Take a cold shower, drink a double espresso, pinch your arm, prop your eyelids open with toothpicks if you need to. We're going to talk about the city budget.
This week, after a bit of a delay, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor presented to the City Council her proposed budget for fiscal year 2008, which begins this July 1.
(You can read the budget for yourself online, broken out into 12 PDF files totaling 5 MB, at http://www.cityoftulsa.org/OurCity/Budget/AnnualBudget.asp)
I'm not going to go into too much detail this week, as I've only begun to read through the budget's 472 pages, but one of the things that immediately jumps out at me are the budget numbers for the Maxwell Convention Center and the BOK Center arena.
As the convention center arena closes for conversion to a ballroom, budgeted revenue from rentals will drop from $510,000 to zero, and concession revenues will drop from $460,000 to $60,000. (That remnant amount is probably from Performing Arts Center concessions. They don't sell much beer and nachos at the ballet, evidently.)
That's in the General Fund, the big pot of money that pays for police officers, firefighters, parks, and street repairs. You have to dig down to a separate pot of money, the Convention Fund (Operating Fund 2810), to find out what's happening on the expenditure side.
Despite the fact that the activity level will be near zero, transfers out for operations of the convention center and pre-opening costs for the new arena will skyrocket from $1.5 million in last year's budget to $2.5 million. Just two years ago, in FY 06, the budget was only $925,000.
Two years ago that fund ran a surplus of $270,000 and the convention center and concessions brought in another $1 million to the General Fund. While you couldn't say that the convention center actually paid for itself, at least the subsidy from the hotel/motel tax was big enough to keep it from becoming a drain on the General Fund.
But for the upcoming fiscal year, the Convention Fund will run a deficit of $720,000, and there won't be the extra $1 million in General Fund revenues from the convention center. That's a huge bite out of the city budget: $1.7 million.
Where is that money coming from? One big chunk -- $551,000 -- will come from Taylor's plan to eliminate 27 of the City's 72 holes of golf.
You may have heard that the savings from golf was going to pay to open more pools in north Tulsa, but that isn't what the budget indicates. Last season, City funds paid for four pools and another four were run with private donations. Once again this season four will open with City funding, four more with private donations. So at best, there will be one fewer pool opened this year, and no additional pools paid for with tax dollars. Net result: Less golf and less swimming, all to help pay for an empty arena.
And who knows how empty that arena may be and for how long? The Oilers will play the upcoming season at the Fairgrounds Pavilion, and if Expo Square makes some locker room improvements, the hockey team may decide the smaller venue, with its free parking, is a better fit for its typical crowds than an arena they will never come close to filling.
Arena football won't work in the Pavilion without extensive modifications, so the Talons are still looking for a home for 2008. They may have to look beyond the metro area, and once they've found a new home they may not want to come back.
What else is being sacrificed to the arena god? About $1.1 million in supplies and training equipment will be saved by having only one 20-officer police academy class, instead of the two held last year. That's not big enough to offset the police department's expected loss of 26 officers to attrition this year.
The City of Tulsa continues to spend capital dollars on more and more new facilities while it lacks the operating money to maintain what it's already built.
If you need a direct and simple illustration of the absurdity of the situation, here it is: Mayor Taylor is proposing to save operating revenue by not maintaining and operating a golf complex that was just renovated with $4.1 million in capital improvement funds from the 2001 third-penny!
Unfortunately for Taylor and the current City Council (and for us), the LaFortune administration has locked up city finances for the life of this administration and part of the next, by passing a seven-year third-penny package in 2006 and a five-year bond issue package in 2005, by making the new downtown arena a priority over basic infrastructure and public safety and by putting up no resistance to Tulsa County's extension of the Four to Fix the County sales tax for a county that's already pretty well fixed.
One last budget note: Mayor Taylor hasn't yet signed the ordinance which annexes the Tulsa County Fairgrounds into the City and yet the additional sales tax revenue anticipated from annexation is included in her budget proposal. Is she telegraphing her intentions, or is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing?
Last week the final vote was tallied for the design for Oklahoma's state quarter, which will be issued early next year. The design featuring the state bird (scissor-tailed flycatcher) and state wildflower (Indian blanket) received more votes than the other four choices combined, all of which featured a politically corrected Pioneer Woman, sans Bible.
The U. S. Mint said there couldn't be any religious symbols on the coins, but surely the word "Bible" wouldn't be visible on the miniature image. Couldn't the Mint just pretend that she was carrying Our Bodies, Ourselves, or The Feminine Mystique? Or perhaps it was a Sears, Roebuck catalog -- you couldn't buy Charmin at the general store back then.
Oklahomans opted for the most elegant design of the five. The other choices were too cluttered, trying to cram too many different state symbols into a very small space. Most of the state quarters (you can see them all, plus many of the rejected proposals, at quarterdesigns.com) look like miniature tourism brochures.
By far the best of the fifty belongs to Texas, a simple design featuring the Lone Star and the unmistakable state outline. It looks like it belongs on the coinage of a sovereign nation.
All 50 designs have been announced, and it's amazing that none of the coins feature American Indians or American Indian themes. The closest any state came was Oklahoma, with a flower with the word "Indian" in the name. (Although even that's somewhat tenuous, as the term "Indian blanket" is now deprecated as politically incorrect in favor of blanketflower or gaillardia.)
Two of Oklahoma's finalist designs did include a peace pipe or calumet, but only as part of an assortment of symbols. Two of the semi-finalists which didn't make the cut for submission to the Mint featured an Indian woman, one carrying a baby on her back and one shaking hands with a white man, but neither one was visually compelling, particularly in the very rough pencil sketch form that we were shown.
What might have been visually distinctive and tied to Oklahoma's Native American roots? Willard Stone's sculpture "Exodus," which dramatizes the suffering of the Trail of Tears in a streamlined Art Deco style. The Osage peace shield which adorns our state flag. The Cherokees' seven-pointed star. Allan Houser's bronze "Sacred Rain Arrow," which stands at the entrance to Gilcrease Museum. Cyrus E. Dallin's "Appeal to the Great Spirit," which stands in Woodward Park. (Scratch that one -- it's religious. Maybe you could sneak it past the censors if you claimed he was doing calisthenics on horseback.)
Perhaps the reason none of these were selected is because with a dozen large tribes and dozens more smaller tribes in the state, there was no way to pick something without exalting one Indian nation at the expense of the rest.
Oklahoma missed an opportunity, but I think we made the best choice given our limited options.
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