Vision2: Juvenile justice double-dip

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NOTE: I'll be on the Pat Campbell Show on KFAQ AM 1170 this morning to talk about Vision2.

It's not right for government to use the same project to sell two different taxes to the voters seven years apart. It's double-dipping. But that's exactly what Tulsa County's commissioners appear to be doing with Vision2.

If you have a long memory, you may recall that improvements to the juvenile justice facility (price tag: $2,446,625) were promised to us if we voted for "4 to Fix the County II," a five-year Tulsa County sales tax extension on the December 13, 2005 ballot, which was approved and went into effect on October 1, 2006.

Seven years later, a juvenile justice facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is at the top of Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.

At their regular September 10, 2012, meeting, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners voted for a resolution allocating the share of the Vision2 Proposition 2 funds the County Commissioners held back for county government's own wants.

It took me a while to find any version of the resolution on the tulsacounty.org website. I found the minutes of the September 10 meeting which mentions that the resolution passed but doesn't relate its contents. I found the backup file linked to the agenda item -- but it just says there will be a resolution, but doesn't include the resolution itself.

On the September 4 agenda, I found a draft resolution attached to the agenda, but that agenda item was deferred to the following week's meeting. It's entirely possible that the resolution was amended at the September 10 meeting, but for now this is as close as I can find to an official statement of how the Tulsa County Commissioners intend to allocate the $96.5 million they're keeping for county government. (That's my estimate, based on the average of the first eight years of Vision 2025 receipts -- 53,426,185.35 per year average Vision 2025 receipts / 0.6 cents Vision 2025 tax rate) * 13 years * 0.29 cents Vision2 Prop 2 tax rate * 28.74% allocated by Proposition 2's ballot resolution) )

The top item on the list is $38 million for "Acquiring, designing, constructing, improving or rehabilitating installations, buildings, improvements and infrastructure and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, in connection with the provision of juvenile detention, justice, rehabilitation and correction facilities, programs and systems."

As news stories at the time attest, the need for an expanded and renovated Juvenile Justice Center was a key selling point for 4 to Fix II in 2005. An endorsement editorial in the Tulsa World (NewsBank link, Tulsa Library card required) summarized 4 to Fix Proposition 1 as follows: "Renovate the Tulsa County Courthouse and provide adequate facilities for the juvenile justice system that operates out of broom closets, $8 million." A story on a poll about the ballot measure offered these descriptions:

Tulsa County voters on Dec. 13 will consider a five-year extension of the two-twelfths of a cent 4 to Fix sales tax. The tax would generate an estimated $62 million for a four-proposition package designed to expand the Juvenile Bureau, make courthouse complex renovations and improve county parks, roads and Expo Square.

Proposition 1 on the ballot would direct $7.79 million to the juvenile justice center and courthouse complex renovations....

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed in Tulsa County said they approved of Proposition 1 funding for the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, while 25 percent disapproved and 16 percent had no opinion.

In the run-up to the vote, news stories and editorials focused on the need for expanding and improving the District Court's Juvenile Bureau. (Emphasis added.)

Last fiscal year, 5,000 children passed through the 36-year-old Juvenile Bureau complex west of downtown.

Using the most charitable of terms, the building is a disgrace to the justice system -- overstuffed and unsafe, a poor environment for trying to help kids who've run afoul of the law or who've been abandoned or abused by parents or caretakers.

Finally, with the proposed renewal of the "4-to-Fix the County" sales tax, there's hope that the courthouse and Juvenile Bureau will get the attention so desperately needed.

Voters can make that happen Dec. 13 by approving Proposition 1, an $8 million package earmarked for Juvenile Bureau and courthouse expansion....

There's a reason courthouse and Juvenile Bureau improvements are first on the ballot. Expansion is critical to the efficient and safe administration of justice. Funds would produce a four-story addition at the Juvenile Bureau and a build-out of the fourth floor of the courthouse to include new courtrooms. Proposition 1 money also would remodel and expand first-floor misdemeanor and traffic courtrooms and relocate the jury assembly room from the courthouse basement to the county Administration Building.

