It's been a busy week for Mayor Kathy Taylor, who just returned from Chicago last week where she served as one of five panelists addressing about 900 civic leaders and scholars from around the world on "Building the Future City," according to the forum's title.
Between recuperating from imparting her mayoral wisdom to the world, releasing the results of a feasibility study for a Tulsa/Broken Arrow mass transit system, presenting her budget proposal to the City Council, and coming to terms with disappointed hopes for a fire protection district, dealing with whether or not to annex the fairgrounds and how to deal with her police department, she's had her hands full.
Budget: Randy Miller to the Rescue?
The Mayor pitched her budget last week, which the Council has until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 to approve.
Having begun her term mere days before last year's budget approval process began, this is Taylor's first budget totally self-drafted during her time in office.
At $561.4 million, it's a 3.7 percent increase over last year's total budget. The operating portion of that is only a 0.9 percent increase at $504.9 million, while the capital budget makes up the lion's share of the increase at 37.4 percent above last year's figure at $56.6 million.
Taylor said her proposed budget is the result of "reprioritized resources," having been prepared "on a different basis" than past city budgets.
"This will prepare us for the future," said Taylor.
In particular, she said she plans to invest in making more city pools operational.
"We've ignored our investment in pools-- this is something you might not know, but 11 of our pools haven't been open for four years," Taylor told councilors.
She said her budget includes funding for a disparity study and promised "we will open every single operable pool."
Defunct swimming holes in high-crime areas will get first priority, she said.
At the moment, only eight of the city's 22 pools are operable. The remaining 14 need extensive and expensive repairs.
"We have to be ready to invest in the future, and those are not always things you see immediately, but they are things that make a difference in the quality of life for our citizens," Taylor said.
The trade-off, though, would be fewer golf courses.
Taylor said she's recommending closure of nine holes and 18 holes at Page Belcher and Mohawk Park courses, respectively.
"I could not, in good conscience, recommend a $1.6 million subsidy of golf courses when we have pools out of operation in high-crime areas," said the Mayor.
She added, "Nationally, rounds of golf are going down."
As the Mayor was deliberating with city councilors, Commissioner Randi Miller offered Tulsa County's help in keeping the golf courses running, in light of the millions of dollars in improvements on them taxpayers have invested in recent years.
Taylor voiced her appreciation for Miller's willingness to work in cooperation with the city government, and said the two would look into the matter in days to come.
The Mayor said her budget does not call for the cutting of any other services.
In fact, she said, it "includes new positions to strengthen neighborhood revitalization, overall economic development activities and public safety."
Apart from police, though, it also doesn't include raises for city employees, Taylor said.
Police and public safety remain the top priorities, she said.
She said the attrition rate for police is down from 3.4 per month to 2.2 this year, but to maintain Tulsa's police ranks, Taylor's budget includes funding for 20 police academy graduates a year.
"In prior administrations, there were a couple of years when there were no graduates at all," she said.
Police unions aren't happy with the Mayor's plan, though, asserting that 20 new police hires a year won't be enough to maintain current ranks of sworn officers, which is 814.
City councilors were generally amenable to the Mayor's plan.
"I applaud the Mayor's efforts at budget cutting," said District 7 Councilor and Council Vice-Chairman John Eagleton.
"They're painful and nobody wants to see golf courses closed, but it appears to be a prudent course of action for the Mayor to take. Other large cities have pulled out of their funk by maintaining their core services while making cuts in other important, but non-essential services," the councilor also said.
What's next? Tip jars?
Speaking of Eagleton... the councilor is catching heat for his proposal that the city offset its financial woes by generating more revenue through traffic fines. He suggested that police crackdown on speeders and other naughty drivers, which he thinks would bring the city another $115 million as a "collateral benefit," on top of cutting back on traffic accidents.
More on Eagleton's zany plan next week....
Heavy Thinking on Light Rail: How about a Midtown Station?
Taylor pitched her budget plan just days after publicly announcing the results of a federally funded feasibility study for a mass transit system between downtown Tulsa and Broken Arrow.
"This is yet another sign of the great team and great vision that Tulsa is experiencing," beamed Taylor when she made the announcement that the project is do-able.
"This study clearly demonstrates that it is feasible and Tulsans are ready for it," she said.
According to the study conducted by Tulsa Transit, 94 percent of those surveyed believe a mass transit system is vital to the region's economy, 90 percent believe it would benefit the region and 88 percent would support a commuter rail on the Broken Arrow Expressway.
One of the choices is a commuter rail with four potential stations in downtown Tulsa, as well as stations at Main St. in Broken Arrow, at Lewis and 15th St. and either at Sheridan or Memorial on the current rail line, with a one-way route of 14 miles.
It would cost between $43-49 million to build and $3.1 million to operate annually, with 10-12 percent recovery from a fare of up to $2.
Between 2010 and 2030, it's estimated that the commuter rail system would carry 1.4-5 million people.
The other less-intriguing option is a Bus Rapid Transit system with two stations--one in downtown Tulsa and the other at 145th in Broken Arrow. The system would travel 12 miles along the contra flow High Occupancy Vehicle lanes of the Broken Arrow Expressway.
It would cost $22-23 million to construct with a $1.9 million annual operation cost, 10-12 percent of which would be recovered by a fare of up to $2.
Ridership between 2010 and 2030 is estimated to be between 48,360 to 70,208.
The next stage is a study to determine which option would be best for Tulsa and Broken Arrow, and there are numerous study, planning and construction phases to follow before the transit system might be up and running, but optimally, it could be operational in 2012.
Fire Districts: Dowsed
Unfortunately, it might also be that long before Tulsa has the state's permission to let citizens vote on whether to create fire protection districts. SB 605 died in the state House of Representatives by a vote of 41-51, and can't be introduced again until 2009.
"We're going to continue to fight for this, and we're still committed to finding alternative revenue sources," said Taylor in response.
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