City Council and County Make Agreement Regarding Sales Tax

The city council gave the go-ahead to the $918.7 million capital improvements package at its meeting Thursday night. The projects will go before voters on the November ballot. However, to get to this point, the county agreed not to pursue a .167 cent sales tax of its own this year.

"This will be the largest street improvement package in the history of this city," said District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum. It comprises two ballot items: one for an extension of 1.1 percent sales tax and another on a $355 million property tax.

The package provides $470 million for street rehabilitation alone. There is another $100 million for street widening. The plan also incorporates other projects, such as improvements for the Tulsa Zoo and the library.

Bynum worked with Councilor Phil Lankin and County Commissioner Ron Peters earlier this week to reach the compromise that the city will cut its sales tax by .067 to make room for the county to propose a sales tax of its own next year.

"That will then allow the county to bring their own proposal early next year. That will go through the same public vetting process that we've already gone through on the city side," Bynum said.

The Sheriff's Office is still examining what the agreement means for the county and its needs. Major Shannon Clark said the county had been working on collecting signatures to put its .167 sales tax before the public to help deal with jail overcrowding and buffing up the juvenile justice system, which he said is falling apart. He said the county would have likely expanded the jail and helped better care for inmates with mental illness. The Sheriff's Office will be meeting with commissioners in coming days to discuss what the delay in pushing for the tax could mean.

"A lot of this happened behind the doors. There was some negotiations on the table, and we're just trying to digest it all and figure out what this means for us," Clark said.

Clark said the county needed 17,000 signatures by September. However, he said they recently learned the deadline was actually this month. He said they would have likely had more than the number of needed signatures under that September deadline.

Bynum said the council has been working on this project for nine months. It meant hosting five town hall meetings over the past six weeks. Bynum said the final draft includes several points residents brought forth. For example, he said the BOK Center and the Convention Center will not receive money for improvements, since residents reportedly told them they felt those places could finance their own changes. Also, the council added a safety valve measure on the tax. The original plan was to run the tax as long as it takes to pay off the cost. However, Bynum said the council decided to not let it run past seven years.