City of Tulsa, county at odds over sales tax, each wants different capital improvements

TULSA - It may be up to voters to settle a dispute brewing between the city and county over a sales tax.

Each sides wants to use the one-sixth of a cent tax to improve infrastructure.

Voters originally approved the tax a few years ago as part of the county's 4-To-Fix initiative.

After the tax expired, it was captured by the city to use for its needs.

The city plans to use the tax again to help pay for its $920 million capital improvements package.

But now the county wants all, or at a least a portion, of the tax back to build a new jail and juvenile detention center.

"We must get those dollars back to fix a juvenile justice center that's in terrible, terrible shape. Nobody can argue that point," said Tulsa County commissioner Karen Keith.

Keith also said the county is responsible for providing mental health care to inmates.

"We don't have the staff to take care of those needs at the jail," said Keith.

Keith also mentioned the fact that some county employees had gone five years without a raise as another reason the county needs the tax.

If the city gave the tax back to the county, it would leave the city about $67 million short to pay for capital improvement projects.

That, along with timing, were the chief reasons most councilors spoke out against the county's idea.

"The problem is the county waited until two weeks before we're suppose to vote on this to raise the issue," said Tulsa city councilor G.T. Bynum.

Bynum says the county didn't mention anything about needing the tax during the city's nine months of public input regarding its capital improvement project.

Other councilors, including Jack Henderson, Blake Ewing and Karen Gilbert, also criticized county officials for waiting too long to mention the need.

The city's refusal to share leaves the county with few options.

The options it does have includes continuing to find a compromise with city officials, waiting until the city is done with the tax, which could take years, or go forward with a ballot initiative of its own this November.

If the latter option is chosen and both the city and county's initiatives pass, most voters would see a one-sixth of a cent sales tax increase, which neither county nor city officials say they want to see happen.

Another option councilors suggested the county try is increasing property taxes.

But Keith says that idea is not popular with many citizens of Tulsa County.

Keith says she remains an eternal optimist and says county officials will continue looking for a solution to pay for a new jail and juvenile justice center.

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