Re-Vision Category

There are those who worry about the influence of the wealthy on federal politics but are quite blasé about the influence of the wealthy on local politics.

That slobbery, smooching sound you heard Saturday was Wayne Greene's column in the Saturday, December 31, 2016, Tulsa World, telling all of us we should accept with thanks and praise every perfect gift that comes from Our Kaiser Above.

The specific occasion is the news that a north Tulsa property owner has refused to sell his dream home and the acreage it sits on to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), land that GKFF wants for an industrial park.

The triangle of land between 36th Street North, Mohawk Blvd, Peoria and Lewis Avenues is largely undeveloped. Dirty Butter Creek and its tributaries converge here, making it susceptible to flooding, which may explain why it was passed over by developers during Tulsa's period of northward suburban expansion in the 1950s.

This inexpensive land afforded some families the possibility of building their dream home, surrounded by woods, but close to the conveniences of the city. Along the north side of Mohawk Blvd, far from the creeks, several attractive, large homes were built on small acreages. All but one of these have now been acquired and removed; one remains, owned by Charles and Rebecca Williams, and they have refused to take an offer that is twice the assessor's estimate of their property's value.

The Tulsa World published a story about the Williamses early last week. A few mildly negative comments about Kaiser on that article prompted Greene's column.

It's ironic that whoever headlined Greene's column used the term "local hero" to refer to George Kaiser. There's a movie called Local Hero, one of my all-time favorites, set in a little seaside village in Scotland. The hero of the title is the one property owner who refuses to sell to an American billionaire for a massive industrial project.

Let's examine a few of the things Greene says in his column:

The city's $10 million infrastructure participation in the project was thoroughly debated during the Vision tax extension process. It had the support of the municipal political leadership for the area at the time and was approved by the City Council. Subsequently, voters signed off on the Vision package, including the industrial park.

I suspect the only topic of debate was "will this project get more votes for the dams?" As I wrote back before the vote, the suspiciously round numbers allocated for many of the projects suggest that no serious effort was made to estimate the actual cost for the proposed projects. "If I were a cynic, I might believe that the City Council had no interest in whether these projects were feasible or appropriately budgeted. I might believe, were I a cynic, that these items were included just to get a few more hundred voters to the polls in the mood to vote yes on everything." What exactly was $10 million supposed to cover? It looks like a payola project -- not a serious effort to fund a well-defined project.

The "municipal political leadership for the area at the time" appears to refer to City Councilor Jack Henderson. Northside community leaders complained that the priorities expressed by residents were ignored by Henderson and the council in favor of their own pet projects. Projects associated with a long-term neighborhood planning effort for the 36th Street North corridor were left on the cutting-room floor. Henderson lost his bid for re-election this November to one of the leading critics of his choice of projects.

As to how thoroughly it was debated: Going back through news coverage prior to the election, I find nothing that specified where the proposed industrial park would be located, nothing more specific than "North Peoria." It appears that it was only after the vote took place that the specific location, which isn't even adjacent to Peoria Ave., was identified.

In hindsight, it appears that the reason the 36th Street North small area plan was ignored in Vision Tulsa is because it conflicted with GKFF's intentions and two years of behind-the-scenes land acquisition. Neighborhood stakeholders, working with city planners, identified the undeveloped land between Dirty Butter Creek, Mohawk, and 36th Street North as ripe for new single-family residential development, not as the site for a major industrial facility. Was there anyone on the City Council or in the Mayor's office who would champion the wishes of local residents over the plans of a billionaire's foundation? There used to be. Now we have a mayor who used to be a lobbyist for the billionaire's foundation.

Greene mistakenly believes the new Macy's distribution center will be in Owasso:

Eventually, the project is envisioned to be the home to 1,000 quality jobs, which could be the beginning of the economic turnaround north Tulsa has wanted for years. Want to know why the Macy's distribution center ended up in Owasso and not Tulsa? Owasso had a site that was ready to go. Tulsa didn't.

While it's true that the Macy's center site is near Owasso, and the land used to be owned by an entity called the Owasso Land Trust (despite the name, a commercial entity, not governmental), the site is actually within the City of Tulsa's municipal fence line -- unincorporated land that Tulsa could annex but which is protected against annexation by Owasso or any other city or town. (Presumably Tulsa does not annex this property or other nearby facilities in the Cherokee Industrial Park because it's more attractive to businesses if they don't have to pay city sales tax, use tax, or property tax and if they don't have to put up with city regulations.)

A bit further on in the column, Greene praises the many donations GKFF has made to keep local non-profits running. He continues:

Of course, that hardly scratches the surface of the efforts of the Kaiser foundation to improve Tulsa. From the city's national model early childhood education program to the game-changing A Gathering Place for Tulsa under construction along Riverside Drive, almost all of the good things going on in our community have the leadership (and funding) of the Kaiser foundation.

Whatever you may think of the two specific items mentioned in this paragraph, that last line goes way over the top in its praise of GKFF, or else it reveals Greene's tunnel vision, limiting civic life to a handful of big, highly publicized projects. I could list dozens of job-creating companies, innovative entrepreneurs, charitable and educational initiatives, none of which have anything to do with Kaiser or his foundation.

As to those two examples: Research has failed to show a positive impact on learning outcomes for all the massive public and private investment in putting what we used to call preschool-aged children into classrooms. Making it more affordable for one parent to stay home, parents being married and staying married, connection with a faith community all do more to help children learn and grow. The Gathering Place looks like it will be a lovely park, but hardly "game-changing." GKFF is putting another park in walking distance of a number of other lovely parks and some of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods, while working-class neighborhoods often lack parks, shopping, or any other outdoor space where neighbors might gather. North Tulsa has been particularly hard hit with the removal of recreation centers and swimming pools in recent years.

Greene confesses to having a small flowering plant related to the pea and legume families with GKFF:

You can complain about whatever your particular vetch is with the Kaiser foundation. Personally, I wish the Gathering Place project would get done faster. I miss running along the river and when I drive south the Peoria Avenue detour taunts me with the memories of Riverside Drive.

But that doesn't prevent me from recognizing that my relatively minor inconveniences and the hundreds of millions of dollars marshaled by the Kaiser foundation are going to one day give Tulsa one of the most magnificent community parks in the world, the sort of thing that could help propel Tulsa socially and economically.

I think he means "kvetch," a Yiddish word that can either be a verb (to complain) or a noun (a persistent complainer). One dictionary says it can be used to mean "complaint," but I've never come across that.

The notion that a park, however magnificent, could "propel Tulsa socially and economically" again reveals that Greene's view of civic life is far too narrow.

Greene's little complaint ought to stir a doubt in his mind: How is it that a private organization is granted permission to shut down major public thoroughfares for two years? Even public construction projects are rarely permitted to shutdown a road completely. Ordinarily, public need and convenience would be balanced against the presumed cost and schedule savings of a total shutdown.

That GKFF was able to get a two-year total shutdown of Riverside Drive and the Midland Valley Trail without a murmur of protest from city officials ought to frighten Greene. We can be appreciative of a billionaire's generosity, but we need city officials and the media to remain on guard, to scrutinize his plans and his actions, particularly as they interact with public infrastructure and public policy.

There are strong incentives for city officials and columnists to be good yacht guests, fending off criticisms and keeping their own qualms to themselves. They might want GKFF's support for their own pet projects. They might hope someday to work for a GKFF-funded organization or might have a relative who works for one. The elected officials don't want Kaiser and affiliated donors and PACs to fund an opponent in the next election.

Wouldn't it be lovely if Tulsa had leaders willing to defend plans developed by their fellow citizens against changes pushed by billionaires? We did, about 10 years ago, but they've all been run off and replaced with rubber stamps. I won't hold my breath waiting for things to change.

MORE: There's an interesting pattern in the sales records for the parcels that are proposed to become an industrial park. Nearly all of the parcels I checked were first acquired by Mapleview Acquisitions I LLC, whose registered agent is former Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission chairman Joseph M. Westervelt. Many of the properties were then conveyed to NP36 LLC (registered agent Frederic Dorwart) in a multi-parcel transaction on December 8, 2016, although some parcels appear to be owned still by Mapleview Acquisitions I LLC, according to records on the county assessor's website. Westervelt is notable for his efforts to frustrate and undermine implementation of the Pearl District small-area plan; makes sense that he'd be involved in a development that undermines the 36th Street North small-area plan.

The City Council and the Mayor didn't need to put Vision Tulsa on a special April ballot. The Vision 2025 tax doesn't expire until December 31. They had plenty of time to perform due diligence, get solid estimates, consider consequences and hidden costs, but they wanted it on a low-turnout election date, and it was all about getting approval for the dams.

Now we're learning about some of those hidden costs and our dear sweet city councilors are expressing regrets. Jarrel Wade reports in the Tulsa World:

City officials gave city councilors details Thursday on millions of dollars the city eventually will need to support the hiring of additional police officers and firefighters with Vision Tulsa money.

Adding more than 160 police officers and 65 firefighters to the public-safety ranks will require direct support from other city departments, including information technology, human resources, asset management and medical.

IT Department costs alone for the technology involved in policing will run about $645,000 per year, city officials estimated.

All told, the estimated cost of supporting the additional staff eventually will reach almost $2 million per year that wasn't specifically added to Vision Tulsa's public safety permanent tax.

But it's OK, because we won't hire all those officers overnight, so it'll be a while before those support costs will be realized.

Paying for it out of the tax proceeds would mean less money to hire police officers and firefighters. But finding the money in the city's general fund would mean more burden on already restricted funding for other departments -- a burden that the public-safety tax was designed to alleviate.

But it's OK because the councilors are really, really sorry they rushed this to a ballot before analyzing the costs.

[Councilor Phil] Lakin and Councilor Anna America said they regret that the support costs of the public-safety tax weren't specifically built into the package.

"We should have thought through better, earlier, and said, 'Hey, let's make sure we accommodate this,' " America said, saying Thursday's report is a lesson for future packages.

"No funding package should go through without this kind of analysis happening first and making sure that we accommodate that in the funding package."

I believe I said something like that, very early in the process:

Not only is the proposed package far from a cohesive vision, but the Basis of Estimate (BoE) -- the details that justify the amount budgeted -- for each item is dreadfully inadequate. There's reason to believe that the estimates are way off, which means that some ideas that could be funded won't be, and other ideas will be promised (like the low-water dams in Vision 2025, or the juvenile justice facililty in Four to Fix the County) and attract votes, but won't have any possibility of being built without going back to the voters for more money....

The better path would be for the Council to whittle down the list and propose a shorter-term (five years, max), pay-as-you-go (no "advanced funding" line item for interest and bond fees) sales tax that funded only those items that were of general public benefit and had been thoroughly vetted for feasibility and an accurate estimate of cost.

Dear Councilors Lakin and America: Be grown-ups, take responsibility for your failure to do your job, and resign.

Most of the projects in Vision Tulsa Prop 3 amount to "Here, have a pile of money." Instead of building a specific facility that will belong to the City of Tulsa or updating existing city-owned facilities, the City will write a check to some other institution to do with as they see fit. It makes accountability a challenge to say the least.

Since the first Third Penny tax was approved in 1980, there has been a City of Tulsa Sales Tax Overview Committee (STOC) to oversee spending of the current Third Penny program. STOC has members from each of the nine council districts and meets monthly determine that the money is only being spent on authorized projects, which are itemized in an ordinance.

