Tulsa County: February 2007 Archives

Chris Medlock has the beginnings of a list of answers to frequently asked questions regarding the City of Tulsa's proposed annexation of the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. He tackles the following questions:

Q: Is the City taking over the Fairgrounds from the County?
Q: Is the Fairgrounds a “tax free” zone?
Q: Is the 3-cent tax break the major draw for retail activity at the Fairgrounds?
Q: Is annexation akin to raising taxes?

That last one has an interesting answer. Medlock points out that Sen. Randy Brogdon, indisputably the taxpayers' best friend at the State Capitol, was previously Mayor of Owasso, and as Mayor and thus a member of the City Council, he voted to approve numerous annexations, many of them including already developed property which suddenly became subject to city sales tax and millage. Either that means that Randy Brogdon is a tax-raisin' fiend, or else annexation isn't really a tax hike.

Annexation opponents have also asserted that the City of Tulsa gets a free ride on the use of the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, more colloquially known as the County Jail. In a comment on an earlier entry, County Commissioner Fred Perry wrote: "He [Michael Bates] ignores the fact that the county runs the jail and charges the city nothing (a multi-million dollar value)."

But there's more to that story. First of all, everyone who spends money in Tulsa County, whether within the city limits of Tulsa, in some other municipality, or in the unincorporated areas, pays the 1/4 cent sales tax that funds operation of the jail. Tulsa businesses supply the lion's share of that fund. Everyone who owns property in Tulsa County, whether within the city limits of Tulsa, in some other municipality, or in the unincorporated areas, pays the county millage, part of which goes to fund operation of the jail. Even though the money flows through county government, most of it originates with the economic activity of City of Tulsa residents.

The City of Tulsa also has a contract with the Tulsa County Commission, running until June 30, 2008. In the contract, the City provides the County with the use of the old city jail, on the third floor of the City of Tulsa Police Municipal Courts Building, just west of the courthouse, and the use of the Adult Detention Center on Charles Page Boulevard near Newblock Park. The City also provides a "fully staffed evidence property room" to handle evidence required for district court cases related to City of Tulsa law enforcement. The agreement refers to a separate agreement giving the County use of a facility adjacent to the County's Juvenile Detention Center.

When the contract was executed in 1998, the value of the City of Tulsa's contribution was estimated at $1,862,350. The contract specifies that the "reasonable value" of the City's contribution is equivalent to paying the County for daily housing of 116 municipal prisoners.

In exchange for all of that, plus $1 a year, the County pays to house up to 116 of the City's municipal prisoners. If the monthly average of the daily number of municipal prisoners ever exceeds that number, there is a formula for the City to compensate the County for the excess. But if the number of municipal prisoners is lower than 116, the County does nothing to compensate the City.

Now, not every perp caught by the Tulsa police department is a "municipal prisoner." When someone is arrested on a violation of state law -- homicide, robbery, grand larceny -- that case will be handled through District Court, no matter whether the sheriff, the Tulsa police, the Highway Patrol, or some other authority arrested him. The county jails exist for the purpose of handling such prisoners. (I'm sure someone could find the appropriate cites on oscn.net. I'm too tired right now.)

Municipal prisoners are defined in the contract as "individuals present in the Jail System exclusively as the result of a City of Tulsa misdemeanor charge." If you're convicted of violating one of the laws in the Tulsa's penal code and you haven't also violated a state law, you'd be considered a municipal prisoner. At the time the jail contract was executed, the number of municipal prisoners was less than 80 per day, about a third below the amount considered equivalent to the City's contribution to the system. I am not sure what the current average number of municipal prisoners is.

What would happen if, hypothetically, the County Commission decided to "retaliate" for annexation by terminating the jail agreement with the City?

The County would lose the use of the old city jail would have to find another place to house prisoners awaiting trial in District Court, as the old county jail on the upper floors of the courthouse has been remodeled into offices for the District Attorney. The County would also have to set up a bigger evidence room of its own find other facilities to replace those that the City provides it free of charge. Finally, the County would lose the financial benefit it enjoys when the number of municipal prisoners that the County pays to house drops below the level the City is allowed by virtue of its contribution to the system.

