Legislation that would allow for the creation of so-called public safety districts to help municipalities fund police, fire and emergency medical services through property taxes was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday.
And area municipal leaders are praising not only the measure but also Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, for her role in helping to shepherd it through the Legislature.
Senate Bill 838, the “Oklahoma Public Safety Protection District Act,” has long been sought by leaders in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
The bill will allow municipalities, with a 60% vote of the people, to impose a property tax assessment of as much as 5 mills, or $5 per $1,000 in assessed value, for public safety purposes.
Proceeds from the assessments — which are being called “fees” — could be used only for police, fire and emergency medical services.
This will be the first time in many decades that Oklahoma municipalities can access property taxes for operating expenses.
The legislation aims to relieve budget pressure on municipalities, which depend almost entirely on sales- and use-tax revenue for operations.
In many communities, those taxes are not keeping up with inflation.
A provision in the measure expressly excludes such assessments on agricultural and industrial property, and the public safety districts will be confined to municipal corporate limits.
Unlike in other states, Oklahoma cities and towns may access property tax revenue only for sinking funds used to pay off bond issues and other debts but not for regular operating expenses.
“I am very thankful for the efforts of Rep. Nollan for sponsoring the public safety districts bill,” Sand Springs City Manager Mike Carter, who was the city’s police chief for six years before assuming the city manager’s helm in March, told the Sand Springs Leader on Thursday.
“She continues to show herself to be a great leader who has always looked to put the safety and welfare of our citizens as a top priority,” he said. “At a time in our country where we need to make sure that we are able to hire the best public servants we can, this bill will allow communities to determine the level of service that they want to see.
“I have full faith that our governor will also be a champion of public safety by signing this into law,” Carter said last week.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum also singled out Nollan for praise in a Facebook post last Wednesday morning.
“For decades, police officers and firefighters in communities across Oklahoma have been reliant on one source of revenue — sales tax — for their livelihoods,” Bynum wrote.
“When the economy was in a downward cycle and people spent less, the people who protect our communities would have their jobs endangered. Yet, every business that lasts knows you need diversified revenue to avoid that very situation with your own company.”
Bynum called the bill’s passage through the state House and Senate “a historic step” toward changing that situation.
He added: “I am so thankful for the bipartisan coalition of legislators in the Oklahoma House of Representatives who passed legislation that will allow local communities to decide for themselves if they want to diversify the revenue their first responders rely upon for their jobs. …
“We have been working toward this day for years, and in particular I want to thank State Representative Jadine Nollan, who led the charge and never gave up. As she told me last night, knowing that this could help protect the jobs of first responders and give their families some peace of mind made all the work worth it.”
Nollan told the Sand Springs Leader on Thursday that she is “grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this team effort of supporting firefighters and emergency medical first responders, as well as police.”
“Oklahoma is the only state in the nation which funds public safety solely with funding from sales tax,” she said. “State sales-tax revenue is the most volatile revenue stream in our state. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s really bad.
“This legislation will offer voters within a municipality the opportunity to vote whether to diversify and better stabilize funding for public safety,” Nollan said. “The goal is to ensure safe schools and safe neighborhoods, as well as to attract better economic development opportunities.
“I appreciate the kind words from City Manager Carter and Mayor Bynum and all of the organizations and individuals that worked with us to get this legislation passed.”