The view up ahead
As Tulsa voters prepare to cast ballots on the Vision 2025 extension proposals, we look at the projects and discuss what’s at stake.
In 2003, Tulsa County passed Vision 2025 — four proposals that grew every corner of the county, from building the BOK Center to keeping American Airlines jobs in Tulsa. The suburbs benefited from projects like swimming pools in Broken Arrow, a water storage tank for a medical complex in Owasso, and a building to house fire and emergency medical services in downtown Collinsville.
The Vision 2025 tax of .6 percent on sales and services within Tulsa County raised about $662 million through December 2015.
It will expire at the end of 2016.
A vote on April 5 seeks to keep the improvements — worth more than $884 million — coming to Tulsa.
The city’s new Vision package proposes extending .55 percent of the current Vision 2025 sales tax. If approved, the package will not increase the current overall tax rate of 8.517 percent.
The three Vision proposals are for:
- A permanent sales tax dedicated to police and fire. This tax will begin at .16 percent and increase to .26 percent in four years.
- A permanent sales tax of .085 percent for public transportation and street maintenance.
- A 15-year sales tax of .305 percent to promote economic development, including river development. The tax will increase to .805 percent for four years (from 2021 to 2025) and then go back to .305 percent.
Nearly 92 percent of the extension tax will benefit the City of Tulsa; the remainder will fund county projects.
Beyond that, each Tulsa suburb — some of which have already passed extensions — will decide whether to coordinate its own city projects and proposals, says Councilor G.T. Bynum.
Sand Springs, Bixby and Broken Arrow already have passed a .55 percent extension for public safety and streets. Owasso and Jenks also plan to put the .55 percent tax to vote.
Tulsa’s package, however, is more complex than streets and safety because of the city’s size and responsibility to the suburbs.
“As the core city, we have the responsibility and the necessity to provide the core attractions that draw people to the area and keep them here,” Bynum says. “We are unique because of our role and responsibility in the region.”
Permanent funding for public safety
About 30 percent of the package calls for a permanent tax dedicated to public safety. The revenue would allow the City of Tulsa to hire 160 police officers and 65 firefighters for a total of $202 million and $70 million, respectively, in the first 15 years.
“As long as we’re making economic development a priority, we’re going to have to make sure that visitors and citizens feel safe,” says Tulsa City Councilor Karen Gilbert who spearheaded the effort to include public safety in the Vision renewal.
Currently, the city is not able to hire enough officers to replace those retiring, let alone increase the force to appropriate levels, she says.
“Water in the river excites me tremendously,” says Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., “but the No. 1 thing that excites me is support for public safety because the priority for any city is keeping people safe.”
Permanent funding for public transportation and streets
If approved, the second Vision proposal also would generate permanent funding for public transportation and streets — $102 million in the first 15 years.
The proposal would allow the city to build a transit hub, a multi-modal facility designed to bring all transit offerings under one roof, while also facilitating the downtown circulator. It would serve as a transit “home base” for everything from bike share to passenger rail.
Tulsa Transit also would dramatically expand bus routes and decrease wait times; create a downtown route; and expand evening and weekend service. The public transportation piece would generate $57 million for these projects in the first 15 years.
The street maintenance portion would generate $45 million in the first 15 years to hire street crews charged with making street repairs, including filling pot holes and striping lanes.
Economic development and river
The third proposal encompasses a variety of economic development projects totaling $366 million.
An expansion of Gilcrease Museum would receive $65 million. The BMX national headquarters would relocate to Tulsa for $15 million. Also on the list would be improvements to the Cox Business Center, Tulsa International Airport, Langston University, the Air National Guard Mission Training Center, the Tulsa Zoo and a new program to provide housing incentives for public school teacher attraction and retention.
About $145 million of additional funds would be dedicated to the Arkansas River.
Projects would include Zink Dam improvements, including an iconic pedestrian bridge; a Jenks dam and boat dock; Turkey Mountain expansion; and river corridor trails.
“The idea is to take the river from being something that you might look at or drive by to being something that you can actually use,” Bynum told an overflow crowd of more than 250 at the Greenwood Cultural Center in January. “It runs the length of our city, so it ought to be something that people can utilize.”
In 2003, each of the four Vision 2025 proposals passed with about 60 percent of the vote. Before that, two proposals in 1997 and 2000 were rejected by Tulsa County voters.
In April, voters will have the opportunity to cast their ballot on each package proposal. Supporters say Tulsans should approve all three.
Councilor Blake Ewing says that over the past two years, the city council reviewed proposals from the public worth more than $2 billion. They were able to put less than half of those into the final Vision package.
He says some of the ideas were cut because they were not fully developed, lacked capital or simply weren’t prioritized by a majority of the councilors and mayor.
Still, Ewing says, through task forces led by councilors and public meetings, residents were able to have a conversation about their priorities and goals.
Late in the game, during three public forums in mid-January to obtain final public input for the package, it was unclear whether even the council members would reach a consensus. At the final hour, the final plan came together Jan. 28 with unanimous council support.
“It is a real vision,” Gilbert says. “I am extremely excited. This is something that’s going to truly enhance the quality of life in Tulsa.”
Online sales in Oklahoma
Mayor Dewey Bartlett says the City of Tulsa has been living off of the same amount of sales tax since 1984. For the past 10 years, he has placed the blame squarely on online shopping.
“Because of Internet sales, we’ve seen a significant decline in sales tax revenue,” Bartlett says.
That means that while the tax rate has remained fairly high, the city hasn’t seen increasing revenues because, by state law, online retailers without a physical presence in Oklahoma — such as Amazon — cannot collect sales taxes. Residents are supposed to report their online purchases when filing their state income taxes, but most do not.
Bartlett and the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s OneVoice legislative initiative are advocating for changes in how Oklahoma collects and uses sales tax for online purchases. In her State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin also advocated for legislation requiring all online sales be taxed. The mayor estimates the City of Tulsa currently misses out on approximately $20 million per year.
Until the law changes, goods purchased online simply don’t count toward the city’s bottom line the way shopping in a store does, Bartlett says.