OKC voters to decide sales tax, bond measures

A sales tax plan to pump money into public safety and street repairs is headed to voters.

The Oklahoma City Council agreed Tuesday to ask voters for a quarter-cent sales tax increase, with a promise the money will go to hire more police officers and firefighters.

Voters also will decide whether to extend the MAPS sales tax for 27 months, for a crash program of street resurfacing and related improvements.

The election will be Sept. 12.

Measures will be voted on separately, and voters could accept both, accept one but not the other, or reject both.

Mayor Mick Cornett said giving voters a choice on how to tackle two of their highest priorities was a central focus for the council.

“We listen, then we present options,” he said. “It’s their money and they should get to choose how it’s spent.”

If voters approve extending the MAPS sales tax, collections will continue uninterrupted when MAPS 3 expires Dec. 31.

Voters also will decide Sept. 12 on a 10-year bond package.

Along with additional spending on streets, bond propositions will include money for drainage improvements, parks, libraries, transit, economic development, and other needs.

Together, the general-obligation bond program and MAPS sales tax extension would raise an estimated $785 million for streets over the next decade.

Revised plan

Voters will be asked to:

• Authorize $967.4 million in bonds, with 20-year terms, to be retired with property taxes.

• Approve a quarter-cent, permanent sales tax increase, raising $26 million per year, primarily for police and fire services.

• Extend the 1-cent MAPS sales tax for 27 months, raising $240 million for streets.

The council’s initial proposal was to raise less for streets, without raising taxes, by taking the quarter-cent for public safety from the MAPS sales tax.

Business leaders sought revisions at last week’s public hearing and it was those revisions that were adopted as the final plan to be sent to voters.

The effect of the business community’s proposal is to extend the full 1-cent MAPS sales tax for a little more than two years, with a laser focus on rehabbing streets.

An additional quarter-cent is to be permanently added to the city’s sales tax rate, raising it above 4 cents for the first time, to 4.125 percent.

Adding in the 4.5 percent state sales tax, the overall rate in most of Oklahoma City would be 8.625 percent.

Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said business leaders believe keeping the MAPS sales tax intact is important to the future of the program.

MAPS began in 1993, and voters have renewed the temporary sales tax several times. Each time the tax expires, city leaders have the chance to focus the next go-round on projects voters value.

“Voters have kind of co-branded MAPS with the penny,” Williams said. Breaking up that penny “would leave people with the impression that MAPS is over, that MAPS is dead.”

Putting the quarter-cent before voters as a stand-alone sales tax increase is “cleaner and clearer,” Williams said. And the Chamber’s polling shows voters support it: “People will pay for public safety.”

Neighborhood focus

In the city’s annual community surveys, residents have said they are highly dissatisfied with the condition of streets, and opinions have grown more negative the past several years.

MAPS often is characterized as producing “transformational” projects, such as the Bricktown ballpark and canal, and the downtown convention center, streetcar and park that are part of MAPS 3.

Council members said they expect that directing the MAPS penny into a crash program to improve streets will be equally transformative for neighborhoods throughout Oklahoma City.

Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell said the tax increase would amount to 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

“Our neighborhoods will thrive,” said Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher.

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