For example, here's a project from that 1980 Third Penny, specified in Title 43-A, Tulsa Revised Ordinances:

4-Lane 31st from Memorial to Mingo, with modification of the Intersection of 31st and Memorial: $8,255,000.00

Compare that to this line from Title 43-K, which sets out the spending policy for the newly passed Vision Tulsa tax hike:

Tulsa Fairgrounds: $30,000,000.00

How do you ensure that money is spent as intended when so little intent is indicated?

The good news: There are members of the STOC who want to be sure that our tax dollars are spent in accordance with promises made before the election.

More good news: STOC members have concerns about certain (as yet unnamed) projects.

The bad news: STOC members have no control over the contracting process. Their suggestions of contract terms to require reporting and transparency before receiving funds are just that -- suggestions.

(Also, the STOC doesn't even have oversight on the permanent taxes approved by Props 1 and 2.)

Some more bad news: Rather than raising these concerns in a timely manner, when the information might have influenced voters to reject the package and demand specific terms and conditions be written into the ordinance, they waited until the voters had no leverage to influence how the contracts will be written.

Here is the email that Ashley Webb, chairman of the STOC, sent on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, the day after the Vision Tulsa sales tax election, discussing concerns about oversight and accountability with these projects. (Emphasis added. )

Hello All:

Congratulations on the successful passage of the three Vision extension proposals. Now that the issue is finally ripe, I wanted to reach out and update the Council on the STOC's efforts to date and our concerns going forward regarding, specifically, oversight of the proposals in the Economic Development portion of the package (which are the only ones that will fall under the oversight purview of the STOC).

First, STOC members Karen O'Brien and Brad Colvard met with Mike Kier, Gary Hamer, and myself on February 11, 2016, to address preliminary issues relative to the Economic Development projects. Primarily, the STOC and Mr. Kier addressed/discussed one principal issue at that meeting: mandatory reporting requirements (and contractual language requiring the same) for all non-City of Tulsa controlled entities receiving funds under the Vision 2025 Economic Development package.

To that end, we discussed the insertion of contractual language into the contracts with those entities requiring at least quarterly in-person reporting to the main STOC monthly meetings and monthly written reports to our STOC VISION subcommittee. Additionally, we discussed the necessity of tying those reporting requirements to those entities' ability to receive disbursements; otherwise, there would be no mechanism through which their compliance could be enforced. By far, this is the most important issue that we believe must be addressed up front before these projects move forward.

Secondly, we discussed the logistics of the STOC's oversight and how we might incorporate these new projects into our existing oversight structure, etc. From that, we created an additional STOC VISION subcommittee, our first meeting of which was held last Tuesday on March 29, 2016. Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday April 19. 2016 at 4:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Café at 4th and Cincinatti (nice chairs, complementary beverages - thank you to FBT!). I have copied on this communication those STOC members who were in attendance at that meeting last week.

Finally, I know that Mr. Kier and others had an informal meeting last Tuesday evening to discuss, I'm sure, a multitude of issues that might need to be addressed should the VISION proposals pass. Now that we know those proposals have been approved, though, the STOC would like to ensure that the necessary language requiring the mandatory reporting be included in all relevant contracts, and we (the STOC) are willing to provide a liaison for any such meetings in the future to guarantee the oversight requirements needed will not be overlooked. As currently constructed, the STOC has several licensed attorneys and experienced professionals that are willing to be available so that we have boots on the ground, so to speak, making sure the issue is addressed. Obviously, through our STOC VISION subcommittee, the STOC will continue to streamline our approach so that we can accommodate the oversight of this panoply of projects that will soon be coming down the pike.

As I know we still have some time to line all of these issues out, I will not at this time provide a list of the Economic Development projects that we are most concerned about; however, I would expect we will address those issues with the Council following our April 19th subcommittee meeting. In the meantime, if we can be of service to those identifying and addressing, in particular, issues relative to the oversight of these projects, please do not hesitate to let us know. As stated, we will gladly provide an STOC representative to be present at any such meetings, be them formal or not.

Thank you all for your continued investment in Tulsa's future.

Sincerely,

Ashley Webb
Chair, COT STOC

I've observed this over and over again for years, but it's still disheartening to see how easily many Tulsans yield what little political leverage they possess in exchange for empty promises of future influence. They have been brainwashed to think that if they play nice and don't say anything that makes the powers-that-be look bad, at some point in the future the powers-that-be may actually take their concerns seriously. This passivity is especially distressing when the passive Tulsans hold positions that grant them more than the typical share of visibility and political power.

(I heard the same passivity even among voters, many of whom told me that they didn't want to build the dams, but they felt they had to vote yes in order to get their favorite thing funded. They seemed mystified at the thought that they could say no and thus force the Council to rework the package, excluding the dams.)

To the STOCers: I wish you well in your quest for transparency and oversight. It's really rather sweet that you think city officials will care about your opinion, now that they have what they want. Your mistake here is to believe that it matters how the money transferred to non-City entities is spent. That money, typically not enough to do anything useful, has already served its purpose, which was to purchase the support of certain constituencies for the low-water dams. Now that the dams have been funded, the non-City entities could hold a bonfire to burn all their Vision Tulsa cash and the Mayor and City Council would not care.

UPDATE: STOC member Steven Roemerman points out that he raised these concerns via Twitter back in January:

It isn't clear to me how the #Tulsa STOC is supposed to effectively oversee money given to Tulsa County in the new #vision tax #visiontulsa 11:07 AM - 27 Jan 2016

What mechanism will we have to force the County to be transparent? Asking nicely? Harsh language? Wishful thinking? #visiontulsa #vision
11:09 AM - 27 Jan 2016

Will they promise to send representatives to STOC sub committee meetings? How will #Tulsa handle County cost overages and deadline slippage?
11:11 AM - 27 Jan 2016

Originally posted on April 3, 2016. Bumped to the top for those who may have missed it during the election.

We've been hearing lately that we need dams in our river to attract creative young people to Tulsa. Yeah, no, it doesn't make sense to me either, but given that we do want to attract creative young people to our city, we should pay close attention when a creative young man from New York City says he loves Tulsa and tells us what he loves about it.

In February, LAist ran a feature story about a 35-year-old New York City man who checked out a "Citibike" (bike share) last August and rode it all the way to Santa Monica Pier, arriving in mid-January, turning his Citibike into a Countribike.

Along the way, Jeffrey Tanenhaus passed through Tulsa, and he liked what he saw:

Again and again, Tanenhaus found himself drawn to smaller cities, finding that though they lack the sort of cosmopolitan reputation of his hometown, they have vibrant local cultures he liked as much, if not more, than his home. Where Angelenos and New Yorkers may look towards the middle with pity, Tanenhaus thinks the coasts could stand to learn something from the American interior. Some of his favorite places were Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Flagstaff and Redlands. His absolute favorite was Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"It was kind of surprising. There is no ocean and there are no mountains," he said of Tulsa. "It's big enough to be a city, but small enough to feel like a community, and cool enough to attract a progressive crowd of young professionals."

Tanenhaus liked it so well he may come back to stay:

As for what's next, Tanenhaus plans on returning the bicycle to Citi Bike dock in New York City, through the shipping help of Santa Monica Breeze Bike Share. After a quick trip to San Francisco, he will return to New York for a some time while exploring the possibility of a more permanent move to Tulsa.

You can read through Tanenhaus's entire journey at his Countribike site and blog, and you can peruse a Google map of his favorite places along the path.

His introduction to the Tulsa metro area began with a flat tire in Claremore, which lead him to a service station and a chance meeting with someone from 6:19 Nutrition, who invited him to drop by the nutrition store and smoothie cafe. There Tanenhaus was treated to a shake, good conversation, and a body fat analysis while he awaited a lift from a Tulsa cyclist. The staff sent him on his way with a couple of tubs of supplement powder. His host for the evening, the founder of Oklahoma Cycling, got Tanenhaus and the Citibike down to Lee's Bicycle Shop, and they found a hardware store with the right Torx bits to work on the "tamper-proof" bike-share cycle.

As for his impressions of Tulsa:

What surprises me most about Oklahoma's second largest city of 400,000 is that Tulsans are so easy to befriend. There is something special here and it's hard to describe. More than any place I've been before or after, I feel the best chemistry with Tulsa. This magnetic attraction begins at a cafe in Claremore 30 miles northeast.

Everywhere I go I meet someone new and cool. People here are helpful, kind and open to meeting strangers. After one week in Tulsa--broken by a brief stint in a nearby hospital--despite my shallow history here I depart with more contacts in Oklahoma than in NYC.

I'm writing this while sitting on the quad of Pomona College in Claremont, CA. I find that Tulsa has a campus familiarity where there's a decent chance you'll bump into recognizable faces at coffee shops, bars and cultural events, yet the size of the city dilutes these interactions as not to be too often, but just frequent enough to feel like you own the city.

The best thing about New York, in my opinion, is that anyone can become a New Yorker. In Tulsa I feel I can make the city mine, but also that people actually care who I am....

Off-the-radar and an underdog, T-Town is incredibly appealing. Cool people are treated as overstock in Austin, Brooklyn, Portland and San Francisco. But Tulsa? Come on in! There's vacancy.

You'll want to click this link to read about all the creative, young Tulsans Tanenhaus happened to meet in just one day.
Entrepreneurship is like a contagion here -- one person taking a risk to start a business inspires a friend to think that she, too, can build something new -- and it filled Tanenhaus with a new hope:

I've already done the improbable--bike commute across the country (update: 55 miles from the Pacific Ocean). Maybe Tulsa will give me the hospitable new beginning I was searching for when I left New York where jobs didn't lead to anything except stress and disappointment.

Tanenhaus had a great time connecting with Tulsa's cycling community, visiting the cycling-themed Soundpony Lounge next to Cain's Ballroom and getting to know the great work done by Tulsa Hub, a non-profit that rehabilitates used bikes into basic transportation for people who need a cheap way to get to work.

A run-in with road rage west of Sapulpa led to a trip to the ER and a little more time in the Tulsa area than he had planned, but it only seems to have deepened his appreciation for the city.

After an unprovoked assault on a rural road in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, I need four stitches in my lip and return to Tulsa by vehicle. I stay put the next day to rest and catch up on thanking Okies for their support. It's unfortunate this happened in my favorite state to date, but leaves me liking Oklahoma even more than before.

In his extra time in Tulsa, he had a root beer freeze and onion rings at Weber's and spent an evening at Oktoberfest. The map of his route shows favorite spots around Tulsa: Fassler Hall ("Excellent sausages and duck fat fries. Good beers on tap, too!"), Chimera Cafe ("Nice lunch and chai with plenty of bright space."), Tally's Cafe ("Greasy spoon on Route 66 where I take my cyclist host as a thank you"), R Bar & Grill ("Where I meet Samuel from Instagram for a drink (paid for by a patron who saw me on the news)"), Tom's Bicycles ("Tuned up my bike for free while Channel 8 news interviewed me. Thanks Eric, Chance and Ginny! xox") In Vinita, he'd already fallen in love with Braum's Ice Cream.