Judges and the county bar association urged approval. (Emphasis added.)

Tulsa County judges spoke out Monday in favor of the Dec. 13 "4 to Fix the County" election, especially an estimated $7.79 million in improvements it projects for the county's Juvenile Bureau and the downtown courthouse.

Juvenile crime and child neglect have far outpaced the piecemeal improvements that have been made to the 1968-vintage Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road, the judges say....

The Tulsa County Bar Association also is supporting the effort, President Pat O'Connor said.

The group doesn't typically get involved in such measures, but the court's needs are severe, O'Connor said....

The juvenile bureau would get a four-story addition.

[Sheriff Stanley] Glanz said he considers the criminal justice portion of the 4 to Fix vote to be the most important public safety issue of all the propositions.

The vote to renew the 4 to Fix the County sales tax in December 2005 was voted on almost a year before its scheduled expiration at the end of September 2006.

Four propositions and a question were put before the voters. (Here's a link to the December 13, 2005, Tulsa County sample ballot.)

Here is the text of 4 to Fix II, Proposition 1:

"Shall the County of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by its Board of County Commissioners, levy and collect twelve percent (12.0%) of a two-twelfths percent (2/12%) sales tax for the purpose of funding Juvenile Justice Center and Courthouse Complex renovations, improvements, furnishings and equipment, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County for such purpose, commencing October 1, 2006 and continuing thereafter for a period of five (5) years?"

The ballot resolutions no longer appear to be online and were not captured by the Internet Archive.

The "Do the River First" website listed the 4 to Fix II projects and proposed amounts to be spent on each. Here's the list from Proposition 1.

Juvenile Crime Bureau $ 2,446,625
Courtrooms - 4th Floor $ 2,525,000
Jury Assembly Room Addition & Remodel Traffic Ct. $ 2,825,000

All four propositions were approved on December 13, 2005, and presumably the county now would have the money for the needed renovation and expansion. Surely the county would move full speed ahead to meet this urgent need.

But nothing was done.

A January 31, 2007 update about the project on Tulsa County's "4 to Fix" website:

The construction manager has been selected and the architect's contract has been approved. The project program is being developed for improvements which include a combination of additional building space and remodel of portions of the existing interior now in use.

December 24, 2007 update:

The project program is being confirmed in order to develop recommendations for the Facility, which may include a combination of additional building space and remodel of portions of the interior.

And then no updates at all until May 28th, 2009:

The architectural selection is complete with Tulsa County selecting Selser Schaefer Architects for the project design.

So two years and two months after "the architect's contract has been approved" we appear to have a new architect selected.

An August 14, 2009, update indicates that the "architectural programming work" is about to get started. A series of updates mentions visits to key facilities in September 2009, a "draft program document and (very) preliminary plans" in November 2009, "final program and preliminary design concepts are expected to be complete in January 2010" as of December 2009, slipping to February in the January update.

The May 2010 the update merely said "The architectural programming work is nearing completion." The June 2010 update said "The architectural programming work is on hold," and there it remained for over a year.

In the midst of that year-and-a-half gap, county officials began to claim that a future "4 to Fix" package would be needed to fund a juvenile justice facility. In an October 2008 op-ed in Urban Tulsa Weekly, County Commissioner Fred Perry used the state of the county's juvenile justice facilities to explain why Tulsa should leave the county's 2/12th cent 4 to Fix sales tax alone, rather than claim it to fund street reconstruction:

By State Law, Tulsa County is responsible for providing the Juvenile Bureau facilities in this county. The existing facilities are exceedingly small and in poor condition. The City of Tulsa has 80 percent of the juveniles in need of supervision, detention, counseling and court space. In the meetings I arranged with the City Councilors, Judge Doris Fransein, the Juvenile District Judge, and Director Brent Wolfe showed the counselors pictures of the present facilities and explained why a new facility was badly needed.

