POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2012:
Small cities in Tulsa County take different tacks in planning for potential Vision2 projects
In Owasso, aerospace has long been a vital part of the economy, said city manager Rodney Ray.
In the late 1980s, aerospace jobs centered at the Tulsa International Airport's industrial complex employed almost 80 percent of Owasso workers, Ray said.
"Now, that's about 11 or 12 percent, so we're much more diversified. But we still have 800 people who live here and work at the airport," he said.
The Vision2 proposal -- a ballot measure asking Tulsa County voters to approve a sales tax extension through 2029 -- includes funding for improvements to airport facilities.
Ray makes clear this is important to Owasso. But Vision2 also includes a separate ballot question, asking voters to extend a sales tax hike to fund what measure proponents describe as quality-of-life projects.
Local cities and communities throughout Tulsa County have followed different strategies in deciding how these funds might be spent. Each would receive a different percentage of funds, with proposal crafters making the distinctions based on population, said Michael Willis, chief deputy county commissioner. The larger the population of a community, the higher percentage of funds it is set to receive.
Tulsa, of course, is set to receive the largest percentage of the quality-of-life funds at 43.63 percent, or about $160 million based on projections from proponent backers. The quality-of-life sales tax extension would continue a .29 percent sales tax hike. The airport improvements are part of a separate .31 percent sales tax extension. Combined, these sales tax extensions would continue the sales tax rate established by voters in the 2003 Vision 2025 sales tax package. To put it in money terms, the sales hikes together total six-tenths of a penny, contributing to the total sales tax rate of 8.517 cents for every dollar spent. In 2003, voters approved the sales tax hike to expire Jan. 1, 2017.
City leaders scheduled five public forums to gather input from voters on what they would like to see. They have also promised a September resolution from the city council outlining how Vision2 quality-of-life funds would be spent if voters approve the measure in the Nov. 6 election.
Some smaller cities have taken a similar approach, but not Owasso. Ray said the city has no plans to outline how Vision2 funds would be spent prior to the election.
"We have a community that's dynamic. It changes on a pretty regular basis," Ray said, noting that the city has been among the fastest-growing communities in the state over the last two decades. "I personally cannot find a rational way to ask the city council to begin to look at what projects the city of Owasso would need five years from now."
Rather that lock in specific projects, the city will focus on developing a public process to ensure plenty of public input for whatever projects eventually make the list if voters approve Vision2.
Owasso would receive 3.98 percent of quality of life funds collected under Vision2, or roughly $14 million. While Owasso extends into Rogers County, only Tulsa County residents may vote on the Vision2 proposal.
In purposefully delaying any decisions on how Vision2 funds might be used, Owasso may be the outlier, however. Other cities seem to be following a process similar to that undertaken by Tulsa.
Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum from Owasso is Sand Springs, which has scheduled three public forums and is soliciting input from citizens via email and even post.
"Last time, on the first vision, on what we did we had that blighted area we needed to get rid of," Mayor Mike Burdge said. Now, however, the city has "more than one direction."
He said that a decision will be made before Nov. 6 on what projects would be funded with Vision2 funds.
This way, "people are going to be more comfortable with it ... that we actually have a plan and have a direction with it," Burdge said.
One Sand Springs Vision2 forum is scheduled for Sept. 18, and details can be found at sandspringsok.org. The city would receive 2.79 percent of Vision2 quality-of-life funds, approximately $10 million.
Similarly, in Collinsville, "the city will have public meetings to discuss and develop how the proposed funds may be spent," wrote city manager Pamela Polk in an email. The city would receive .85 percent of Vision2 quality-of-life funds, or roughly $3 million.
Ray Bowen, mayor of Bixby, wrote in an email that the city has plans for public meetings to discuss Vision2 funds.
"Of course, our ultimate project selection choices will need to reflect specific circumstances in existence at the time such monies actually become available in 2017, more than four years from now," Bowen wrote. Bixby will receive 3.13 percent of any Vision2 funds, or about $11 million.
Apart from Tulsa and Tulsa County, Broken Arrow is the only other community receiving a double-digit share of any Vision2 funds. Broken Arrow would receive 12.19 percent of any funds collected under Vision2, about $44 million. According to published reports, the city plans to use the money for street projects.
In some ways, of course, the proposed "city" projects being considered by Tulsa have consequences for the nearby communities. If Vision2 passes with a Tulsa project related to development along the Arkansas River, other communities will surely be affected.
Another project under consideration that would have regional impact would be to use Vision2 to fund extension of the Gilcrease Expressway. The highway might serve as a way to spur development of not only the northern and western edges of Tulsa, but also areas in Tulsa County and Sand Springs.
"That is definitely the number one priority for developing Sand Springs, is to get that," Burdge said. Such projects that cross borders might get at the true spirit of a regional effort like Vision2, but it remains unclear how such funding would be split between two cities and also Tulsa County.
Four other cities would receive Vision2 funds: Glenpool, Jenks, Skiatook and Sperry, with populations ranging from essentially rural to completely suburban. Each community contains voters with their own ideas about Vision2 and important community projects, but it remains to be seen how of these projects might mesh together to prove truly regional benefits.
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