In short, the County would be cutting off its nose to spite its face, especially since annexation would not have a detremental effect on County government. That would also be true if the County were to follow through on threats to move the Fairgrounds out to Glenpool. But that is a post for another day.

A couple of facts for everyone afeared that Expo Square will lose its competitive advantage if the City annexes the Fairgrounds, subjecting it to city sales tax, and all the boat shows, car shows, RV shows, etc., will relocate to the new downtown arena.

From the Expo Square website:

The Expo Center provides 354,000 square feet of column-free space under a cable-suspended roof. The building spans 448,400 total square feet on two levels, connected by side ramps and stairs. This design allows for a unique variety of show floorplans and designs.

(For the benefit of old-timers like me, the Expo Center is the IPE Building.)

From the Oklahoma Ford Center website:

Arena Floor: 34,074 square feet (144'x 260')

(I can't find planned dimensions for the BOk Center floor, but I assume they'd be comparable.)

So you could fit 10 BOk Center floors inside the Expo Center. There is no other space in the Tulsa area that can accommodate the kinds of events that are held at the Expo Center. The closest in size is the Tulsa Convention Center exhibit hall, which is 102,600 sq. ft., but I suspect it has floor loading limits that don't apply at the Expo Center, which was built to exhibit enormous pieces of oilfield equipment.

Likewise Expo Square has a beautifully restored art deco Pavilion, which is the right size for minor-league sports events and smaller concerts, and state-of-the-art horse and livestock barns and show arenas, all surrounded by plenty of free parking.

A lower sales tax rate is not Expo Square's competitive advantage over facilities in other cities or in our own metro area. The facilities are Expo Square's advantage, and annexation doesn't change that.

I got a description of the annexation discussion at last night's City Council meeting from someone who watched it. A bunch of county and Expo Square officials lined up to say, "This is bad for both of us! You better think about this before you do it!" But the county officials didn't offer anything substantive to think about. They didn't provide any data to analyze -- just a heapin' helpin' of FUD.

(Wouldn't it have been cool if the county commissioners had then lined up to do Aretha Franklin's number from The Blues Brothers?)

I'm hopeful that our city councilors will respond just like Matt "Guitar" Murphy did.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Commissioner Fred Perry's reply in the comments below.

Perry drew a comparison between the State Fair Park in Oklahoma City and Expo Square in Tulsa. Here is a montage from Google Maps, at the same scale, of the two facilities -- Oklahoma City on the left, Tulsa on the right. The larger buildings on the southwest corner of State Fair Park, all grouped together, are all livestock barns. The oval building is State Fair Arena. The smaller buildings in the center are State Fair Park's exhibit buildings; they have nothing to compare with Expo Center's 350,000 sq. ft. of unobstructed space.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa fairground comparison

And since the Louisiana Superdome has been mentioned as an example of a sports arena hosting boat shows, RV shows, etc., it's worth pointing out that the Superdome is a domed football stadium, not a basketball/hockey arena. The Superdome has a floor area of 166,464 sq. ft. (408' x 408'). That's five times larger than the floor of an arena like the BOk Center.

Last Thursday night, the city finance department presented their analysis of the fiscal impact of the City of Tulsa annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. In the extended entry you can read the full text of the finance department's analysis. The city would almost certainly gain net revenue by annexing the currently unincorporated territory, possibly as much as $1.1 million per year.

The only scenario in which the city loses money involves the lowest revenue estimate and the city being required to patrol the Tulsa State Fair. I think the case could be made that as the Fair is a highly attended paid-admission event, the property owner (Tulsa County) would be required to provide or pay for security, just like any privately-run, paid-admission festival.

There are other reasons besides the financial ones for the city annexing the Fairgrounds. I outlined some of them in my December 6, 2006, UTW column.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa County category from February 2007.

Tulsa County: January 2007 is the previous archive.

Tulsa County: March 2007 is the next archive.

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