OKC setting priorities for bond, sales tax proposals

Published: May 30, 2017
By: Brian Brus, The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – City Council members will ask residents for their feedback on a $1.1 billion package of bond issue and sales tax proposals leading to a citywide vote in September.

The vast majority of the package, $967 million, would be acquired under a general obligation bond issue backed by property tax revenue, a standard financial vehicle that has been used for decades to keep the city infrastructure running. The previous GO bond issue has produced $835.5 million since voters approved it in 2007.

Within that portion, about $491 million will be dedicated to street construction and repair, as well as sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

If approved, the GO bond debt issuance would not increase property taxes. Council members agreed that it would be best to keep the current rate of 16 mills steady at a 10-year repayment that would minimize interest expenses.

The remainder of the proposal drew some conflict as Councilman Ed Shadid questioned whether it would meet public expectations pinned to the successes under previous Metropolitan Area Projects tax issues.

The $777 million MAPS 3 penny sales tax that voters approved in 2009 is scheduled to expire at the end of this year after launching projects such as a massive downtown park and streetcar route. A proposal most of the council seems to support Tuesday would create a new tax to pick up where the Metropolitan Area Projects tax left off. One-fourth of a penny paid on retail sales would become permanent and go into the city’s general fund, which supports public safety, animal control and mass transit. If approved, it would generate about $26 million annually.

Another three-quarters of a penny would replace the rest of the expiring MAPS 3 sales tax and pay for more transportation infrastructure work. If approved, the temporary tax would generate $180 million over 27 months toward more transit infrastructure improvements.

Consumers wouldn’t notice a change overall at the sales register because the new penny would simply continue the rate now collected. On the other hand, voters cast their ballots of support years ago with an understanding that the MAPS 3 tax would come to an end. In that sense, the council’s latest proposal represents a new tax.

On Tuesday, Shadid said previous MAPS programs helped transform the city, raising a sense of investment and improvement beyond a minimum standard. The continuation of a penny sales tax for another year to pay for street repairs would be a disappointment to residents, and would serve little good because roads deteriorate so quickly anyway.

Councilwoman Meg Salyer said the GO bond issue and sales tax are being bundled as a single concept because they both deal with capital projects and quality-of-life improvements.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposals June 20, at which time an election date of Sept. 12 will be confirmed. The proposals will be presented on the ballot separately: one question for the one-quarter-penny permanent sales tax, one item for the three-quarter-cent temporary sales tax, and one item for each of the bond project categories.

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