Imagine you have a $500 a month hole to fill in your budget. So you do nothing but cancel your Netflix, saving a whopping eight bucks.
That's how Kendall-Whittier Main Street (KWMS) -- 601 S. Lewis Ave. -- felt at its inception at the end of 2009. All programs formed under the auspices of National Main Street require municipal buy-in. So KWMS asked the City of Tulsa, which had a half billion dollar budget, for $15,000. They were denied.
At that time, the city was laying off police officers and municipal employees were taking mandatory furloughs. Even though $15,000 isn't much in the grand scheme of things, the city didn't want to risk any unnecessary outlays. "They were having a lot of budget cuts and it would have looked bad on us [KWMS] if we got approved for money and they were cutting all these other departments," said Araceli Tiger, a community activist involved in the formation of KWMS.
With the improved economy and new faces at City Hall, that may be changing. Mayor Bartlett submitted a proposed budget to the City Council in late April, including a $60,000 appropriation for KWMS and Red Fork Main Street -- a sister organization -- 2800 Southwest Boulevard.
"I think when different people got elected things got better. The economy wasn't such a touchy subject," Tiger said. "Because different people got elected, it freshened up people's views of what we were trying to accomplish."
Among the goals KWMS wants to accomplish is improved sales tax revenue from its district, which runs along Lewis Ave. between Independence St. and 11th St.
This potential for economic development may have motivated Councilor Blake Ewing and Mayor Bartlett to find $25,000 in funding in February to keep KWMS afloat before the beginning of the city's fiscal year in July. The $60,000 proposed for 2012-2013 will help KWMS and Red Fork sustain themselves as they continue to improve their neighborhoods' business situations.
The newfound collaboration between Tulsa and the Main Street programs is music to the ears of Nancy Phelps, executive director at KWMS. "They completely get it," she said.
Phelps sees the work of KWMS and Red Fork as integral to urban re-development. She points to access to the Oklahoma state architect at the Department of Commerce as just one of the perks businesses have when they are within a Main Street program zone. The city has noticed these advantages and is appropriating funds in part because it wants them "duplicated throughout the city," she said.
She particularly praised Councilors Ewing and Jeannie Cue, as well as Mayor Bartlett, whom she said has been "very receptive" to the Main Street programs.
Above all, Phelps praised the progress KWMS has made during the past two years to justify the appropriations. "I think over the last two years there've been proven results.
We've exceeded expectations," she said.
What may be particularly beneficial to the Main Street programs is the proposal by Councilors Ewing and G.T. Bynum to double the mayor's suggested appropriation to $120,000. As with the previous figure, the larger number would pay for day-to-day operations for both the Kendall-Whittier and Red Fork Main Streets -- essentially, both figures would help pay for executive directors for the organizations.
It remains for the mayor and the City Council to work out differences like this one before the fiscal year begins on July 1. One sticking point might be what the city would have to cut in order to make the proposed larger appropriation for the Main Streets. No concrete suggestions have been made public. Councilors Bynum and Ewing did not respond to inquiries by deadline.
Phelps preferred not to comment on where the city might make cuts in order to double the Main Street appropriations, but she expressed hope that the city would be as supportive as it can. "The status of the city is different from what it was," she said.
Another sticking point in the budget is the expected increase in utility rates. According to the mayor's executive summary, the average Tulsa family's utility bill will rise by $3.74. A small portion of the higher bill is deposited in the General Fund, out of which (through a complicated accounting process) comparably small appropriations like the ones to KWMS are made.
While the higher bills might be controversial, Phelps has received no complaints from Kendall-Whittier residents. She admits this might be due to what she called the "awareness factor." That is, relatively few residents of Kendall-Whittier may know what's about to happen to their utility rates. She said she'd be "happy to host" an event to increase awareness.
But it is just as likely that residents simply are not put off by the small amount of the increase. "I have no problem with the changes," said Carole Warren, a resident of east Tulsa, who had listened to a representative from City Hall explain the utility situation.
Still, when the city is haggling over whether to give the Main Street organizations $60,000 or $120,000 rather than turning down flat a request for $15,000, it shows that these groups have made some progress. And that ought to make Phelps -- and everyone else in these organizations -- proud.
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