City councilors voted 8-1 Wednesday to send an $814 million capital improvements package to voters.
Improve Our Tulsa 3 would include $295.8 million for streets and transportation; $270.4 million for city facilities; $152.8 million for city capital equipment; and $95 million for housing and neighborhoods.
The vote is scheduled for Aug. 8.
The first Improve Our Tulsa package, for $918.7 million, was approved in 2013, followed by the $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal in 2019. Improve Our Tulsa 3, if approved, is expected to begin in late 2025 or early 2026.
The proposed package would not increase the tax rate because the previous Improve Our Tulsa package will be expiring.
Funding for the proposed improvements would come from $384.9 million in bond sales backed by property taxes and a roughly four-year extension of a ninety-five one-hundredths of 1% sales tax.
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The city’s Improve Our Tulsa initiatives have historically been focused on replacing or upgrading existing city infrastructure and facilities. Improve Our Tulsa 3 is no exception.
The proposal calls for spending $79.7 million to renovate the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, $58.5 million for new Fire Department trucks and other apparatus, and $47.5 million for a new public safety center.
Voters will also be asked to approve $10 million in matching funds for the construction of a new Gilcrease Museum and $5 million for a River Parks maintenance building.
Nearly an eighth of the proposal — $93.8 million — would be used to cover inflation-related cost increases on previously approved street projects.
The package also represents a shift in how the city addresses homelessness. Seventy-five million dollars would go toward housing — a first-of-its-kind investment by the city.
Coupled with other housing assistance provided by the city in the form of federal funding, development incentives and other resources, a total of $104.2 million would go into the newly established Tulsa Housing Initiative.
Councilor Grant Miller voted against the proposal, saying councilors were provided few details on the plan and had only one month to vet it before rushing to put it on the ballot.
“I think it’s impossible that any one of us could have possibly done proper diligence on an $814 million package, even those councilors who have been here for a while who know some of these problems that are ongoing,” Miller said. “I would say given the short time frame (they) would be hard pressed to go through that kind of spending in that period of time.”
Several councilors pushed back on Miller’s assertion, noting that the process of putting the package together has taken months and involved city department heads, councilors and the public.
Councilor Laura Bellis described Miller’s remarks as irrational and noted that he failed to attend any of the three citywide town hall meetings on the proposal. Miller did hold his own District 5 meetings on the Improve Our Tulsa package.
Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper praised the city’s efforts to keep residents informed.
“They were highly publicized,” Hall-Harper said of the town hall meetings. “The news was there, social media. So if you wanted to know about this package, you certainly had every opportunity. … I just take issue with saying that this was kind of thrown together.”
City councilors and Mayor G.T. Bynum have been discussing the possible creation of a capital improvements package since at least January, when they toured several city-owned facilities to assess needs.
At that time, officials believed the package would be in the $100 million-plus range. But over time that changed, and each step along the way Bynum held press conferences and briefed councilors in public meetings to explain why.
Speaking after Wednesday night’s meeting, Bynum said he had begun working with councilors on the capital package last year and had presented the latest version of the Improve Our Tulsa 3 proposal on March 22, not April 21, as stated by Miller.
Bynum also took issue with Miller’s assertion that he needed to review contracts related to the projects before casting his vote.
“The city cannot issue contracts on work that has no funding source,” Bynum said.
Bynum said he was grateful for the eight city councilors who took the process seriously and who did the work of oversight and community engagement to make sure they and their constituents were properly informed.
“I am eager for the voters of Tulsa to have this opportunity on Aug. 8 to improve street maintenance, provide first responders with reliable vehicles, properly maintain city facilities, and help get homeless Tulsans off the streets,” Bynum said.