far as the numbers are broken down -- the draft I have doesn't tell how much of that $221.5 million is for graffiti and how much is for "special projects" or what those special projects might be. Somewhere there must be a spreadsheet that has an estimate for each line item and a basis or formula that explains how each estimate was derived. How much of each number is for manpower and how much is for material? What inflation factors have been included? How many miles of street milling do we get for whatever share of $221.5 million is allocated to that purpose? Are general and administrative costs factored in?

Over the years in my day job, I've been involved from time to time in putting together proposals, including some for the DOD. Some of these have been "unsolicited" proposals, where the customer has expressed some need but hasn't laid out detailed requirements. It's similar to what city officials have done in response to the expressed concern about the condition of our streets. You develop a recommended solution and provide a price for that solution.

A big project will be split into major line items and sub-items, and each item is split out into many small tasks. You estimate man-hours for each of those small tasks as well as cost of the materials you'll need to do the job and any work you'll need to contract out to someone else. For each estimate of hours or other costs, there is usually some amount of backup material, a basis for the bid, such as a quote from a vendor or actual hours for a similar task on another project. All those little numbers are rolled up, weighted for projected inflation if the project is likely to stretch out over several years, and the project's fair share of the overhead costs for running the company (e.g., paying the salaries of the payroll clerk and the HR director and paying the electric bill).

Something like that kind of cost estimation must have been done for this package, and if it wasn't it should have been. If it exists, it ought to be made available for the public to see. Those are awfully big numbers for big tasks that are hard to estimate. It would be reassuring to see the little numbers for the little tasks that were rolled up into those big nine-figure numbers.

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5 Comments

Pamela said:

If details about how the monies are going to be spent this plan is dead in the water. There are too many grumpy people in town that will probably vote it down anyway. Others like myself want detailed information before I consider voting for it. BTW I live in papa bear's district.

Rob said:

Disclosure of the use of bond money is one of those quirks that only happens in Oklahoma. If you look at the requirements of the Oklahoma Constitution, it requires that entities tell us 100% of where they will spend our tax money.

However, some district court judge in the 1970's or so, came along and ruled in a case that these elected officials needed some wiggle room for such things as inflation; engineering redesign and such. And, the parties to that particular matter just let the judge's ruling stand, even though it was in "Direct Conflict" with the requirements of the Oklahoma Constitution. Do you think this all was by accident ? No, its how they get around the law here in Oklahoma. And, these officials do it a lot.

So we are only allowed to know where 70% of the bond money will be spent just because a particular judge (and parties) decided he had more power than the Oklahoma Constitution.
This gives the city an automatic 30% slush fund. They don't even have to spend it on streets. I know this first hand because in 2001 I personally sued the DA in Washington County over the very same issue when the the board of education of Bartlesville passed a resolution for $30 Million in bonds for the High School and listed they were only required to say where 70% of the money would be spent. First thing they did was buy an Apartment building for $200,000; tear it down and put in a new parking lot that was to be shared by businesses across the street from the High School. And, none of this was ever part of any disclosed use of bond funds.

We live in a really twisted state where the law is circumvented at every level of government as demonstarted by the convictions of the State Auditor just two weeks ago. And, what happen to my petition against the DA to act and block an election, well, on the same day I filed my petition, the DA took it to a Washington County judge and had it "SET ASIDE"; without hearing; without notice and without my day in court. I rest my case. (Searching Washington County District Court House Documents proves this. "Cooper vs Illegal Election").

So, Mr. Bates and others, if your math can determine where 70% of the bond money is going to be specifically used its legal (not really as I described above), but if can not find where 70% of the money will be used, then its not a legal resolution / ballot.

These officials know you can't beat them on anything because they got the deck stacked in their favor at every junction. Only the Feds can change things in Oklahoma and it takes them 7 years to get a conviction. Best thing to do is point out the 70% rule and let it ride.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

first, I would never give this city government, or any other, a tax increase for 12, 13, 14 years whatever poppa bear is. this city government has proven that it will leave no stone unturned to undermine any rules limiting it to only what the taxpayer/citizen wants to see done.

second, if they are honest, no one really knows what the costs will be in three years, let alone poppa bear's tinme horiszon. Any estimate given in the $2 bill proposal is going to inflated at a rate that is speculative. another liscence to steal.

finally, look at the manipulation that goes on within the exisitng third penny tax. What started out as streets only, is now a melting pot for all kinds of spending other than streets. poppa bear will be treated the same way.

I will never vote yes for any additional street package until the following is tried. Pass an ordinance stating unequivocally that third penny are for streets only, no other spending outside of that mandate. then definbe street spending for the idiot politiclans who think a new bucket truck should be paid for out of the third penny. the same ordinance or law should state that any tax renewal can be for a maximum of three years. Let the city operate under that restriction and see how well the streets are treated.

At that point, I would skeptically consider a bigger street program.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

Looking at that list for maintenance raises the question: Isn't there already a maintenance budget now? If not, what happened to it?

JJ said:

I am really shocked, that with the world-wide financial problems, the City is even considering putting this on the ballet. And of us with savings/retirement savings have just lost our shirt,, that is going to trickle down into loss of jobs. Crude prices are going down (which I do appreciate since I have to fill my car at the pump every week) but OK has a huge amount of money invested there as well, and lower crude isn't really good for the state. What really amazes me is that one one foreclosure site alone, they listed 3100 foreclosed properties in Tulsa county. Well, obviously properties that are in foreclosure aren't really going to generate any good tax income,,, and those foreclosures are going to result in those homes being sold for ? on the dollar, which will (and already has), make our homes worth less. I don't really think we are willing to pay additional property taxes on what our houses "used to be worth".

This whole problem is monumental in proportions world-wide and I just am shocked that the City of Tulsa is willing to spend all this money for this project which, in my opinion, has no chance in hell of passing. They could keep that money and fix at least a few streets. Yes are streets are horrible, but if we have lots of people without homes and without jobs, how many of us really care?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 13, 2008 12:11 AM.

Tulsa Housing Authority meeting report: "The sheer arrogance of these people is stunning." was the previous entry in this blog.

To have and have not is the next entry in this blog.

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