Mayor Mick Cornett has proposed making a fraction of the 1-cent MAPS capital improvements sales tax permanent, to be used primarily to hire more police officers.
The balance of the penny tax would be refocused to street repairs and resurfacing, a change from the major projects most closely aligned with MAPS, such as the Bricktown ballpark and downtown streetcar.
The city council discussed the proposal in a workshop Tuesday morning.
Voters would make the final decision, most likely on Sept. 12, the same day as the 2017 general-obligation bond election.
Cornett was out of town Tuesday. In an interview last week, he suggested that his proposal would serve as a framework for city council deliberations over the next several months.
The council has a deadline of June 20 to call a September election, said Jim Couch, the city manager.
In the hour-and-45-minute workshop, council members generally agreed with converting a quarter-cent from the MAPS tax to a permanent levy, with the intention of building up the police force.
A quarter-cent could raise more than $21 million per year, the figure a police department staffing study projected would be needed to train, hire and equip sufficient officers to meet needs as the city grows.
Cornett’s proposal is that the remaining three-quarters of a cent be renewed, following the MAPS model, and be devoted to streets.
That portion of the proposal is responsive to calls for a “MAPS 4 Neighborhoods.”
Advocates have called for shifting MAPS’ focus to neighborhood improvements, such as streets and sidewalks, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and streetlights.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer characterized the concept on Tuesday as “the complete street.”
The proposal fits with Cornett’s vision of a healthier city less dependent on the automobile, with development that facilitates alternatives such as walking, biking and transit.
Voters first approved the 1-cent Metropolitan Area Projects, or MAPS, sales tax in 1993. Generally unique in municipal finance, the model completes projects debt-free.
The tax has always been temporary, with a sunset date, and voters have renewed or extended it several times.
The current iteration, MAPS 3, sunsets Dec. 31.
If voters agree to an extension in the Sept. 12 election, tax collections would continue without interruption on Jan. 1.
Cornett’s proposal is that the tax be extended for two years and three months.
The timing would give the next mayor the chance to build a consensus for the next chapter in MAPS, which is synonymous with “transformational” projects.
Cornett has announced he will not seek re-election when his fourth term ends next year.
Cornett said he would “rebrand” MAPS to reflect the focus on neighborhoods, although no alternative has been selected.
Cornett compared his proposal to the Big League City vote that extended the 1-cent MAPS for Kids tax for 18 months to pay for arena improvements.
That 2008 vote also included plans for an NBA-caliber basketball practice facility. Four months later, the Sonics moved from Seattle, to become the Thunder.
Elements of Cornett’s proposal are similar to a proposal last month by Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid.
Shadid suggested asking voters to renew the tax and dedicate a quarter-cent on a permanent basis to public safety.
The distinction between a dedicated fund, as proposed by Shadid, and a tax to be used primarily but not exclusively for public safety is an important one.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing police officers, favors a dedicated fund.
FOP President John George has welcomed votes by the city council over the past several years to authorize additional uniform positions for the department.
But George maintains a dedicated fund is necessary to increase police ranks to 1,311 officers, the level of need identified in Chief Bill Citty’s 2013 staffing study update.