Mayor Dewey Bartlett says he supports Tulsa Metro Chamber 'deal-closing fund'
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Friday, June 01, 2012
6/01/12 at 7:27 AM
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Thursday he fully supports establishing a $75 million "deal-closing fund" as is championed by Tulsa Metro Chamber officials to be part of an airport tax package that could be on the November ballot.
Bartlett is still weighing the different proposals to fund airport improvements that would, in part, benefit American Airlines and other tenants at the city-owned facilities.
But having a "deal-closing fund" is critical to Tulsa's economic development efforts, Bartlett told the Tulsa World.
"We have to be competitive in this world," he said. "We have to be. There are too many other cities and states that have a considerable amount of money available to close business deals."
What's being discussed is having a Tulsa County tax pay for such a fund, which likely would be overseen and doled out by a new authority, made up primarily of elected officials.
It wouldn't be about cutting checks directly to current or new businesses that pledge to add jobs, Bartlett said.
Instead, it would pay for infrastructure incentives in the form of streets, water and sewer lines, and buildings and land.
"There would be a very open and transparent process for applications, and it wouldn't be the chamber making the decisions but elected officials who are accountable to voters," the mayor said.
Oklahoma City has a $75 million fund, approved by voters through that city's Metropolitan Area Projects initiative. The fund is in its first term of five years.
Meanwhile, the state created the Governor's Quick Closing Fund last year, but it was unfunded until this year's legislative session, when it was provided with up to $7 million.
Many other peer cities have such funds as well, Bartlett said. Now it's Tulsa's time to step up.
Bartlett is in favor of Tulsa pursuing a countywide fund, rather than just the city.
"We shouldn't be limiting," he said. "Whatever businesses locate in and around the Tulsa area benefit us all."
Whatever infrastructure investments would be made for businesses would have specific returns for the community, Bartlett said.
"If we are going to give someone a new water line or a new road or whatever it might be, we would expect some payback," he said. "We'd expect X number of jobs to be created for X number of years. And if they didn't meet the parameters, they'd have to pay us back.
"There would be real hoops for a company to qualify. It wouldn't just be Christmas in Tulsa."
Mayoral Chief of Staff Jarred Brejcha said that rather than a "deal-closing fund," it should be called an "infrastructure fund."
"You have to ask yourself, 'If we have a chance to get 500 jobs at a certain location, but they need a sewer line and a water line, would you build them?' Well, the answer would be 'yes,' if you have the money to do it.
"Right now, unless it's on the schedule, it wouldn't get done. We'd lose that opportunity for jobs."
Bartlett said not everyone will agree with the concept.
"I understand that," he said. "That's OK. But I've done a lot of soliciting of business (as mayor) over the last few years.
"I know what other cities and states are doing, and we are constantly on the defensive for not having this capability. Almost always the first question out of their mouths is, 'What do you have for us?'
"Well, we have a great quality of life, we offer great value for your buck, good schools and amusements and lakes. ... But we don't have much in the way of incentives. We need to change that."
The Tulsa World first reported last week that the chamber and area leaders have been meeting in the wake of American Airlines' bankruptcy filing last fall to find a way to save thousands of local airline maintenance jobs.
One of the airline's needs is to enlarge the city-owned hangars to accommodate newer aircraft. But other improvements are needed to the facilities, which date back to the World War II era.
A $329 million tax package is being eyed for the Nov. 6 ballot. It includes $254 million for airport improvements and the $75 million "deal-closing fund."
Two funding options are being floated: a countywide four-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax increase or an extension of the Vision 2025 tax.
In response, Councilors G.T. Bynum and Blake Ewing have offered up a $90 million proposal for consideration involving the county using a 0.167 cent sales tax share the city is now collecting.
Theirs does not include a "deal-closing fund" provision. Bynum and Ewing have come out against the idea.
Original Print Headline: Mayor for 'deal-closing fund'
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
Mayor Dewey Bartlett: He said he supports a deal-closing fund to attract new business to the area, but is still weighing funding proposals
Mayoral Chief of Staff Jarred Brejcha: "You have to ask yourself, 'If we have a chance to get 500 jobs at a certain location, but they need a sewer line and a water line, would you build them?' Well, the answer would be 'yes,' if you have the money to do it. Right now, unless it's on the schedule, it wouldn't get done. We'd lose that opportunity for jobs."