So what made Tulsa attractive to a cross-country cyclist thinking about a new start in life? Friendly, welcoming people with an entrepreneurial spirit, great small businesses, both old (like Lee's and Weber's) and new (like Soundpony and Bohemia Pizza). Maybe we'd attract more people like Jeffrey Tanenhaus if we'd stop bemoaning sandbars and start celebrating the great people who are already here and the one-of-a-kind places they're creating.

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Here are my recommended votes in the Tulsa County special election on April 5, 2016, for the unexpired term for Tulsa County Sheriff and county and municipal sales tax propositions. Links lead to more detailed information or earlier blog entries. (This entry may change as I decide to add more detail or discuss additional races. The entry is post-dated to keep it at the top.)

Printable one-page "cheat sheet" ballot card
Printable timeline of current and proposed changes to Tulsa city and county sales taxes

Print them, take it along to the polls, and pass it along to your friends, but please read the detail and click the links below.

Here's a synopsis of all the items on the ballot around Tulsa County today.

Podcasts from the Pat Campbell Show on 1170 KFAQ:

And now here are my recommendations and rationale for each ballot item.

Tulsa County Sheriff, unexpired term: Republican Vic Regalado.

Sales tax propositions: General advice

  • The sales taxes on the ballot are intended to replace the Vision 2025 0.6 cent sales tax which doesn't expire until December 31, 2016.
  • If there's something in a package that you think is foolish or wasteful, if the rate is too high or the duration of the tax is too long for your liking (or permanent) vote NO, and then tell your elected officials why.
  • Commissioners, councilors, and mayors will have plenty of time to propose better packages and bring them to a vote on the June primary, August runoff, or November general election ballots.

Tulsa County sales tax: NO.

  • This is a 0.05%, 15-year sales tax.
  • While most of the projects on Tulsa County's tentative list seem modest and reasonable, the list is not set in stone, and the tax is for 15 years with plans to borrow against future revenues.
  • A tax no more than 5 years in duration, with a fixed set of basic infrastructure projects, and no advance revenue bond funding, would be worth considering, but this plan does not meet those criteria.

City of Tulsa, Prop. 1: NO.

  • This is a permanent increase in the city's sales tax rate, earmarked to fund police, fire, and 911. The rate starts 0.16% and after July 1, 2021, permanently increases to 0.26%.
  • This tax doesn't address the causes of runaway increases in police and fire department spending. The police and fire budget consumes all of the permanent 2% sales tax for operations, plus a little. (107% in Fiscal Year 2014).
  • According to a 2014 report, "City of Tulsa Fiscal Constraints", "Since 1980, Police and Fire operating budgets have increased by 470%. Higher operating budgets have not translated into additional 'boots on the ground,' however. The number of Police and Fire personnel has only increased by 4% over that 34-year span."
  • The police and fire budget, adjusted for inflation has doubled since 1980. We need an investigation and explanation for this dramatic increase in cost without a corresponding increase in service.
  • Shrugging our shoulders and throwing more money at the problem only means a future sales tax increase a few years down the road.
  • A temporary tax to tide us over while we figure out the causes of our fiscal hemorrhage might be acceptable, but not a permanent increase is not.

City of Tulsa, Prop. 2: NO.

  • This is a permanent increase in the city's sales tax rate by 0.085 cents on the dollar, earmarked to fund street maintenance and public transit.
  • While many projects have been informally promised for this permanent tax, for some reason, none of them were written into the Brown Ordinance that controls spending for the tax.
  • Nor does the ordinance dictate how the money will be split between street maintenance, public transit operations, and public transit rolling stock and infrastructure.
  • In the age of Uber and Lyft, it seems backwards-thinking to commit a permanent tax to an old-fashioned bus system with fixed routes, long waits, limited hours of operation, one-size-fits-all vehicles, and unionized public employees as drivers. A flexible, data-driven, private-sector approach could meet the public transit needs of Tulsa citizens with lower cost and greater comfort and convenience.
  • A temporary tax, targeted to specific spending plans, and a plan to research innovative new approaches to transit would be worth voting for; this vaguely defined permanent tax is not.

City of Tulsa, Prop. 3: NO. This is the dam tax package.

Beyond the dams, this package has numerous other wasteful and often ill-defined projects.


Suburban sales tax propositions: NO.

  • Because these taxes are a minimum of 15-years duration, in some cases permanent, I recommend that voters say NO and ask their leaders for a maximum five-year, pay-as-you-go package with a very specific list of projects.
  • Jenks voters should reject their sales tax because it includes funds for a low-water dam.
  • Glenpool voters should be aware that passing all three propositions will increase their already-high tax rate by another 0.55 cents on the dollar. This growing suburb has plenty of new retail, and you'd think Glenpool should be able to fund increased public services from growing revenues without a tax increase.
  • Sapulpa voters may not wish to fund city land acquisition and removal of historic Route 66 motels in the Turner Turnpike gateway area.
  • Owasso and Collinsville voters should look closely at their lists of proposed projects and consider whether their growing cities could fund improvements without a higher city sales tax rate.

As I wrote back in January, before the City of Tulsa proposal was set in stone:

If I were a cynic, I might believe that the City Council had no interest in whether these projects were feasible or appropriately budgeted. I might believe, were I a cynic, that these items were included just to get a few more hundred voters to the polls in the mood to vote yes on everything.

The better path would be for the Council to whittle down the list and propose a shorter-term (five years, max), pay-as-you-go (no "advanced funding" line item for interest and bond fees) sales tax that funded only those items that were of general public benefit and had been thoroughly vetted for feasibility and an accurate estimate of cost.

The City Council and Mayor Bartlett didn't follow that better path, so we need to tell them NO and tell them to put together a better package for our consideration.

No_More_Dam_Taxes-logo.png

Published at 23:45 on Monday, April 4, 2016. Postdated to remain at the top of the blog until the polls close.

Tomorrow, April 5, 2016, voters across Tulsa County have a special election for sheriff and will also vote on the county's sales tax proposal (1/20th of a cent for 15 years) for capital projects. Here's what the white countywide ballot will look like.

Voters in several Tulsa County municipalities will also be given a colored, city-specific ballot to approve increases in municipal sales tax which will go into effect on January 1, 2017, right after Tulsa County's Vision 2025 sales tax expires on December 31. Here's a synopsis with links to sample ballots on the Tulsa County Election Board website:

CityPropositionTerms
Collinsville0.55%, permanent, for capital expenditures
GlenpoolProp 10.29%, 20 years, for capital improvements
GlenpoolProp 20.26%, 20 years, for police and fire vehicles, facilities, communications equipment, and other equipment
GlenpoolProp 30.55%, permanent, for staffing additional police and firefighting personnel
Jenks0.55%, 15 years, including $16,670,000 for low-water dam and additional funds for other capital projects. Dam money subject to mutual agreement between Tulsa and Jenks approved by December 31, 2020.
Owasso0.55%, 17 years, for street improvements and adjoining infrastructure and right-of-way expenditures on 96th St. N. and 116th St. N.
Sapulpa0.50%, 15 years, only in Tulsa County, for economic development and land acquisition
TulsaProp 1: Public Safety0.16%, 4.5 years, then 0.26%, permanent, for police, fire, and 911
TulsaProp 2: Street Maintenance and Public Transportation0.085%, permanent, for maintaining and supporting public streets and public transportation systems
TulsaProp 3: "Economic Development"0.305%, 4.5 years, 0.805%, 4 years, 0.305%, 6.5 years, for low-water dams and other projects

Bixbyvoters also have a municipal ballot, but it's for a 25-year extension of the Oklahoma Gas & Electric franchise, which allows OG+E access to city utility easements to deliver electricity to its customers.

It's interesting to see that the City of Sapulpa is proposing a tax increase only in the part of that city in Tulsa County (along I-44 between 51st and 61st), where an existing sales tax will be expiring. The reference to land acquisition suggests that they plan to purchase and clear some of the old Route 66 motels along that stretch (some of which date back to the completion of the Turner Turnpike in 1953) and then try to redevelop with more lucrative national chains.

Shoppers in the Osage County section of the City of Tulsa won't be as lucky -- the overall sales tax rate will rise there, since there isn't a corresponding tax expiring. (Here is the current list of city and county sales and use tax rates from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.) That'll affect the Walgreens, Family Dollar, and other shops on the northeast corner of Edison Street and Gilcrease Museum Road, and the gift shop and restaurant at Gilcrease Museum itself.

Tulsa County has a tentative list of projects for its 0.05%, 15-year package on its website, but with a caveat: "The list of projects outlined on this site have been discussed or requested by Tulsa County residents, County staff and/or the Tulsa County Commissioners. Only after further input from the public will a final decision be made as to what projects to include in a final package submitted to Tulsa County voters." The assortment of projects is reminiscent of the first Four to Fix the County vote in 2000 (in effect October 2001 - October 2006). At that time, the County Commissioners put four separate items on the ballot to avoid violating the Oklahoma Constitution's "single-subject" anti-logrolling rule. Given the refusal of judges to enforce the rule strictly, they seem to feel safe in lumping all of the projects together under one vague category.

The verbiage in the Jenks proposition about the dam is very interesting. The drop-dead date for an agreement with Tulsa is written into the proposition and set for the end of 2020, while the corresponding date for Tulsa to reach an agreement with Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) is the end of 2016, and it's written into the Brown Ordinance for Prop. 3, rather than the ballot language. In both cases, failure to make the date releases the funds for other purposes, but the mismatch in dates means that the dam could be dead for four years before Jenks could legally repurpose that $16.67 million. Interesting, too, that the funds for the dam are described on the ballot in a way that focuses on operation and maintenance and other expenses that would be incurred long after the dam is built -- interesting because City of Tulsa officials have said they expect the MCN to cover maintenance costs for the dams. The Jenks ballot language makes no reference to MCN involvement.

Here's the language on the Jenks ballot:

Shall Ordinance No. 1392 of the City of Jenks, Oklahoma, adopted on February 1,2016. which levies and assesses a sales tax of five and one-half tenths of one percent (0.55%) upon the expiration of the current Vision 2025 sales tax be approved as a City of Jenks sales tax upon the gross receipts or proceeds on certain sales as therein defined, effective January 1, 2017, for 15 years for purposes including, Sixteen Million Six Hundred Seventy Thousand Dollars ($16,670,000) for funding of the proposed Jenks-Tulsa Arkansas River low water dam project, for the purposes of constructing, reconstructing, improving, remodeling, repairing, operating and maintaining the proposed low water dam and related facilities; with additional funds to be used for capital projects including constructing roads and road maintenance; park improvements and construction; construction of sidewalks and trails; and upgrades to storm water and sewer infrastructure; engineering; acquiring necessary lands and right of way; 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 the City of Jenks for such purposes. including payment of the costs of issuance of such loans or bonds; defines terms; prescribes procedures, remedies, liens and fixes penalties; subject to a mutual agreement between the cities of Jenks and Tulsa for construction of the low water dam approved by December 31, 2020, otherwise funds identified for construction of the Jenks-Tulsa Arkansas River low water dam may be used for additional capital project categories as identified in this proposition, be approved?

Here's the language in the Tulsa ordinance:

The project entitled 'South Tulsa/Jenks Lake and Related Amenities' is contingent on additional funding for other aspects of the entire project, to be provided by the City of Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including a long-term operating and maintenance endowment. If a Memorandum of Understanding is not executed by all three funding partners on or before December 31, 2016, funding allocated by the City of Tulsa for this project ($64,214,000) will be reallocated according to the provisions of this ordinance, provided that Eighteen Million Dollars ($18,000,000) will first be reallocated to a long-term operating and maintenance endowment for Zink Lake and Related Amenities.

