By LESA L. JONES
STATE OF THE CITY: Owasso City Manager Warren Lehr gave a State of the City update to the members of the Owasso Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Nov. 2. Pictured from left are Chamber President Gary Akin, Chamber Chairwoman Dr. Kathy Campbell, City Manager Warren Lehr, and Dr. Leslie Clark of Tulsa Tech.
Photo by LESA L. JONES for Owasso Rambler
Owasso residents have the lowest property taxes in the metro area and it’s one of the fastest growing communities in the state, making it a challenge for the city to fund its improvements.
In a State of the City address, Owasso City Manager Warren Lehr updated members of the Owasso Chamber of Commerce on more than 30 municipal projects at costs totaling more than $100 million.
Some of the improvements he discussed include numerous road projects, a downtown renovation of 76th Street North and Main Street, a sports complex and a new Public Safety Training Facility.
According to Lehr, two-thirds of the property tax revenue Owasso receives go to Owasso Public Schools for grades kindergarten through 12th grade, another 12.6 percent goes to fund Tulsa Technology Center, a small percentage goes to Tulsa Community College and another small amount goes to Tulsa County for the services that they provide for the city.
He says private investment helps but it isn’t extending city services and it isn’t sustainable; the same goes with Federal Grants and excess Vision 2020 grants that will eventually go away.
Owasso’s property tax millage rate is 0.04, compared to Tulsa’s at 22.44, Broken Arrow at 16.84, Bixby at 13.11, Jenks at 11.94 and Sand Springs at 5.99.
“With Owasso’s 0.04 of a mill, property tax is not something we utilize,” Lehr said. “We haven’t had an ad valorem property tax issue since 1983, at $565,000 [that was] used to build the Rayola Park Pool, the original City Hall which is now Fire Station No. 2 and the back of the which was the Recreation Center. That leaves us with sales tax.”
Owasso’s sales tax revenue base has improved with the efforts made to improve its retail base in the last 20 years.
“When you look at it from a total standpoint, the additional sales tax revenue that we have because we have good retail doesn’t come anywhere close to closing the gap for the significant infrastructure needs we will have going forward,” Lehr said.
The Capital Improvement Program () was established in 1983 and was made permanent in 2003. is one penny of sales tax per dollar set aside for capital improvements such as streets, sewer, and infrastructure.
Another half-penny of additional sales tax was approved by voters in 2014 to be split equally between police, fire and streets. Currently, one penny of sales tax in Owasso provides approximately $8 million per year.
“Just to give you an idea to improve a one-mile stretch of road, without the intersections, costs between $10 million to $12 million, depending on the intersections at either end,” Lehr said. “That one penny that is supposed to take care of our infrastructure and improvements will pay for one mile of road without intersections. That will give you an idea of what we are up against.”
Other metro municipalities are raising revenue based on property tax increases in the form of bond issues according to Lehr.
In February, Jenks approved a $14 million bond issue, Bixby approved four public safety bonds for $18 million in 2016 and Sand Springs voted in an $18 million bond in 2017. Broken Arrow voters approved six bonds totaling $210 million in August 2018.
“Now, in Owasso, we are about one-third Broken Arrow’s size, we are 35,000 they are about 105,000,” he said. “What could we have done with one-third of $210 million? We’ve made the best of what we’ve had for many, many years, but we have to continue to look at this.”
Also problematic for the city is that when sales taxes dip, as more buyers utilize online shopping options, it impacts sales tax revenue.
“My view, as long as Owasso is here, and in terms of major sources of funding, it would be literally irresponsible to ignore this key funding source going forward and to leave the burden of paying for vital services just on sales tax alone due to the volatility,” Lehr said. “Going forward, Owassoans will have to decide if we want to reinvest in our community in more than just our sales tax.”
For more information on the City of Owasso’s municipality projects, go to cityofowasso.com/projects.