In his OpEd piece in the June 5-11, 2008, Urban Tulsa Weekly ("Art of the Possible"), Michael Bates describes the 4-to-Fix the County 2/12 sales tax as a "slush fund." A slush fund implies that it is a pot of money that the County can spend however it wants. This is not the case. The 4-to-Fix ballots have delineated what the money will be spent for. Both 4-to-Fix I and II had categories that were voted on including Flood Mitigation, Criminal Justice, Roads/Streets, Parks, and Expo Square. The money could only be spent on the category matched with the money voted on by the taxpayers. In fact, the resolution passed by the commissioners named specific projects within those categories and those projects were built as advertised or are scheduled. For example, money for work on road projects couldn't be spent on the fairgrounds.
For some reason, Michael has long had a bias against the County in favor of the City Council and it shows nearly every time he writes about the two, as in the article of June 5-11. Four-to-Fix is to the County what the "third penny" is to the City of Tulsa: a revenue source for capital needs. (For the readers who don't know, the third cent of the City sales tax is the tax that was added by a vote of the people to the two-cent permanent sales tax in the '70s and was initiated by then Mayor Jim Inhofe.) I don't see Michael calling the third penny a "slush fund." Among other great projects, 4-to-Fix has helped fund the tremendous improvement of the Tulsa fairgrounds (Expo Square) facilities. And, who benefits the most from the ability to attract many of thousands of out-of-town visitors to the Tulsa area? The City of Tulsa... because those visitors spend many dollars on food, hotel rooms and other communities which translate to sales tax and hotel tax revenue for the City (the hotel tax is a separate tax beyond the sales tax). As a matter of fact, while the fairgrounds will lose money on the upcoming Arabian Horse Show this fall, the City will benefit greatly from the estimated $30 million expected to be spent by out of state attendees. Michael and others should be praising 4-to-Fix.
By State Law, Tulsa County is responsible for providing the Juvenile Bureau facilities in this county. The existing facilities are exceedingly small and in poor condition. The City of Tulsa has 80 percent of the juveniles in need of supervision, detention, counseling and court space. In the meetings I arranged with the City Councilors, Judge Doris Fransein, the Juvenile District Judge, and Director Brent Wolfe showed the counselors pictures of the present facilities and explained why a new facility was badly needed. So, for public safety reasons, the City Councilors should be interested in having a viable juvenile justice system. Four-to-Fix could provide the necessary revenues, but the City has been saying: "we want 4-to-Fix future revenues." In fairness, some of the City councilors have privately said they understand our concern.
In fact, past and present 4-to-Fix revenues have widened and overlaid streets and intersections throughout the County, including those within the City of Tulsa and other towns.
Four-to-Fix I completed project examples include Garnett from 61st to 81st Streets; 51st Street from 161st Street E. to 193rd Street E.; and 91st Street between Elwood and Peoria. Four-to-Fix II examples which are in design include 56th Street N. from Highway 75 to Peoria and the 101st and Yale intersection. Incidentally, there are numerous examples of city street projects with the County providing the labor and equipment and the City of Tulsa providing the materials, outside of 4-to-Fix. These have been done through inter-local agreements. The City has also benefited in the area of flood mitigation through 4-to-Fix.
But you'll never hear anti-county Michael Bates admit this if he is even aware. His research in the past has been shown to be lacking. To hear Michael and other critics of this small county tax talk, you would think that Tulsa County invented the County sales tax. The fact is 73 of the 77 counties in Oklahoma have a sales tax and Tulsa's is below the average even with the Vision 2025 6/10 of a cent. Both the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County receive property taxes, although the City can use them only for bond payments and judgments, as County Assessor Ken Yazel has pointed out, if they didn't have this property tax money, the general fund would have to make the bond payments and judgment payments. So, the City benefits greatly from the property tax.
The Tulsa County sales tax began in 1995 when the voters agreed with Sheriff Glanz and the Commissioners that a new jail was needed to house inmates from all over the County, including those from the City of Tulsa. The voters passed a 5/12 of a cent tax to build the jail and one-quarter of a cent tax thereafter to operate it. The first one-quarter went away after the jail was paid for.
As previously mentioned, 95 percent of the Oklahoma Counties have a sales tax. In Tulsa County, all but the jail tax are temporary taxes which must be voted in when they expire. he 4-to-Fix tax of 2/12 of a cent will expire in October 2011. The taxpayers will be getting a lot for their money in not only streets/roads but in County parks improvements (including LaFortune Park), court and jury rooms, and the fairgrounds.
In his OpEd piece of June 5-11, Michael tried to blame the County and the Tulsa Metro Chamber, along with Councilman Christiansen's widening issue, for the delay in getting the street vote to the ballot. I didn't ask the council to delay the vote; I just asked them not to try to preclude a possible future 4-to-Fix 2/12 of a penny tax when that is going to be needed to replace the County's greatly inadequate juvenile facilities and for roads in the unincorporated areas and towns. In trying to insulate themselves from being accused of raising taxes, the City is trying to cut off a stream of revenue that is important to public safety throughout the County and to the other municipalities which have benefited, to say nothing of those living in the unincorporated areas. Now that we have met with the Council and Mayor Taylor and they are aware of the juvenile facility need, I am hopeful that the City will back off of the idea of using possible 4-to-Fix revenues for City needs.
Fred Perry is County Commissioner for District 3 and current County Commission Chair.
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