MORE: Visit the Re-Vision and the Arkansas River categories for complete BatesLine coverage of Vision Tulsa and the proposed low-water dams.

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UPDATE: For the record, here are some links to coverage of Citizens for a Better Vision:

Fox23: Vision Tulsa responds to opposition group, Mar 15, 2016 - 9:01 PM
News on 6: 'No More Dam Taxes,' Tulsa Vision Opposition Group Urges, March 15, 2016
KWGS: Citizens for a Better Vision Ask Voters to Reject Tulsa Sales Tax Measures

Chris_Whisenhunt-Sauger-Arkansas_River-2014.jpg
Fisheries biologist Chris Whisenhunt with a sauger he caught in the Arkansas River beneath the 96th Street (Jenks) bridge, an area that would be affected by the proposed south Tulsa / Jenks dam.

Tulsa fisheries biologist Chris Whisenhunt has some concerns about the dam's effect on fish and fishing. With his permission, here are some comments he has posted on Facebook about the dams .

Voting Yes on Proposition 3 will almost assuredly destroy the delicate ecosystem within the Arkansas River by displacing or eliminating many sensitive, native aquatic species for the sake of "economic development". As a fisheries biologist, it is my opinion that dams in the river are a BAD IDEA! (And no, the new lakes that would be created will not be good for fishing but would actually eliminate the existing fisheries). Tulsa should explore other ways to create economic development that doesn't risk damage to the environment for what is simply aesthetic reasons.

He adds some specifics:

Many indigenous species (sauger, white bass, paddlefish, shovelnose sturgeon, and many others) currently thrive in the area of the river to be impacted by the proposed dams. Voting yes will most likely displace those fish, eliminating the existing fishery for the sake of aesthetic value in hopes of promoting economic development. The new lakes will not be able to support a viable fishery. Any loss of, or damage to, the existing fishery may result in mitigation by the city at the cost of its tax payers.

And in response to diagrams of the dam operation, Whisenhunt notes the dilemma -- officials will have to open the dams and let the lakes drain out for five months to allow for fish spawning or keep the dams shut and degrade the stock of fish over time.

I've seen the cartoon videos & diagrams of how the dams are supposed to work and am not overly impressed. First, many sensitive species in the Arkansas River are benthic (bottom oriented) & most likely will not make it over the contour of the dam. Second, spawning season for the variety of fishes in the river is from February to June and we have no guarantee the city is prepared to leave the dams down that entire length of time. Third, I've asked for & have yet to receive any SCIENTIFIC, peer reviewed research proving the dams allow fish passage (a little something more than a cartoon). Finally, the continuous filling & draining of the lake will prevent any viable fishery from being established in the lake itself, one of the selling points the city of Tulsa has tried to give the public. The city is risking ecological disaster for aesthetic value...a very bad idea!

MORE: News on 6 spoke to another local fisheries expert:

Sand islands and braided channels are what make the prairie stream that is Arkansas River.

"It's not dry, it's just not the Mississippi, but it's not supposed to be the Mississippi," Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Josh Johnston said....

"We're on that knife's edge already of being too fragmented. It's taken the perfect year to get these fish where they are. They're persisting, but just barely," Johnston said.

Johnston has studied the river and the species that call it home for years. He said adding another dam could severely hurt or even wipe out several native fish, like the shovelnose sturgeon, American eel, white bass, sauger and paddlefish....

But Johnston said the river is always flowing, even though it may not look like it. He said most of the fish in the Arkansas River are genetically made up to survive and thrive in that sort of harsh environment.

"We're not looking at what we have and being thankful that this is native, this is Oklahoma right here," Johnston said.

He said for fish to migrate properly, most of the gates would need to stay down throughout spawning season. It wouldn't work opening and closing them throughout the four-month period, Johnston said.

"I just don't think the city is going to be willing to leave that down long enough," he said.

Johnston said he's gone to the city's public meetings, but said the city hasn't consulted with his division of the wildlife department since about 2009.

"This one's been the biggest push I've ever seen Tulsa make for these dams and we were not invited to the talks, we were not asked, we were not questioned," Johnston said. "They say they've had a lot of biological input by some of the greatest biologists, but it's not with my agency, and we are the biologists that work on this system."

Two years ago, when the river was unusually clear, the same biologist made an interesting discovery:

The Arkansas River usually only has strands of what appears to be muddy water. Biologists know there's a rich diversity of fish, but only through a remarkable bit of luck, were they able to show the rest of us.

"And we found just wads of fish that you wouldn't think would be here in our backyard," said Josh Johnson with the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

It started with an idea to see if any sturgeon were still in the river. Hardly anyone in the Wildlife Department had ever seen one.

"We never even took into consideration that this might have been a better place to look for them, and all of a sudden this guy calls in and he's caught one," Johnson said.

That led to an underwater survey on what turned out to be three days of clear water in unbearable cold, the water was just above freezing but there was 20 feet of visibility. They saw stripers and buffalo fish and photographed five shovelnose sturgeon.

It's very typical of Tulsa to embrace an urban development fad just as other cities are rethinking and reversing course. (Case in point: No sooner did we close off Main Street for a pedestrian mall than other cities began noticing that pedestrian malls killed retail businesses and started reopening pedestrianized streets.) When officials push Tulsans to be early adopters of new fads, Tulsans say no, but officials stubbornly keep pushing, long after the moment has passed. In September 1969, Tulsans voted down a bond issue for low-water dams, 29% to 71%, but 47 years later, officials are still trying to talk us into it. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waking up to the safety and environmental hazards posed by these decorative dams.

Danger: Low Water Dam Ahead

From the October 2015 edition of Columbus Monthly, "Low-Head Dams: Danger Below":

Though their usefulness faded decades ago, low-head dams are a lingering threat to people and wildlife. Since the 1950s, at least 441 people have died at 235 submerged dams in 38 states. About half of those deaths occurred in the past 15 years--a period in which many cities have sought to repurpose their rivers into picturesque attractions that would draw tourists and shoppers to business districts....

The dams, dubbed "killer dams" and "drowning machines" by critics, can be dangerously misleading. Most onlookers observe a scenic, harmless-looking waterfall, but a submerged hydraulic jump forms deadly whirlpool-like currents....

Aside from their threat to human safety, low-head dams have been causing a deluge of ecological problems for decades, conservationists say. They stifle fish migration up and downstream, degrade the river's chemical quality, increase the water temperature and starve fish of oxygen....

As for FLOW, the group conducted water-quality studies to look at the physical, chemical and biological attributes of the Olentangy River near and around the 8-foot high concrete dam at Fifth Avenue, and found the river did not meet quality standards. FLOW, which developed the Lower Olentangy Watershed Action Plan in 2003, recommended the dam be removed. Doing so would increase dissolved oxygen levels (making it easier and better for fish to breathe), unblock sediment flow backed up by the dam and increase fish migration, they reported....

When the Fifth Avenue dam was dismantled in 2012, it joined the list of more than 50 dams removed in Ohio since 1973. In total, the project cost about $6.9 million; it took $200,000 to remove the dam. Some of the funds were allocated to create four large wetlands, establish native vegetation, and reconstruct river features and infrastructure such as storm-water outfalls. The cost was shared by Ohio EPA, Ohio State and the city....

Communities working in partnership with nonprofit organizations and state and federal agencies removed 72 dams in 19 states in 2014, according to American Rivers, a national river conservation group. Five of those removals were in Ohio, adding to the 1,185 dams removed across the U.S. since 1912.

Finding a balance between public and environmental safety can get thorny when dam owners and community members don't want their dams removed. Garcia says residents in Yorkville, Illinois, felt a strong sense of nostalgia for a 1960s-era dam on the Fox River. The dam's spillway has since been modified with four concrete steps, a fish ladder and a bypass channel for kayakers and canoeists.

"Usually the people who want the dams removed don't live near them," Garcia says. "There is almost an emotional attachment."

But Garcia says there's one driving force behind all of this: liability. Tschantz agrees, questioning the legality of having low-head dams present on waterways as a hidden and concealed danger rather than an open and obvious hazard.


One of the joys of this campaign has been getting to know some valiant community leaders that I had not previously met. Tracie Chandler, a leader in the North Star neighborhood, was instrumental in getting the city to do a small area plan covering the 36th Street North corridor between the Osage County line and Lewis Ave. This area was once prosperous but long ago fell on hard times. The small-area plan process brought homeowners, business owners, and city planners together to determine a path forward. Unfortunately, Tulsa civic leaders have a bad habit of either ignoring northside activists or treating them with dismissive condescension, and the modest capital improvements that these small area plans request -- small investments that can make a huge difference to an area's potential -- are typically ignored in favor of bigger, splashier projects closer to Tulsa's Money Belt.

Tracie Chandler has written several items of commentary on Vision Tulsa, and with her permission, we're happy to publish them here at BatesLine. First, here is a list of concerns about the package, which Ms. Chandler read at our news conference on Tuesday and a related graphic.

We want to thank the Councilors and the Mayor for their work on the Vision Package. However, we have some concerns. Councilor Ewing said, people without representation were being left off the list to the detriment (harm) of the neighborhoods. Another councilor responded with. "They have their Councilor." Ewing replied, "You know what I Mean!" We instantly understood. People with money, power, or influence got their proposals on the list.

Example: The Gilcrease Museum gets sixty-five million ($65,000,000) of our hard earned dollars; a donor will give them fifty million dollars ($50,000,000). Example of influence?: Had Councilor Henderson supported the 36th St. N. Corridor Small Area Plan Implementation Proposal, coupled with the Mohawk Business Park, we would have had two straight miles prepped for economic development down 36th St. N. between N. Lewis and MLK. The Peoria Connection, which has the least impact of the two and cost five million dollars ($5,000.000) more, made the list. Is it because of Henderson's close ties to NTEDi, the organization submitting the proposal?

Public Safety:

Everyone cares about public safety, however, here are our concerns: The tax is permanent instead of for 15 years.

Fire Department:

The fire department will get seventy million dollars ($70,000,000), even though it didn't complete an analysis of needed funds. A fireman was overheard telling one of the Councilors that there was not a need for the trucks she was seeking. Many of the "fire runs" are for EMS purposes instead of fighting fires.

Police Department:

Do we need 160 more police to the tune of two hundred two million dollars ($202,000,000)? Even with the layoff of about 120 police in 2010, major crimes decreased. Minorities, especially Blacks, are harassed/arrested more than others. These arrests destroy families. More police, more minorities going to jail. The recreation centers are gone, kids, with their parent(s) in jail, are often without supervision. They act out, doing unwise things leading to their arrests (a continuous cycle of family destruction)! Keeping people locked up, is costly; It is cheaper to keep them out of prison.

We like the Gilcrease Museum, however, let's examine another use for the sixty-five million ($65,000,000) that would directly benefit North Tulsa. Five point five million dollars ($5,500,000) is about what it would have taken to renovate recreation centers at Ben Hill, B. C. Franklin, and Springdale parks. After utilities, the remaining fifty-nine million, two hundred eighty-nine thousand, twenty-five dollars ($59,289,025) could be invested in an endowment; at 3.5%, two million, seventy-five thousand, one hundred sixteen dollars ($2,075,116) to run the centers.

