B.A. Sees Successes, Foresees Growing Pains
By EMILY RAMSEY
STATE OF THE CITY: Broken Arrow City Manager Michael Spurgeon speaks at the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce’s Annual State of the City Luncheon on Dec. 14. Among Spurgeon’s topics were the state’s sales tax model, the city’s growing infrastructure needs, and future tourism and commercial development opportunities.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
In his State of the City address on Dec. 14, Broken Arrow City Manager Michael Spurgeon provided an overview of Broken Arrow’s recent successes as well as the looming challenges that come with a growing city.
Regarding the city’s financial condition, Spurgeon described it as “outstanding,” with the city maintaining 10 percent in its emergency reserve fund and holding onto stable bond ratings from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
However, Spurgeon noted that the two entities raised concerns regarding the city’s over reliance on sales tax – a challenge that Spurgeon hopes to see addressed in the coming years.
“The tax model that our cities operate on in Oklahoma doesn’t work as well anymore due to changing habits, such as online shopping,” he said.
“With our growth, in the coming years, our expenses will outpace revenues. We are talking with other cities about coming up with a tax model that works.”
Since becoming city manager in September 2015, Spurgeon has spent much of his time reviewing the city’s day-to-day operations and infrastructure conditions.
The city recently completed a street pavement index report, which will serve as a guiding document for maintaining city streets: “Not many cities have this report; it will be a great tool.
“While our streets are better than most in the country, we have to keep them up,” Spurgeon continued.
From July 2016-June 2017, the city is spending $70 million in citywide projects, largely including utility work. With 550 lane roads in Broken Arrow, “we need to continue looking at infrastructure.”
In line with that constant need, the city is working on creation of a seven-year plan for utility reinvestment.
One infrastructure project currently taking place is in the Rose District, as the city works to complete the fourth and final infrastructure phase, which was a priority, Spurgeon said, when he took over as city manager. The final phase includes streetscaping along Main Street from Dallas to Fort Worth streets.
On Dec. 14, a community forum was held to discuss future Rose District residential development and possible zoning changes to the area. “We want a systematic housing plan for downtown,” Spurgeon said.
Regarding commercial development, city officials are maintaining their focus on encouraging growth in south Broken Arrow, including around Warren Theatre, near 121st Street and Aspen Avenue, an area where they expected to have already seen growth by now, Spurgeon noted.
“Every day, we are out there trying to get people to develop in south Broken Arrow and around Warren Theatre.”
In September 2017, the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center is expected to open, which “will be a boon to the city,” Spurgeon said.
The city’s Tourism Assessment is nearing completion, and Spurgeon hopes to use that to determine how to further engage ones who are visiting the conference center. “We want to look at how best to capture those visitors: what do they want to do while they’re here, what kind of entertainment attractions would be of interest to them?”
Another of Spurgeon’s priorities has been improving government transparency. In addition to launching an annual financial report and online video recaps of city council meetings, the city is planning to add more content online and to its government access channel to further inform residents on city news.
Coming most likely in late 2017, will be residential curbside recycling, a program that the city desperately needs in order to keep pace with other cities and to improve its sustainability, Spurgeon said.
Also coming in 2017 will be a General Obligation Bond Package vote for utility infratructure projects.
New School Leadership
Spurgeon also took a moment to acknowledge and welcome Dr. Janet Dunlop in her new role as Broken Arrow Public Schools Interim Superintendent. She will take over Jan. 3 in replacement of Dr. Jarod Mendenhall.
Since 2010, Dunlop served as associate superintendent of instructional services at under Mendenhall. In 2016, she was named deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and left in November.
In a press conference held Dec. 13, Dunlop spoke about her plans moving into this new role with the school district.
“We plan to have continuity going forward: our mantra and vision is still the same,” she said.
Dunlop said that she will continue the district on its current trajectory, that includes continuing forward with the High School Planning Committee as well as the district’s literacy, special education and graduation initiatives.
“I plan to be very, very visible,” she said. “How can I be accessible unless I’m in the schools, talking to teachers, parents? That’s how you get a true picture of what’s happening in the schools.”