The first round of town hall meetings on the city’s proposed $597 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal package ended Tuesday night where it began — with question after question about city streets.
But first Mayor G.T. Bynum addressed another issue raised by several people who attended the meeting at the Greenwood Cultural Center: What does the renewal package have for economic development in north Tulsa?
The mayor explained that the capital improvements package deals almost exclusively with brick-and-mortar projects such as roads and recreation centers, with millions of dollars also targeted for new city vehicles.
He noted, though, that the proposed package includes funding for the city’s Economic Development Infrastructure Fund, which has been key to landing two major employers, one of which is Amazon.
The fund helped pay for water, sewer and storm water lines in the area where the company’s distribution center was built east of Tulsa International Airport.
“That didn’t just benefit those companies, but they also benefited the growth of the whole area,” the mayor said.
Separate from the Improve Our Tulsa renewal package, Bynum said, the city is working in several areas of north Tulsa, including the Evans-Fintube site, where USA BMX’s headquarters and training center will be built, to help spur development. The 23-acre property will also be home to a mixed-use development Bynum said he expects will draw strong interest from local small businesses.
The six-year Improve Our Tulsa renewal package would be funded with $427 million in bonds, financed with property taxes, and $170 million in sales tax. The proposal does not call for tax increases.
When it came time to answer questions from the crowd of more than 100 people, City Engineer Paul Zachary made clear that the city determines what streets will be funded for improvements based on need, not politics.
The city rates the condition of every street and bases its decisions on those numbers, a process that has ensured that the city gets the best return on its investment, Zachary said.
“Ever since the Pavement Management System has been in place, it’s not what street money we have, and we divide it by nine, and we just give the same amount to every council district,” Zachary said. “Of that money, there will be some council districts that receive 11 percent, some will get 15 percent. … It is based on need. It is very objective.
“The council and the mayor do not go out and score the streets.”
Bynum said the next step in the process will be to meet with city councilors again to refine the package and determine what specific projects should be funded.
A second series of town hall meetings will be held this summer, with the proposal finalized by the end of August.
The vote is scheduled for Nov. 12.
“Every single meeting was dominated by questions and interest in street work,” Bynum said. “And I think the focus the council and I have put on that in this program has been borne out by the level of interest.”
Nearly three-quarters of the proposed package would go toward streets, according to the city, but Bynum said after the meeting that he can see a few changes being made to the initial proposal.
He noted that residents across the city have been asking about sidewalks, “so we’ll want to take a look at that.”
Bynum also will seek to provide more funding for Fire Department vehicles.
“By the end of this program we should have all new fire trucks,” he said. “At the current level of funding, we don’t.”
More information on Improve Our Tulsa and the upcoming public meetings can be found at improveourtulsa.com.