Tulsa Mayor Bartlett Discusses Budget, Funding
By DEWEY F. BARTLETT, JR.
Mayor of Tulsa
GTR Newspapers photo
Last month I presented to the City Council the FY 2010-2011 budget for the City of Tulsa. This “no growth” balanced budget was for $555 million, a decrease from the budget submitted last year at this time by almost $15 million. The last time we had a city budget of this amount was 2007.
We’ve learned over the past six months that we had to reduce the size of city government to live within our means and to be conservative in our projections of future revenue. That meant the elimination of over 300 positions, furloughs days for city employees, pay reductions for our fire fighters and other city employees and cutting back on the purchase of materials and supplies.
It also meant having to cut back some very important services that add to the quality of life for all of us. Safety services such as highway lighting, the grounding of the police helicopters, and preparedness for winter storms had to be curtailed. Beautification efforts such as graffiti removal and the mowing of public property have been severely scaled back. Public works efforts on street maintenance and pothole repairs had to be reduced and our park and recreation programs and facilities have been unable to serve some in our community.
Though we remain cautiously optimistic that revenue may improve at some point in the next fiscal year, the balanced budget I presented keeps all of these reductions in place. In past years when Mayors presented their budgets to the City Council, the most the Council could do was move dollars from line item to line item. They could do very little to change the bottom line.
For the first time during a budget presentation I have offered the Council several options which, upon their approval, will improve the bottom line. These fiscally responsible revenue opportunities will allow us to restore these safety, beautification and public works services which our citizens have come to expect and which I believe each Councilor supports.
These revenue opportunities will serve as our “fiscal bridge” for this next year and will not only restore these important core services but allow us the time to develop other long-term strategies to return our revenue to a more stable and sustainable point. Our projected sales tax revenue for the next fiscal year is expected to remain relatively flat, yet service demands will increase and the cost of these services will be increasing in the areas of energy, labor costs and materials.
I have proposed six revenue enhancement ideas to the City Council. Of those, the three revenue opportunities which have the most promise of allowing us to return these services to Tulsans are: privatizing the city parking meter system and raising meter rates and fines, increasing the first response certificate for repeat false alarms, and establishing a $5 per month optional fire utility fee on single family residences modeled after the program adopted several years ago.
These three opportunities could generate almost $7 million dollars over the next fiscal year and allow us to restore these important public services. For less than the cost of one glass of wine or one pizza or one meal out, or two gallons of gas or one movie ticket, we can begin to restore mowing of public areas, turning on highway lighting, restoring graffiti removal, filling potholes, returning the police helicopters to the sky and preparing for next year’s winter storms.
Along with restoring these core services, we will continue our focus on three long-term strategies to stabilize the operations and funding of city services. These will include: taking on the responsibility of collecting the local sales and use taxes paid in Tulsa. Currently this is being performed by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, yet if we take responsibility for the collecting ourselves we could see as much as 4 percent to 6 percent growth in collections. We will also implement the cost savings and revenue generation opportunities recommended by , who will be completing their 16 week strategic review of efficiencies in city government this summer. Finally, I will continue to work with our local businesses to improve the local economy and the expansion of our workforce and job creation.
Adoption of these revenue opportunities to restore our core services now rest with the Council for approval. It is important that each Councilor hear from the citizens in their district that now is the time that we all work together to bring back those safety and beautification services which we all believe are important in keeping Tulsa the great place we call home.