If a new business chooses to relocate outside of Tulsa, the city can still benefit, said Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
"If we're able to develop jobs in, let's say Broken Arrow, eventually that person is going to be in Tulsa buying something. Or it could even be a person who lives in Tulsa, works in Broken Arrow but comes home and buys things," Bartlett said.
His answer came as an explanation for why he supports a countywide fund to support economic development. Bartlett and proponents of such a fund will likely be taking their case to the voters this November through the proposal tabbed Vision2, an extension of the 2003 sales tax hike measure known as Vision 2025.
But the fund idea is just one of several examples of new projects involving both the city and county, though County Commissioner Fred Perry emphasized that the fund proposal -- dubbed funding for "job creation programs" in draft Vision2 ballot language -- has its origins with the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
Even setting aside the fund idea, Bartlett said he's made it a priority to boost communication with county officials.
"The previous relationship between the city and the county was not good at all," said Bartlett.
That doesn't necessarily make Tulsa different than other cities. Larry Naake, executive director of the National Association of Counties, said cities and counties can sometimes vie for the same things.
"There tends to be some competition between cities and counties. Usually, it's over issues like annexation and incorporation," Naake said.
Without going back to the 1960s -- when Tulsa greatly expanded its land area through annexation -- it was just five years ago that the city's annexation of Expo Square proved to be a point of conflict with the county.
Shortly thereafter, a dispute over payment at the county-run jail for city inmates led to a 2008 lawsuit, though the city in May 2009 announced the dropping the suit.
With this backdrop, Bartlett, who took office in December 2009, said he took the job wanting to patch up the relationship with the county.
"I thought that with a new mayor coming in office, it was a great opportunity to improve that relationship because, at the end of the day, the city government and county government is pretty much supported by the same taxpayer," Bartlett said.
Formally, this effort has included a committee created by Bartlett and county commissioners in January 2011. Over six months, the group met to discuss topics such as employee health clinics and shared vendor lists.
The goal was "for us to jointly provide assistance for each other and avoid duplicating things," Bartlett said.
A report published in March outlined some of the committee's accomplishment and ongoing findings. Some were modest measures, like creating a jointly-operated minor illness clinic that could be used by both city and county employees. The report noted that the city and county have "historically" worked together on streets and infrastructure projects.
Notably, this includes the South Yale Avenue widening project, which Bartlett described as a "great example" of the city and county working together.
Originally a city project, the nonprofit William K. Warren Foundation -- which established Saint Francis Hospital, located on the stretch of road being widened -- worked with both city and county officials to expand the widening to six lanes instead of four lanes, according to Michelle Allen, a city spokeswoman. The city contributed $1.7 million for construction materials, with the county providing labor and equipment for the project set for a September completion.
Apart from specific projects, Perry said department heads from the county and city through the committee "got to know each other."
"Therefore, there are things happening on maybe a less dramatic scale, cooperation going on. It's just a result of better communication going on, continuing in all the different divisions," Perry said.
Naake said the recent economic recession has spurred more city-county collaborations nationwide.
"There's a lot more talk about it now, just because local governments have been under tremendous fiscal pressure, and this has been going on for three or four years," Naake said.
Mike Willis, chief deputy county commissioner and public information officer, noted that the county and city have recently been working together on purchasing.
"We have allowed the city to use our process and vendors for road material," Willis wrote in an email. "We buy far more asphalt and other materials than the city, and so they can get a better price by using our bids." He said he anticipates that the county will also in the future make purchases from city bids.
For now, anyway, it seems the county and city have embarked on a new era of cooperation, leading Perry to describe the jail and annexation squabbles as "in the distant past."
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