Zoo: "Do we need to pay $25,000,000 (twenty-five million dollars) to build a "Pachyderm Palace" as a new home for elephants?"

Lot in the Package for North Tulsa???????????????

You will hear that there is a lot in the package for North Tulsa, the same story we heard before and for the most part, North Tulsa looks the same. How will this be any different? Three of the items referred to are the Gilcrease Museum, The Zoo, and the Airport. Who will benefit the most, North Tulsa residents or the city?

Education:

Tulsans will pay taxes for Jenks schools, because Tulsa students attend those schools. Is Osage County paying for students that attend Central and Academy Central? We do need to retain teachers, however, North Tulsa Schools get more of the inexperienced teachers than South Tulsa Schools. What assurance do we have that this will change?
OSU: Why are we giving OSU 3.6 million dollars ($3,600,000) when they are receiving $1,000,000 (one million dollars) a year from Langston for rent? They could have saved that amount.

Street Maintenance and Traffic:

Everyone, especially North Tulsans, want their streets repaired. The City continuously maintain NEW streets, because it is cheaper, as opposed to older streets. Where does that leave older neighborhoods?

River Project: How will the River Project benefit North Tulsans? Will the money brought in by the project help North Tulsa? What part of the city gets most of the tax dollars?

Whose Vision is this?

This package does not represent the wishes/desires of the citizens. Where is the vision?

What Now?

We understand your concerns about Langston! However, would you keep an apple that is 93.4% rotten; North Tulsa only got 6.6% of the package? That makes the package for North Tulsans 93.4% rotten. Citizens of Tulsa, since this package does not represent our vision for Tulsa, should we accept it? If we accept this package, what message will we send? Won't it be that, it doesn't matter if our voices are not heard? Won't it be, walk all over us although, these are OUR tax dollars? Are we men or are we mice content with crumbs?

Presented by a Coalition of Concerned Citizens

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Danger: Low Water Dam Ahead

North Tulsa residents are among the most skeptical of visionary sales taxes. They know that they will bear a heavy share of the costs, but they are doubtful of seeing any benefits. They'll pay extra sales taxes on the basics of life -- food, clothing, electricity, natural gas -- and the money will go to build play-places in well-to-do neighborhoods in midtown and south Tulsa. North Tulsans have seen their city swimming pools closed and filled in, their recreation centers torn down, and their streets fall apart, while the other side of I-244 seems to get everything fixed promptly.

Proponents of the Vision Tulsa Dam Tax are desperate to convince voters in the North Community that money for Gilcrease Museum ($65 million), the Tulsa Zoo ($25 million), and the airport ($27.3 million) constitute money to help develop the most economically distressed neighborhoods on the northside.

Yes, Gilcrease Museum is north of Admiral, as are the zoo and the airport, and they've been north of Admiral since long before I was born, and these are valuable institutions for our city, but they haven't generated nearby commercial development, much less improved conditions for the hardest-hit neighborhoods in north Tulsa, which are miles away from these institutions. To count the $117.3 million allocated to these institutions as money for north Tulsa economic development is disingenuous and shows contempt for the intelligence of North Community residents.

Earlier today, I emceed a press conference at Rudisill Library featuring the remarks several northside residents concerned about the lack of economic impact for their community in the Vision Tulsa Dam Tax proposal.

Sherry Laskey spoke of her impressions upon returning to her hometown last year after five years away. She recalled Vision 2025's passage in 2003, when her son was a toddler, and remembers the promises made about economic growth and the high hopes she had. She sees Archer Street as a a stark dividing line between development and infrastructure condition to the north and to the south. Thirteen years later her son is a teenager, and she sees that the physical and economic condition of the community has gone backwards. "Nothing has changed. Things have gotten worse. There's nowhere for our children to get a job once they graduate from high school."

Vanessa Hall Harper expressed her displeasure with the process used to select projects for the northside. An ill-defined project, devoid of specifics, called Peoria Connections was selected for funding in the package, while projects growing out of the thorough small-area planning process for the 36th Street North corridor (also known as the Phoenix District) were left on the cutting-room floor. Residents were told that the vague but more expensive Peoria Connections project (the pitch presentation consisted of a series of uncaptioned photos taken along the street) would be selected -- take it or leave it.

Ms. Harper said that "[the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce] held several forums right here in Rudisill Library. We asked the community to come in, and we showed them all of the presentations that were made before the City Council, and we asked the community to prioritize their top five projects. We sent that information to the Mayor and the City Council, and it was not even considered.... We are tired of being told what's going to happen after the fact." She said that the failure of City Hall to listen to the community's priorities was her primary reason for voting no on the "economic development" package.

Tracie Chandler is a leader in the North Star Neighborhood Association, which secured the funding to create the 36th Street North corridor plan and spearheaded the plan's completion and incorporation into the city's Comprehensive Plan. The city has already committed $8.5 million toward the plan's implementation in the Improve Our Tulsa package (the current Third Penny package).

"If you've got money, power, and influence, you got on the list." As an example of power and money, Ms. Chandler pointed to $65 million in tax dollars for Gilcrease, which also has $50 million promised from private funds. As for influence, Ms. Chandler noted the selection of the vague and more expensive Peoria Connection project over the 36th Street North proposal, which would have cost $5 million less than the Peoria Connection proposal and would have facilitated two miles of redevelopment from Lewis to MLK. "Could it be because of Councilor [Jack] Henderson's close ties to NTEDI [North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative], the organization that submitted the proposal? Does that sound like influence to you?" Ms. Chandler said that the Peoria Connection plan would have little to no economic impact, while the 36th Street small area plan would have tremendous impact, was detailed, and had been adopted unanimously by the City Council into the Comprehensive Plan.

"This is our money. People, we have the power. These committees, the councilor, the mayor -- they did not listen to us. This needs to be voted down. They need to come to the citizens and hear what we have to say. If we accept this, then we're saying that 'it doesn't matter that our voices weren't heard; walk all over us!' We need to be heard."

Later in the meeting, Ms. Chandler said she planned to write another editorial about her councilor's involvement in the project selection process, to be titled, "Vision Package: Judas Still Walks among Us."

Noting that there were a couple of items that northsiders would find positive (funding for Langston University's Tulsa campus and for a business park), Ms. Chandler emphasized, "For North Tulsa, this package is 94% rotten. So my question to you is this: Would you eat an apple that was 94% rotten just to get to the good part?"

I chimed in to mention the very back-handed "endorsement" of the "economic development" package by the Oklahoma Eagle. Ray Pearcey urged northsiders to vote for the dam tax, while agreeing substantially with Tracie Chandler's assessment of the many useless items in the package.

But we remain opposed to a passel of environmentally insensitive, economically incoherent or not particularly well thought out projects - including the proposed Arkansas River/Dam initiative and a bunch of other poorly defined or questionable items. But here's the bottom line - the economic package is like a grand, but oddly sourced salad - one that may have some tough seeds or even some nails in it - but if you want to eat the salad - you have to eat everything in the bowl.

Maybe that's Ray's way, but if I got a salad with nails in it, I'd send it back to the kitchen and find another restaurant. Voters need to send this salad back on April 5, and then we need to fire the chefs that tried to serve us a salad bowl full of shrapnel. I reminded the assembled press that the current Vision 2025 tax doesn't expire until December 31, and we have three more election dates between now and then when the City Council could present us with a sound proposal -- nothing but fresh veggies in the salad.

James Johnson, another lifelong north Tulsa resident, spoke up to note that city leaders were asking the poorest citizens to fund $65 million for Gilcrease and $25 million for the zoo, in exchange for a "$7 million parking lot for Mr. Kaiser," referring to the proposed industrial park. "If you're a north Tulsa resident, and if you vote yes on this Vision -- their Vision -- please take a look in your mirror and say to yourself, I'm the reason that north Tulsa looks like it does." He pointed out that there was more economic activity on 36th Street North in the 1980s than there is today. Referring to Mayor Dewey Bartlett's slogan of "One Tulsa," Johnson said, "Mayor Bartlett, are you serious? He's running around, popping his collar, and north Tulsa looks like it does. You know, my grandmother would say, he needs to cut three willow switches, bring them to me, and take his pants down, and let me put the three willow switches on him, because he's wrong."

Ms. Harper pointed toward the area's lack of a supermarket and the lack of street lights on the expressways. "When you're wanting to spend millions and millions of dollars on other projects when basic needs of the community are not being met, in my book that's frivolous spending. Let's meet the basic needs of every community first -- that's the purpose of our tax dollars -- and then let's move on to other projects."

Mr. Johnson reminded the audience that several city-owned recreation centers and swimming pools in north Tulsa were recently demolished; meanwhile the pool at McClure Park in east Tulsa was going to be rebuilt. "We've torn out all these parks in north Tulsa as if black children, children in north Tulsa don't matter." Ms. Chandler emphasized that there is nothing in the package for north Tulsa children.

Regarding the demolished pools and rec centers, I mentioned that back in 2003, many of these pools were closed because of budget problems and streetlights on the expressways were extinguished. We were promised that if we passed Vision 2025, we'd see enough economic growth to generate the revenues to reopen the pools, turn the lights back on, fix the streets, and hire more police officers. Vision 2025 was approved, and it built a lot of pretty things, but the economic growth never came, the pools were never reopened, and now we're being asked for a permanent 17.25% increase in our permanent sales tax rate to pay for basic city operational costs.

MORE:

After the jump, links to media coverage of the event, presentations and details of the two competing north Tulsa development proposals -- the one that was picked, and the one that was passed by, and links to and comments about the proposals for Gilcrease, the airport, and the zoo.

A bald eagle perches on a sandbar, eating a fish he grabbed from the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014

Over the last 13 years, I've written quite a bit about the Arkansas River and proposals for damming and remodeling it, and about what Tulsans really are seeking when they ask for water in the river. Recently I resurrected several of my Urban Tulsa Weekly columns and my 2007 cover story on the topic from Internet Oblivion.

Here's a selection of past BatesLine stories about river development. I especially recommend the first story, as it has lots of pretty pictures like the one above, and it reflects a change of heart on my part -- the realization that a low-water dam would be a bad deal even if it were given to us free, because of the beauty that it would cover up.

Here's a link to the complete archive of the Arkansas River category on BatesLine.

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No_More_Dam_Taxes-logo.pngAmong the many flaws in the Vision Tulsa dam tax proposal (on the April 5, 2016, ballot) are what I've decided to call the Payola Projects -- projects that involve giving a chunk of money to various institutions in hopes of winning their constituents' votes for the dam tax.

A Payola Project typically involves a suspiciously round sum of money which the city will transfer to another governmental entity (which often has its own source of funding). The amount of money may or may not be enough to pay for a specific construction project. They may not even have even a specific project in mind, or the project might be contingent on a string of approvals yet to be obtained. The important thing is for the target constituency of the Payola Project to think that the small amount of money they're getting is worth wasting $128 million on dams in the Arkansas River.

A Payola Project is all about symbolism over substance: "We haven't allocated enough money to do anything meaningful about this issue that matters to you, dear voter, but we want you to think that we care, so you'll vote for our Dam Tax."

