City evaluates priorities for $800 million proposal to address streets, other needs
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
2/15/13 at 1:39 PM
Developing what would be the largest capital improvements package in Tulsa's history will require five months of sifting through city departments' wish lists, hosting town hall meetings and debating priorities, city officials say.
The proposal to renew the funding behind the 2008 Fix Our Streets package is expected to generate $800 million for streets and other capital projects between 2015 and 2019 - $336 million more than Tulsa voters have considered in any previous election.
That's because it would use funding sources that were available only for portions of the original package's five-year term. Before that, those sources were approved in separate elections.
But unlike in the first package, which restricted its $452 million to street repairs that were automatically prioritized, officials this time will also look to address more subjective capital needs - leaving room for more debate.
City departments last year submitted $1.4 billion in capital requests for fiscal years 2015 to 2019, or wish lists that include all desired projects in categories such as streets, recreation and public safety.
Department heads have begun whittling down those requests in anticipation of the Fix Our Streets renewal, but their final priorities are expected to remain above the $800 million limit.
Once each department has submitted its list, the City Council, Mayor Dewey Bartlett, city staff and the public will collaborate on a final list of projects for the renewal, said Councilor G.T. Bynum, who is chairman of a City Council task force involved in the process.
The city plans to present the departments' final priorities at a round of town hall meetings in March and would aim to submit a draft proposal for additional public input in April and May, Bynum said.
The goal is for the council to vote by June to put the renewal on the Nov. 12 ballot, he said.
"It's the process that we've gone through (with funding packages) since 1980," Capital Planning Manager Gary Hamer said. "There's always a list of projects that exceeds the revenue, and the elected officials always work with city staff to cut it down to the targeted revenue."
The difference this year is the size of the package.
General obligation bonds, which typically fund street projects in alternating election cycles, and sales tax initiatives, which tend to focus on other capital needs in the interim, were combined in the 2008 Fix Our Streets package. The package included the existing Third Penny and 4 to Fix the County sales taxes.
The Third Penny tax, however, only kicks in this year - three years into the initiative. Its availability for the entire duration of the next package accounts for most of the funding increase and is one reason not to restrict funding to streets this time, officials said.
Bynum said officials decided to combine sales tax and bond revenue as a way to simplify the process of selecting capital projects.
"It worked really well over the first five years because it allows more predictability and better accountability," he said. "You're not throwing stuff out to people every few years and confusing folks - including the elected officials - about which projects are with which package."
Hamer said it would be wrong to view the new proposal as a drastic increase in spending.
The 2006 Third Penny package, which totaled $464 million, represented the most money Tulsa voters had approved in a single funding package, he said. If it had been combined with the 2005 general obligation bond package in the manner of the Fix Our Streets proposals, the total would have been $714 million, he said.
"We don't want to give people the impression that somehow we're going on a spending binge," Hamer said. "They're all the same sources of revenue that we've always used."
The renewal is expected to allocate somewhere between $470 million and $670 million for streets, depending on how highly the city prioritizes streets.
Such projects would likely include repairs, which are prioritized by calculating each street's current and anticipated deterioration, but could also include widening and bridge projects whose selection would rely somewhat on officials' judgment, said Paul Zachary, city Engineering Services Department director.
Bynum said he believes streets should be emphasized as much as possible but added that he has avoided committing to a certain funding level until he can examine all city departments' priorities.
"That's why I didn't want to, on the very outset, say we're going to spend X amount on streets - because we need to go through department by department and get a handle on what their need is," he said.
Department heads began presenting their whittled-down priority lists to Bartlett and Bynum's City Council committee in January. They should be finished by the first week of March, Bynum said.
After gathering public input in the town hall meetings and speaking with city staff, the council and mayor will collaborate on the final list, he said.
Anticipated schedule for Fix Our Streets renewal development
January-early March: Department heads present priorities to City Council, mayor
March: Town hall meetings over departments' priorities
April: City officials draft project list
April, May: Town hall meetings over project list
May or June: City Council votes over final list
Nov. 12: Election
Original Print Headline: City weighs capital needs
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Construction crews work along Carson Avenue near 17th Street south of downtown Tulsa on Tuesday. This street project is ongoing and was funded by the original 2008 Fix Our Streets package. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Construction workers are busy along Fourth Place near Yale Avenue in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Construction crews work along Carson Avenue near 17th Street south of downtown Tulsa on Tuesday. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World