POSTED ON JULY 4, 2007:
No Quick Cash
After 6 months of study, city council presents revenue-generating ideas
The City Council's Alternative Revenue Task Force presented its labor of six months to Mayor Kathy Taylor's office last week, which members hope is "a beginning for a process that could yield the city millions of dollars in savings and revenue every year."
Whether that's just a few, tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year has yet to be determined, said the group's vice chair, Councilor Bill Martinson, as the panel's recommendations are just the initial stages of the fat trimming process.
"At this point, we just want to have the administration look at these ideas and quantify their impact and tell us how realistic they are," he said.
Of the 21 suggestions, Martinson said one in particular that he thinks shows some promise is a city employee suggestion program.
The program already exists but has been underutilized due to lack of marketing, awareness and incentives, he said.
The way the program worked in the past is that city employees could submit suggestions on how the city can run more efficiently and save money. In return for their good ideas, participating city workers were awarded 10 percent of the savings resulting from their suggestions for a period of one year, with a maximum payoff of $2,000.
During previous discussions within the task force, Jim Halpin, the city's research director, said about 180 suggestions have been submitted since the program's implementation in 1998, with 44 accepted and put to use.
Those suggestions have so far saved Tulsa taxpayers almost $1.3 million, minus $86,760 in awards to the innovative city workers, which amounts to roughly .04 percent of the city's approximate $3 billion in operating costs since the program's start.
The task force recommended more generous payments for cost-saving ideas, as well as rewards for the supervisors of enterprising city workers, with the goal of a net annual savings of .25 percent of the operating budget resulting from the program.
Another suggestion is "a more aggressive effort" to go after "miscreants" and "scofflaws" by recruiting retired police officers to collect past due fines and fees.
"Although retired, the officers would retain their CLEET certification and a set of skills for finding miscreants. They could also be given the capacity to take scofflaws to jail--a very persuasive capability ordinary bill collectors do not possess," the report reads.
The panel also raised the idea of a countywide fuel tax to pay for streets and transit systems.
"The county receives some fuel tax turnback funds from the state but the municipalities do not--the idea would be a fuel tax with a wide enough geographic distribution to avoid border effects," the report reads.
Those "border effects" would be motorists craftily skirting the tax by buying gas just beyond city limits, which would be harder to do if it were spread out over a broader area.
The task force also recommended inclusion of maintenance costs in the funding for capital projects, as opposed to Tulsa's "history of providing funds for new construction but not maintaining its infrastructure," thereby creating "serious, growing backlogs of needed repairs."
Other recommendations submitted for the Mayor's consideration included garage sale fees, selling decorative bricks with donor names or "In memory..." on the Centennial Walk or around the new arena; conducting "a regular analysis of the lease versus purchase decision for vehicles and other items purchased with money from Fund 2910;" solar powered lighting on trails, streets, parking lots and the Zoo; harnessing wind energy for electricity; a toll bridge in South Tulsa; billing for fire runs; paperless traffic tickets and an electronic ParkPass (like a PikePass, but for parking).
Several months ago, Martinson exhorted his fellow councilors about the need to cut waste wherever possible and find alternative sources of income to deal with stagnated revenues and rising costs.
"We've maintained our focus on public safety, but this has forced us to eliminate services in other areas," he said. "I don't want anyone to miss the point that our real needs exceed our resources... In some cases we have cut beyond the fat and are deep into the muscle."
The Alternative Revenue Task Force, though, was the brainchild of Council Chairman Roscoe Turner, who formed the panel last fall shortly before he also proposed annexing the Tulsa County fairgrounds as another source of alternative revenue.
The task force is made up of "a group of citizens that gets together and brainstorms" about how the city can save money, Martinson said.
The recommendations were late on the Council's committee agenda last week, so time did not allow for discussion among city leaders about them, save for a comment by District 7 Councilor John Eagleton after the meeting.
"What an interesting list of ideas," he said.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A17557