On four separate occasions, voters have rejected taxpayer-funded low-water dams in the Arkansas River, but city mis-leaders like G. T. Bynum and Dewey Bartlett Jr. insist that they'll be a game-changer, so they're back on the ballot for a fifth time, surrounded by a collection of Payola Projects. Think of a Payola Project as an electoral flotation device for the big, expensive dam project, which would otherwise sink at the ballot box as fast as Luca Brasi in concrete overshoes sank in the East River.

The Payola Project for voters concerned about public education is listed this way in Title 43-K, the ordinance that (vaguely) regulates how money in Vision Tulsa Proposition No. 3 for "Economic Development" must be spent:

Public Schools - Partnership with Union, Jenks & Tulsa Public Schools in Teacher Retention, Recruitment, and Training Efforts: $10,000,000

(I wonder why they didn't include the rest of the public school districts that serve the City of Tulsa: the Broken Arrow School District, which serves growing new Tulsa subdivisions southeast of 31st and 145th East Ave, or Catoosa School District, which serves recently annexed areas in Wagoner County.)

Here's how Tulsa City Councilor and former Tulsa school board member Anna America answered a question about the project on March 24 -- a mere 12 days before the election, showing the vague and unsettled state of the proposal

Jeff, we are still working on the final details. The original proposal was for $50 million for two pieces -- housing incentives that could be used for homebuyers or renters, and stipends for continuous learning in the summer. It was scaled back to $10 million, so we are discussing exactly how that would look -- my hope that we do it in the way that has the most impact with the most teacher. There has been some discussion of using the housing part in conjunction with some property the city owns to create a "teacher town" but there are a lot of moving pieces on that., so it may not work out. This was the document submitted as part of the orignal proposal (although it looks to me like they issed a page in the scanning) and we will bascially be doing a scaled back version, although we purposefully took out language specific to housing and made it "attraction and rettention" so we have more flexibility on allowing the district use the money for other kinds of incentives for teachers.. https://www.cityoftulsa.org/media/432235/Teach-Live-T-Town-Presentation.pdf

According to State Department of Education reports the Tulsa district had, in school year 2014-2015, 3,118 teachers, Jenks had 819, and Union had 1,109. That's a total of 5,046 teachers. If you divided that "attraction and rettention[sic]" bonus among those teachers for the 15 years of the tax, it would amount to $132.11 per teacher per year, or about 73¢ per instructional day. It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as my grandma used to say, but it wouldn't buy a decent cup of coffee, and it's hard to see how that will succeed in attracting or retaining anyone who isn't otherwise determined to be here.

Voters who care about funding for public education ought to lobby the legislature or petition to raise the cap on the local property tax levies for schools or to find some other local basis for increasing funding if local voters want to do so. Voters who care about attracting and retaining teachers should lobby their school boards to reduce the administrative burden so that funds already available to the school will go to the classroom instead.

Keep in mind that you have the option of voting yes or no on four different propositions on April 5. Keep in mind that the current Vision tax doesn't expire until December 31, 2016. There's plenty of time for the City Council to develop a sound plan, and three more opportunities this year to put it before the voters.

If you care about funding for public education, you should vote down Proposition 3, which includes this insulting attempt at a bribe, and tell the City Council to put together a better plan.

vision_tulsa_education_plan.jpg

Immature bald eagle and hundreds of white pelicans perch on a sandbar and in the shallows of the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014. Looking northwest from Helmerich Park toward the 71st Street Bridge and Turkey Mountain.

Vision Tulsa Vote Yes ads claim (dishonestly) that approval of the Vision Tulsa Dam Tax hike on April 5, 2016, will prevent future strip malls from being built along the river. In fact, nothing in the Vision Tulsa propositions address development standards. Moreover,
the City Council has the power right now to prevent inappropriate development, both through the zoning ordinance and through placing conditions on the sale or lease of city-owned land. Far from helping protect the river corridor, voter approval of the proposed Vision Tulsa Dam Tax would instead surrender the only financial leverage Tulsans have to push for common-sense rules to ensure appropriate future development along the Arkansas River.

The City Council has had the power all along to amend the zoning ordinance to require appropriate and compatible development along the river. The City Council could create a new zoning district along the river and specify design guidelines for any new construction within the district. If the design guidelines are sufficiently objective, they could be enforced directly through the permitting process. If the design guidelines involve a degree of subjective judgment, the ordinance could require that applications for construction be approved by a design review board before a building permit is issued. While this cannot be done overnight -- the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission would have to review such an ordinance and make a recommendation before the City Council could act -- it can be done. We have an example just down the turnpike.

Oklahoma City has numerous design-focused zoning overlay districts; many of them have been in place for over 30 years. Some are intended to preserve the walkable, urban characteristics of historic commercial districts like 23rd Street and Classen Blvd. Some are aimed at ensuring that new development is compatible with existing development in a neighborhood. Two districts, established in 2007, specifically deal with the banks of the North Canadian River (aka "Oklahoma River"): The Scenic River Overlay District and the Scenic River Overlay Design District.

It's not as though the need for design guidelines along Tulsa's riverfront has suddenly arisen. Starting around ten years ago, chain restaurants, a shopping center, and a convenience store were built on the west side of Riverside between 96th Street and 101st Street. All of these buildings turn their backs to the river, and most are typical cookie-cutter, chain-store architecture, a huge waste of the unique opportunity presented by the river (sandbars or no sandbars). That nothing has been done to date leads me to believe that nothing would be done once the Council has secured the dam tax increase.

(MORE: In an August 2006 column, I explained why design guidelines were appropriate for unique places like riverfronts and the gateways to our city. In February 2007, then-Mayor Kathy Taylor called for a study of special zoning for the river corridor, but as far as I can tell, the effort never went beyond the discussion phase.)

City leaders have even more control over riverfront development when the project requires the use of publicly-owned land. And yet our current mayor and council seem determined to discard that leverage.

Back on August 11, 2015, the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) voted 3-2 to sell the northern section of Helmerich Park, a city park along the Arkansas River southwest of 71st and Riverside, to a commercial developer for the construction of a strip mall and large parking lot.

Just a few weeks earlier, on July 16, 2015, the City Council voted to change the comprehensive plan land-use designation for the parcel from "Park and Open-Space" to "Mixed-Use Corridor" and from "Area of Stability" to "Area of Change." This greased the path for any zoning accommodation that the developers might need. A no vote by the Council may well have deterred the developer from pursuing the shopping center.

A lawsuit challenging the TPFA's authority to sell city-owned land without the blessing of the City Council has put the sale on hold, but there are reports that proponents of the sale have found a way around this roadblock, and that this will be under discussion at a meeting of the TPFA this Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:30 p.m, in Room 10-203 at City Hall. (The meeting notice is online, but the agenda has not yet been posted.) The way around the roadblock? If the City Council votes to abandon the section of the park as surplus to the city's needs, the lawsuit would be moot, and TPFA would have permission to move ahead with the sale to the developers.

Former Tulsa Mayor Terry Young has been a leader in the effort to stop the commercial development of the northern half of Helmerich Park. Late last week his alert was posted to the Save Helmerich Park Facebook page:

URGENT NOTICE!

Helmerich Park Friends:

The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority has scheduled a new Special Meeting to act on a request to the City Council to ABANDON parts of Helmerich Park.

The request to ABANDON a tract in the park is to allow the sale of the land to private developers for the construction of a 52,000 square foot shopping center and acres of asphalt parking.

WE NEED HELMERICH PARK SUPPORTERS TO ATTEND THIS MEETING TO RAISE DEEP CONCERNS ABOUT THIS ACTION!

The meeting will be:

Thursday
March 31, 2016
4 p.m.
Room 10-203 (Tenth Floor)
City Hall - One Technology Center
175 East 2nd Street

Please mark your calendar and try to attend. Bring other supporters. This board needs to know the depth and breadth of our opposition.

Here is what is at stake:

In response to our lawsuit which makes it clear that TPFA does not have the power to sell any or all of Helmerich Park, TPFA is planning to ask the City Council to do it by:
Passing a resolution abandoning the park use of a portion of Helmerich Park and finding it is no longer needed for public use.

PLUS:

TPFA will ask the City Council to:

Endorse, support, and consent to the sale of Helmerich Park to North Point Property for building a shopping center.

We have a full week to add this meeting to our respective schedules.

I hope you will join us to add many, many more faces to our efforts to sway TPFA and to SAVE HELMERICH PARK.

Terry Young

Here is a timeline of statements made by Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) elected officials regarding their financial involvement in the low-water dam. When you clear away the wish-casting statements being made by city officials, you'll notice that there aren't any MCN officials offering money to the project. Instead, MCN officials merely acknowledge that city officials are asking for MCN money for the south Tulsa/Jenks dam, and MCN officials note the large amount of money the tribe has already put into development along the river and the unmet economic needs of Creek citizens living on the southern end of the nation's territory.

So why don't Creek officials go ahead and rule out financial support for the south Tulsa/Jenks dam, regardless of the outcome of the April 5 vote? I suspect they would prefer not to be the "bad guy." If the proposition fails in Jenks or in Tulsa, as seems likely, Creek financial contribution will be moot, without Creek officials having to be the ones to say no. If the proposition passes, they can offer some token amount of money, figuring that Tulsa officials will be so anxious to satisfy the "memorandum of understanding" requirement in the Brown Ordinance for Proposition 3 (Title 43-K), that they'll take anything. Here's the actual language that ties the south Tulsa/Jenks dam to MCN involvement. Note that there's no minimum amount that Jenks and MCN have to contribute:

The project entitled 'South Tulsa/Jenks Lake and Related Amenities' is contingent on additional funding for other aspects of the entire project, to be provided by the City of Jenks and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including a long-term operating and maintenance endowment. If a Memorandum of Understanding is not executed by all three funding partners on or before December 31, 2016, funding allocated by the City of Tulsa for this project ($64,214,000) will be reallocated according to the provisions of this ordinance, provided that Eighteen Million Dollars ($18,000,000) will first be reallocated to a long-term operating and maintenance endowment for Zink Lake and Related Amenities.

If other projects and purposes described in Section 100(B) above cannot be completed due to circumstances beyond the control of the City of Tulsa, funding allocated for such projects and purposes will be reallocated according to the provisions of this ordinance.

Many of these quotes come from the Muscogee Nation News, the bimonthly print publication that serves as "the official tribal newspaper of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation." Many of the articles that appear in the print edition were first posted to the Muscogee Nation News Facebook page.

Last week, a local TV station spiked a well-researched news story about funding problems for the proposed south Tulsa / Jenks low-water dam and the awareness of Tulsa elected officials of the problem before they voted to put the proposal on the ballot. The story's sudden withdrawal hints at pressure by local power-brokers, panicked that the public will become aware of the flimsy foundation of the "Vision Tulsa" sales tax proposal. Tulsans will vote three proposed new city taxes and a new county tax up or down in an April 5, 2016, special election.

An extensive 1163-word news story by reporter Rick Maranon about the Muscogee Creek Nation's refusal to commit to funding for maintenance of the dam was posted to Fox23.com last Tuesday evening, March 15, 2016, then was deleted from the website later the same evening. While long website news stories are typically transcripts of video reports airing on Fox23's nightly news cast, no such story was aired.