Eventually, the county changed course, redirecting nearly all of the money allocated by 4 to Fix II for an improved juvenile justice center toward merely acquiring land for a new center, patching the old center in the meantime. The July 2011 update:

Tulsa County authorized approximately $2.0 million from these funds to be moved to the County general fund in order to be re-tasked for use in site acquisition for a future new facility. Temporary work at the existing facility is being developed to address required action and improvements by The City of Tulsa. The Fire Marshall is requiring automatic fire suppression be added in the "courts" portion of the facility.

Why didn't the County Commission spring into action as soon as voters approved the funds in December 2005? Why did they wait until construction costs went up? If the allocated amount wasn't enough, why didn't they allocate more in the 4 to Fix II ballot resolutions? Why not claim a share of Vision 2025 surplus money to address this urgent need? Shouldn't safe and secure court facilities for young people be a higher priority than an iconic glass wall for the arena? Shouldn't court facilities be more important than a golf cart barn at LaFortune Park?

But it seems that there is already more money available in the 4 to Fix II fund.

The Funding Report on page 8 of the 4 to Fix the County June 2012 Program Report (original link at 4tofix.info) shows the three line items above under "Criminal Justice Construction Fund" with the above amounts under both the Budgeted and Current Funding columns.

But there's one more line item in that category -- "17 Criminal Justice Construction Fund" -- no budgeted amount, but $4,796,625 in current funding, none of which has been spent. That money, plus Vision 2025 surplus funds, plus any unallocated 4 to Fix II surplus funds, ought to get us very close to sufficient funds for a basic, functional juvenile justice facility. A general obligation bond issue, earmarked for this project only and which expires automatically when the project is complete, could be used to make up any shortfall.

It was irresponsible for the County Commission to let this project fester for years after selling it to the voters as an urgent need. It's downright despicable for them to now ask for more money to do what we gave them money to do seven years ago and to use the project to sell voters on a three-quarter-billion-dollar debt-riddled, pork-filled, corporate-welfare-stuffed boondoggle.

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5 Comments

Larry Wagner said:

Didn't we also vote for a low water dam or two in Vision 2025? I know we've been told it was simply funding to study feasability of low water dams, but if you go back and read the proposal and ballot; it was for dams. It was the only part of Vision 2025 I voted "yes" on. It's not just a "no" on Vision 2, but a "HAIL NO!"

Steve Quinn said:

Im voting yes. we simply need improvements that will help Tulsa County and NE Oklahoma including the economic impact.......

Shouldn't you look carefully to see if the proposed improvements are likely to have an economic impact? What if a different set of improvements would have a greater economic impact? What if there's a better way to finance projects that would make more money available without raising the tax rate? Aren't these issues worth considering, or do you just vote for whatever half-baked plan is put in front of you?

Bob said:

The Vision2 tax is a transfer payment, pure and simple.

It transfers money from the pockets of the poor and middle class who must pay sales tax on the necessities of life: Their grocery purchases, their clothing purchases (except for one weekend per year), furniture purchases, OTC drug purchases, etc.

The money is transferred into the pockets of certain favored construction companies, and their connected cronies, along with 100% of the very lucrative bond underwriting sole-sourced to King Kaiser and his Bank of Kaiser.

Tulsans will have LESS disposable income if this tax gets passed. If you thought that the 13 duration of the Vision 2025 tax was bad, the 17 Vision2 tax is a travesty.

Against Vision2 said:

We have to do everything in our power to defeat this.

Hats off to Michael Bates, Tulsa 9/12 Project, and others who are leading the fight.

This is a non-partisan fight. We are fighting moneyed special interests who have easily corrupted and influenced elected officials in this county to do their bidding.

The rot on this thing runs deep. Stop Vision2 and get every idiot politician from Broken Arrow to Jenks to Bixby to Tulsa to the County who supports it out office.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 25, 2012 11:20 PM.

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