Vision2: Tulsa County's bait-and-switch habit

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"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." -- then Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick, July 2003

I had been looking at these items in isolation, but I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge. There are several instances with Vision 2025 and with Four to Fix the County Part 2 where the county allocated a small amount of money -- not enough to complete the project, but enough to use the project as a selling point to pass the tax. They're doing the same thing in Vision2. It's bait-and-switch.

American Indian Cultural Center: Vision 2025 included $2 million for this project, which was to be built north of 71st Street along the west bank of the Arkansas River. But according to this 2007 story in Indian Country News, a non-profit group called the National Indian Monument and Institute (NIMI) would have to raise $22 million in private funds to qualify for $2 million in county funds for infrastructure. A further $35 million would be needed for the final phase. It hasn't happened, and it looks like it never will. IRS Form 990 filings for NIMI show only $1,209,279 raised from 2004 to 2010, most of that between 2004 and 2007. NIMI is headed by Monetta Trepp, a Perryman family descendant who owns the Perryman Ranch south of Bixby. Their major annual project seems to be the Tulsa Indian Art Festival, which is listed as DBA on NIMI's 990 forms.

The Vision 2025 county contribution was about 8% of the cost of the first phase, not enough to bootstrap the project toward completion. Had the Tulsa County allocated enough funds to build the facility, they would have had to eliminate or shortchange other vote-getting projects. (The Vision 2025 surplus allocated to complete the BOK Center in high style would have been enough to build the Phase 1 of the AICC and make a good start on Phase 2.)

Tulsa County juvenile justice facility: As documented on BatesLine last week, 4 to Fix the County II included $2,446,625 that was sold to the voters as sufficient to renovate the existing juvenile justice facility and build a four-story addition. But instead of carrying out the promised work, the money was repurposed (six years after the tax was approved by the voters) to buy land on which a more expensive facility would be built. The new facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is on Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.

Arkansas River low-water dams: Vision 2025 was sold to the public as putting water in the river, with promises that federal money would provide the rest of what was needed to build two new dams and fix the Zink Dam. That never happened. Instead the 2007 Tulsa County river tax was proposed to pay for the dams, and it was claimed (falsely) that Vision 2025 was only intended as seed money. Here's the actual language in the Vision 2025 Proposition 4 ballot resolution:

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

Not planning funds, not engineering funds, not seed money -- "construct two low water dams."

This blog entry from 2007 has a timeline of claims made by Tulsa County officials about the dams and the proposal to use surplus Vision 2025 receipts to complete the dams if other funds are unavailable. My July 25, 2007, UTW column specifically rebuts claims made by county officials that the dams were never promised in Vision 2025. As with the other projects mentioned above, surplus Vision 2025 surplus funds likely would have been sufficient to complete this project, but we used $45.5 million of the surplus to pay for a fancier arena, which committed a similar amount for unspecified suburban projects so the 'burbs would go along with extra money for the arena. (Tulsa County Commissioner John Smaligo acknowledged that these commitments had been made in a May 2012 interview with KFAQ's Pat Campbell.)

This pattern continues with the Vision2 plan. The City of Tulsa's allocation includes $5 million toward the completion of the western legof the Gilcrease Expressway and its crossing of the Arkansas River, a project that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority estimated would cost $857 million to build. The feasibility study itself cost just shy of $1 million. But putting a token amount toward the project allows the Vote Yes people to claim the Gilcrease Expressway on the list of projects and to claim the endorsements and votes of the expressway plan's biggest fans. Although the amount is a drop in the bucket of what will be required to build the project, it seems to have been enough to win Councilor Jack Henderson's support for Vision2.

The only way to break the county of the bait-and-switch habit is to tell them no.

MORE: A post on Yes to Vision2's Facebook page links a video about KRMG's Great Raft Race, a popular Labor Day weekend event in the '70s and '80s, using it to suggest that Vision2 would make such events possible again. ("I think we can all agree that making some river improvements would help support recreation events!") I replied with a comment that the construction of Zink Dam was the beginning of the end of the Great Raft Race. You need flowing water, not dammed-up water, to have a raft race. The offloading point had been on the east side of the river, just south of the pedestrian bridge, an area now below the dam. The race adjusted after the dam was completed, but it never worked as well after the dam was built, and within a few years they stopped entirely.

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1 Comments

Bob said:

Michael, along the lines you've analyzed of a County project Bait-and-Switch ploy, one of the regular posters to the Tulsa World online opined that he expects further fervent emotional pleas to pass Vision2.

One he sardonically images is a new ad featuring a little puppy with warm but sad brown eyes.

A small boy cries softly in the background.

The stern face of Mayor Dewey, Jr. suddenly fills the TV screen, and demands:

"Pass Vision2 or this dog DIES!"

Then, there is a further emotional ploy to pass Vision2 so that the city dog pound receives a measly $1,000 to save a few dogs from euthanasia.

That's the prospective emotional ploy referenced.

Collect $748 million dollars in new taxpayer money to spend $1,000 on rescue dogs.

Kind of a precursor to today's Tulsa World ploy to garner a few million in Vision2 money on a Gilcrease Expressway that needs $100,000,000's and $100,000,000's to complete.

Save the Gilcrease Expresway!

Save Airline JOBS!

Save PUPPIES!

The poster, Domo Arrigato, has a definite writing talent.....

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 4, 2012 10:47 PM.

Bill Christiansen opposes Vision2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Stop Vision2: Your help is needed is the next entry in this blog.

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