The story cites a letter from Muscogee Creek Nation officials to city leaders, panicked emails among city officials about the implications of the MCN letter, video of council committee meetings, and other sources of information. Reporter Rick Maranon did a solid job of connecting the dots. Here's one of the more damning excerpts from the story:

FOX23 has reported numerous time within the past year that current and past city officials have stated the current state of the Zink Dam in Tulsa is the result of a lack of proper maintenance funding, and they wanted to set up an endowment so the current disrepair of the dam wouldn't happen again.

City officials long assumed that the Creek Nation would be more than willing to pick up the tab because of their properties along the river involving Riverspirit Casino and the Flying Tee.

But after FOX23 reported that the Creek Nation was going to set up an endowment, members of the Creek Nation began to contact FOX23 saying they were not aware of the multi-million dollar commitment Tulsa officials had allegedly assumed they would be fine with.

The tribe's own internal news agency quoted Creek Nation representatives to Tulsa as saying they were not informed of the plan to set up the endowment and partner with Jenks and Tulsa on the dams.

Multiple sources close to the Vision Tulsa project who have been asked not to be identified have simply said city leaders assumed the tribe would be on board without consulting them of their plans before they presented them to voters as a done deal set in stone.

The first officials meeting to discuss an endowment happened on February 11th, and days later, the tribe officially notified city leaders they were out of the Vision low water dam plan....

On February 23rd, Tulsa City Council Vice Chair Anna America stated in an e-mail to councilors, "I think we need to make that clear to the public ASAP, and not try to be ambiguous at the press conference or in any other comments."

She went on to state in the same e-mail," I don't want to wait that long to say there won't be a south Tulsa dam if the Creeks say today they aren't participating in funding this year."

But the request appears to have fallen on deaf ears because two days later on February 25th, Tulsa city leaders launched the Vision Tulsa campaign stating that two low water dams would be built on the Arkansas River if the proposal is approved April 5th.

FOX23-Tulsa_Dam_Plan_Dead-Google_Cache-01.png

On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 7:58 pm CDT, Fox23 posted the detailed, 1163-word news story, headlined "Tulsa dam plan dead in the water"

The article was posted at the following URL, which now leads to a "404" page.

http://www.fox23.com/news/tulsa-dam-plan-dead-in-the-water/163489977

A person who saw the story on the Fox23 website when it was live reports that it was offline soon after.

FOX23-Tulsa_Dam_Plan_Dead-Live_404-01.png

As of Saturday, March 19, 2016, at 7:00 pm CDT, however, the story was still available in the cache of the Bing search engine and cache of the Google search engine captured by Bing when they crawled the page during its brief time in existence.

For posterity, I printed both cached versions of the story to PDF, using the Chrome browser's simplified print option.

Here is a PDF of Bing's cache of Tulsa Dam Plan Dead in the Water.

Here is a PDF of Google's cache of Tulsa dam plan dead in the water.

Other automated web-content harvesters captured portions of the story:

Places to Go in Tulsa: Tulsa dam plan dead in the water - KOKI FOX 23

KOKI FOX 23

According to multiple documents, including internal e-mails, Tulsa city leaders knew the south Tulsa-Jenks dam had fallen through, yet Tulsa city leaders not only kicked off their Vision Tulsa campaign in late February as if nothing had happened, they ...

See Full Article

Dams Infrastructure News: Tulsa dam plan dead in the water | FOX23 - KOKI FOX 23

KOKI FOX 23

Tulsa dam plan dead in the water | FOX23

KOKI FOX 23

A plan to build a low water dam on the Arkansas River in the south Tulsa-Jenks area is dead. The Muscogee Creek Nation said they do not have the funds to ...

and more »

So what happened? Fox23 isn't commenting on the story's disappearance, but it's reasonable to speculate based on behavior by Vote Yes forces in past big-project sales tax elections. I have reason to believe that Vision Tulsa supporters threatened to pull advertising, threatened to cut off any cooperation by city officials on future Fox23 stories, and threw some confusing but irrelevant information at station officials at the last minute -- confusing enough to convince station officials to hold off on the story until more research could be done.

Happily, the story's brief appearance online has pointed other news organizations to the sources of information that Maranon uncovered, and now Jarrell Wade of the Tulsa World has a front-page story today on the Creek Nation's unwillingness to fund the dam. We look forward to further coverage of the story, and we'll also post the full text of the relevant public documents and offer further comment here at BatesLine in the days to come.

We can hope that Fox23 management will realize that they were played by the Vote Yes forces and lost a great scoop as a result, spiking a story that reflects serious journalistic effort and investigative depth. May it only make the Fox23 team more aggressive in exposing dishonesty, obfuscation, and misdirection by public officials.

The Tulsa County Republican Men's Club is hosting a forum tonight, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., about the upcoming April 5 vote on the "Vision Tulsa" tax propositions. George McFarlin and I will be there to explain why you should vote against the propositions. I understand that there will be some Vote No yard signs available to opponents, for a donation to cover the cost.

The format of the event keeps changing, as the Vote Yes side has dithered about what format they consider acceptable and whether they will participate at all. This is typical behavior in every tax proposal: The Vote Yes side knows that their case is weak, and they try to limit any opportunity for the Vote No side to be heard, particularly in a debate format where questions may be asked that the proponents would rather not answer. The Vote Yes side will refuse to participate in a forum or debate and then pressure the hosting organization into not holding the event because it wouldn't be fair for only one side to be represented. I'm happy to say that many radio and TV stations and civic organizations are no longer taken in by that argument; they insist that the event will go forward under their rules, whether the Vote Yes side chooses to participate or not. When faced with a resolute debate host, the Vote Yes side will comply more often than not.

In any event, we'll be there and will be prepared to answer specifics about each proposition and project as well as explain why we think "Vision Tulsa" is myopic and a bad deal for Tulsa.

UPDATE:

Many thanks to the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club for setting up this forum, to KRMG for mentioning it on the air, and to KTUL for coming out to talk to some of us for a story that aired this evening.

TCRMC worked with members of the City Council to get someone to this meeting to speak in favor of the tax propositions, but none of them showed up. David Schuttler put together a video highlight reel of the meeting. I didn't take a head count, but I think about 30 people were in attendance.

A former councilor, Skip Steele, who used to represent District 6 in east Tulsa, showed up, and he didn't like what he heard. He didn't care for my statement that Vision 2025 failed in its stated mission of economic development. I pointed out that we were promised that if we passed Vision 2025 it would create enough new economic activity through the convention business and tourism that we would have more local sales tax revenues to spend on basic city services like public safety and streets. It manifestly did not work, because now the city is asking is to pass a 17.25% increase in our permanent sales tax rate to cover basic operating expenses. If Vision 2025 had succeeded in growing the economy as promised, retail sales would have gone up so much we wouldn't need to increase the permanent sales tax rate.

Steele also took exception to our statement that the police and fire departments currently use up 100% of the revenues the city derives from the permanent 2% sales tax (an insight first brought to our attention by then-Councilor Bill Martinson in 2009), and that there were other sources of revenue coming into the general fund that pay for non-public-safety expenses.

The facts backed us up. According to page 3-7 of the FY2016 City of Tulsa budget document, in FY2014 (the most recent year for actuals), the city's general fund received $145,998,000 in sales tax revenues. That same fiscal year (page 3-9), the city spent $156,534,000 on Public Safety and Protection, which includes Police, Fire, Municipal Court, and Emergency Management. That's 107% of the revenue from the 2% sales tax.

Beyond the 2% permanent sales tax, the general fund also received revenues from the city's use tax, franchise fees from ONG, PSO, Cox Cable, and the Right of Way Occupancy Fee, hotel/motel taxes, licenses and permits, shared revenue (liquor tax apportionment, gasoline tax, tobacco tax, vehicle license), intergovernmental revenue grants and reimbursements, payments from trust authorities for general government support services, code enforcement fines and fees, PAC revenue, park revenue, fines and forfeitures, airport fire reimbursement, interest income, miscellaneous revenue, and transfers in from other funds. In FY2014, the general fund received $261,176,000 in total annual resources. There's a pie chart on page 3-5 showing how much revenue comes from each category. General fund outlays were $257,709,000 (page 3-11).

Another point that bothered Steele -- something that was incidental to the main topic -- was a reference to property taxes as city revenues. He said the city couldn't draw on property taxes. A gentleman in the audience emphatically pointed to his property tax statement which showed a little over 16% going to the City of Tulsa. George McFarlin pointed to corroborating information on his property tax statement. While it's true that the city can't use property taxes for operating expenses, the city has a millage, which feeds a sinking fund, which pays for legal judgments against the city and for debt service on our general obligation bond issues. Each year the county excise board looks at the city's sinking fund obligations and calculates the millage required, based on the valuation of all the taxable property in the city limits, to meet that obligation.

George and I will be on Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ on Wednesda, March 9, 2016, with Pat Campbell and Eddie Huff to discuss Vision Tulsa and No More Dam Taxes. If you don't have an AM radio handy, listen live online.

If you take time to read the Vision Tulsa ballot resolutions and ordinances that define the new city sales tax rate and control how the new city sales taxes will be spent, the barrage of changing tax rates and effective dates may make your head swim. That's why I put together an infographic to help me visualize those changes. This infographic revealed a trap, a hidden tax hike that Dewey Bartlett Jr., G. T. Bynum IV, and the rest of the City Council hope you overlook.

Proponents claim that Vision Tulsa won't increase the overall sales tax rate, but there's a hidden trap in Proposition 3 that will force voters in 2021 to accept a hike in the overall tax rate in order to continue the longstanding "Third Penny" for streets and other basic infrastructure.

This chart shows the current allocation of City of Tulsa and Tulsa County sales taxes, with the proposed changes on the April 5, 2016, ballot highlighted with a heavy black boundary. Blue regions are permanent taxes for operations, orange regions are temporary taxes primarily for basic infrastructure capital improvements like streets and sewers, purple regions are "vision" taxes primarily for amenities and "economic development." City taxes are shown with darker shades, county taxes with lighter shades.

Tulsa_Sales_Tax-Rate_Shifts-Timeline.png

Tulsa County's "Vision 2025" 0.6% sales tax expires at the end of 2016. The City of Tulsa is proposing a combination of temporary and permanent taxes that begins at 0.55% for 4½ years, climbs to 1.15% for 4 years, shrinks back to 0.65% for 6½ years, and then leaves a permanent increase of 0.345%. Tulsa County is proposing a 0.05% increase for 15 years.

Starting in 1980, Tulsa citizens have approved a series of temporary sales taxes, earmarked for streets, reservoirs, sewers, stormwater system, and other fundamental city infrastructure. Because the original tax was an additional 1% levied on top of the 2% sales tax for the city's general fund, it became known as the "Third Penny."

The current "Third Penny" is 1.1% and it expires on June 30, 2021. If Vision Tulsa passes, it will grab a half-penny from that expiring "Third Penny" and put it toward Proposition 3, which includes building two new low-water dams in the Arkansas River. Another 0.1% from the expiring tax will go to increasing the permanent tax for public safety operational costs. That leaves only a ½ penny for a new streets package.

That four-year bulge in the Vision Tulsa tax amounts to $160 million that won't be going to rebuild our crumbling streets. Instead, that's just about what it will cost to build two new dams in the river.

