We have admitted to some qualms about the city’s proposed Improve Our Tulsa tax extension package.
The 4½-year sales tax and bond extension is heavy with street and bridge projects, which we think fits with the priorities of most Tulsans.
But included in the $639 million package are provisions that may raise the eyebrows of some voters. In that bucket, we’ll include Mayor G.T. Bynum’s plan to dedicate $9 million to a community development priority project fund to be split evenly among the nine city council districts.
Over the course of the tax extension, that amounts to $1 million essentially controlled by each city councilor for whatever project is preferred.
There are limitations. The ordinance setting up the program requires that the money be used for a “public purpose” that conforms with the city’s comprehensive plan. The project must promote safe and attractive neighborhoods or commercial districts, economic vitality, safe and affordable housing, public recreational opportunities or transportation options.
That’s pretty broad, frankly.
The projects have to be approved by the entire City Council and the mayor through the normal budgeting process, but it’s easy to see that the atmosphere of legislative logrolling could make that oversight fairly gentle: Councilors interested in seeing their pet projects approved aren’t likely to challenge the plans for their peers.
There’s no requirement that there be any formal input from district constituents, although a city councilor’s life is a nonstop flow of constituent contact.
In the end, this comes down to an issue of trust. People who like the direction that the city is headed and trust their councilors are likely to think it’s a good idea, an example of pushing the city’s money to the most local level. Natural cynics and those on the outs with their councilors will see things otherwise.
The funding amounts to less than 1.5% of the entire package, which includes obviously needed priority funding. Although we’d like to see more definition in where our tax money was going before we were asked to vote on it, we don’t mistrust the members of the City Council and generally like the direction the city is headed, and the priority projects plan isn’t a deal-breaker.
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