If we VOTE NO on APRIL 5, the Council can eliminate the dams and a couple of other wasteful projects, and thus eliminate that four-year, ½-penny bulge in the Vision Tulsa tax, before sending it back to us for another vote. That would leave room for our traditional "Third Penny" for streets and basic infrastructure to be extended as usual in 2021 without an overall tax increase. To make that happen, we have to VOTE NO ON APRIL 5.

MORE:

Here is a PRINTABLE VERSION of the Tulsa sales tax timeline that you can download and hand out to your friends.

Infographic and text Copyright 2016 by Michael D. Bates. Limited license granted to opponents of Vision Tulsa to copy and distribute without alteration prior to April 6, 2016.

The last time the Tulsa County Republican Party approved a platform was at its 2013 convention. The platform included 13 "planks" (resolutions) dealing with local government, and many of them are applicable to the upcoming Vision Dam Tax vote on April 5, 2016:

3. We believe that public safety - police and fire protection - should be a priority in the city budget, using existing sources of revenue. We oppose a special tax increase to fund public safety.

4. We oppose any tax increase without demonstrated public need. We believe County government should fund its function through property tax, leaving sales tax for municipal functions.

8. We oppose any sales tax, either municipal or county, levied for river development.

As part of the quadrennial series of conventions, the platform committee of the Tulsa County Republican Convention began meeting this last Saturday, and I am a member of the committee. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover I had been assigned to the education committee, and that there was no committee assigned to handle local issues. When I asked specifically which committee would be dealing with planks relating to the river tax vote, I was not given an answer. I know for a fact that at least one precinct submitted resolutions relating to the tax hike proposal.

I was told that the process would not be removing planks from the previous platform but only adding those sent forward by the precinct caucuses. That should mean that the above planks, plus those from this year specifically addressing the Vision Dam Tax vote should make their way into the final document.

But there is a new practice that could be used to keep the Tulsa County GOP from taking a clear stand. Subcommittees are allowed to pull planks out of their section if they call for specific legislative action. These removed planks would be placed in a "legislative action document" to be sent to legislative leaders for their consideration. I was given mixed signals about whether this document would be considered as part of the platform as published and whether it would be available to the general public. This new document has the potential for being used as a pretext for pulling anti-Dam-Tax resolutions out of the platform. Beyond that specific concern, this new approach seems to reduce the platform to a grab-bag of suggestions, rather than the party grassroots speaking collectively on issues of concern. This new approach was not brought before the platform committee for debate or approval.

The picture will be clearer after next week's platform committee meeting, in which the whole committee will consider the entire document. If grassroots sentiment about the Vision Dam Tax is shunted out of the platform, under whatever pretext, you can expect a effort to add it in to the platform from the floor of the county convention. And if that grassroots effort is blocked by new rules, that simple vote could turn into a messy floor fight.

I'm proceeding on the assumption that these novel practices are all well-intentioned, if susceptible to misuse, so I'm not jumping to any conclusions. But I do remember back in 2003, when county party leadership was under heavy pressure to block any official statement from the executive committee in opposition to the Vision 2025 tax plan. This year, with the County Convention happening during the month before the Vision Dam Tax vote, the largest gathering of grassroots Republicans presents an ideal opportunity for the party to speak credibly and to be heard.

MORE:

Here are the resolutions submitted by our precinct regarding the Vision Dam Tax.

  • We oppose any use of taxes or bonds to fund dams in the Arkansas River. We urge Tulsa voters to go to the polls on April 5, 2016, to defeat the proposed sales tax for Arkansas River dams.
  • We oppose any attempt to logroll recreational and "economic development" projects with public safety and transportation projects in sales tax and bond issue elections. For example, we oppose including Arkansas River dam construction in the same ballot item as levee repair. We urge Tulsa voters to go to the polls on April 5, 2016, to defeat the proposed sales tax.
  • We oppose the use of sales tax and use tax revenue bonds for advance funding for local capital improvements. City and county capital improvements should be built on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • We oppose any renewal of the Vision 2025 sales tax at any level of government.

On April 5, 2016, the Cities of Tulsa, Glenpool, Jenks, and Owasso and Tulsa County will vote on sales taxes to replace the 0.6% Vision 2025 county sales tax that expires at the end of this year. The following are the ballot resolutions approved by the respective City Councils and County Commission and submitted to the Tulsa County Election Board.

In addition to the ballot resolutions, the Tulsa City Council approved three additional ordinances, known as "Brown Ordinances" in honor of former City Attorney Darven Brown, setting out the policy for spending the money to be raised if the taxes are approved, establishing a sales-tax overview committee, and establishing a process for modifying the projects and amounts if necessary.

The Tulsa City Council is rushing to get the new "Vision" tax on the ballot for April. The current Vision 2025 tax doesn't expire until the end of the year, so they could wait until June (the city, state, and federal primary date) or November (city, state, and federal general election) and avoid the cost of a special election. Why don't they? I suspect they think the new tax's chances are better at a low-turnout stealth election, and they may want to lock in a share of the expiring Vision 2025 tax before the county commissioners beat them to it.

Family obligations prevented me from attending any of the three public meetings this week, but I've started to look through the details of the items in the package draft. As currently structured, the proposal seems likely to fail, and fail badly. Friends who are normally gung-ho for any capital improvement proposal are giving Re-Vision a thumbs-down.

Here is the draft City of Tulsa vision proposal, as of January 7, 2016. Here is the list of submitted proposals for the City of Tulsa vision package, with links to PDFs of the submitted application, YouTube videos of the presentations before the City Council, and
PowerPoint presentations.

Not only is the proposed package far from a cohesive vision, but the Basis of Estimate (BoE) -- the details that justify the amount budgeted -- for each item is dreadfully inadequate. There's reason to believe that the estimates are way off, which means that some ideas that could be funded won't be, and other ideas will be promised (like the low-water dams in Vision 2025, or the juvenile justice facililty in Four to Fix the County) and attract votes, but won't have any possibility of being built without going back to the voters for more money.

I've got a lot to thoughts to share, but I'll limit myself in this entry to a look at two specific projects: The BMX Headquarters and the Air National Guard simulator building.

The PowerPoint presentation for the BMX Headquarters proposal makes the following claims on slide 12:

Estimated Project Cost: $45 million

5-year Economic Impact: $10,704,049
5-year Anticipated Total of Participant Attendance: 112,653
5-year Anticipated Total of Spectator Attendance: 85,831
5-year Anticipated Room Nights for Tulsa: 16,910

No information was provided to back up those numbers, but even if we assume they're accurate, that's a really rotten return on investment: Spend $45 million to get $10.7 million. In the draft package, only $18 million is allocated, but that still puts the city in the hole. There's no explanation for the $18 million or where the other $29 million will come from. Of course, that $10.7 million "impact" only benefits the taxpayers by the extra sales tax. That means we'll be spending $18 million to see maybe $300,000 in extra money for the basic functions of city government.

Where they wanted to put it is even worse: According to the same PowerPoint, they wanted to pave over Helmerich Park, the part that isn't already is being sold by a city trust for a retail development. That also ups the real cost to Tulsa taxpayers -- we'd be giving away parkland that could sell for millions of dollars.

BMX_Helmerich_Park.png

I'm now told that the proponents have since withdrawn that idea, and they now want to put the BMX facility on the site of Driller Stadium. That's problematic in a different way: Putting a city-financed facility on county-owned land. Given the ongoing friction between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County, I doubt the county would give the Driller Stadium site away for free. Would the City have to purchase or lease that land?

Cities shouldn't be building headquarters for any private organization, but even if you think it might be a good idea under certain circumstances, you have to admit that this particular idea is too half-baked to be ready for the ballot.

The Air National Guard line item is $9.4 million to build a 119,000 sq. ft. facility to maybe, perhaps, someday, house four F-16 simulators and maybe, perhaps, someday, house four F-35 simulators. There isn't much detail in the submitted proposal; most of what I've been able to learn about the proposal is in the YouTube video of ANG Col. Tray Siegfried presenting the idea to the council.

Siegfried's discussion seemed to be mostly speculation and handwaving. He claimed, in essence, that if the government funds the F-16 simulators, then the building would ensure that they have a place to go, increasing the odds that the DoD would locate simulators here. He said that there had been $24.7 million in the House's version of last year's NDAA, but it didn't survive the Senate. (I looked but was unable to find any reference to F-16 simulators in any of the NDAA versions; perhaps Col. Siegfried could provide bill number, section, and line item to back up his claims.)

Siegfried offered no justification for the proposed size of the building, which is larger than FlightSafety's former building at 2700 N Hemlock Circle. If I recall correctly, the old FlightSafety building could house up to 14 full flight simulators in its 30,000 sq. ft. main highbay.

An F-16 or F-35 simulator is likely to have an even smaller footprint, as simulators for fighter aircraft usually consist of a cockpit on small, fixed base, surrounded by a domed visual display, with an instructor station located nearby. 50 by 40 feet would be a typical space allocation for such a device, and in recent years visual domes have been getting smaller, partly because of pressure from the DoD. Their ideal simulator is small enough and quiet enough (no motion base, no hydraulic pumps) to fit in an ordinary office environment, with ordinary power and ventilation needs. They want something small enough to pack into a semi trailer for shipment to where it's needed most urgently for training. Surely you could fit four F-16 simulators, plus briefing rooms and offices, into a 20,000 sq. ft. building.

From personal observation, it seems unlikely that an Air National Guard base would receive brand new top-of-the-line simulators. The reality is that active-duty bases get the new stuff; National Guard and Reserve bases get hand-me-downs and lower-fidelity devices. If simulators were to come to Tulsa, they'd likely be what are called "unit training devices" -- same small cockpit on a fixed base, but with a large flat screen in front instead of a dome for the out-the-window display. Without the dome, these UTDs can fit in an even smaller space and are much less demanding on the building's power and cooling systems.

I can appreciate Siegfried's desire to have simulators available for his squadron. Simulators, particularly if they're networked together, allow pilots to rehearse missions and emergency situations -- impossible in the actual aircraft. I'm sure it's a bother to ship his pilots off to an active-duty base to get time in the sims.

But this idea of erecting a building in hopes of getting simulators at a later date is based on too many iffy propositions to warrant inclusion in this tax package. What basis is there to hope for additional funds to build the simulators? What assurances do we have that Tulsa would get any of them? What types of simulators are we likely to get, and what are the facilities requirements for each? Where is the justification for a 119,000 sq. ft. building? Does the building need special reinforced concrete pads to support motion bases, with mezzanines and access ramps, or will it need a raised floor?

I'd like to hope that the City Council had thoroughly vetted this request, but the fact that they have accepted the original proposal of $9.4 million suggests that they simply accepted what they were told.

If I were a cynic, I might believe that the City Council had no interest in whether these projects were feasible or appropriately budgeted. I might believe, were I a cynic, that these items were included just to get a few more hundred voters to the polls in the mood to vote yes on everything.

The better path would be for the Council to whittle down the list and propose a shorter-term (five years, max), pay-as-you-go (no "advanced funding" line item for interest and bond fees) sales tax that funded only those items that were of general public benefit and had been thoroughly vetted for feasibility and an accurate estimate of cost.

Corrected the revised amount for the BMX Headquarters proposal, which I had mis-copied from the City Council website. It's an even worse deal than I thought -- $18 million, not $16 million.

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