Elected Officials vs Citizens: Who do YOU trust?

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Trust, like character takes a lifetime to build and only an instant to destroy.  Trust is sorely missing in how citizens feel about the officials they elect to represent them and look out for their best interests.  Trust is missing because of the influence of outside factors, such as big business and the chamber of commerce that distract our elected officials from their tasks at hand.

It seems every time we turn around our elected officials have found something new they need to raise your taxes over.  Two years ago there was Vision 2 – a hair brained idea brought to the voters by the city, county and chamber of commerce, to extend the Vision 2025 sales tax until 2029.  The problem was the Vision 2025 sales tax doesn’t expire until December 2016 and they had no plan on how they would spend the money.  Your elected officials were willing to extend a tax that didn’t expire for 5 years, for an additional 12 years, with no plan on how to spend the monies collected and to top it off were eager to spend in excess of $90 million in bonding and interest. Look for the Vision 2025 sales tax extension to come back again soon. Politicians best known secret is, never allow a temporary tax to expire – in other words, there is no such thing as a temporary tax.

Last November a new tax proposal by City of Tulsa elected officials was touted by G.T. Bynum as “the first proposal in city history to lower tax rates.”  What he failed to tell you was your property taxes went up when “Improve Our Tulsa” passed and the amount your sales taxes were lowered was .067, exactly the amount the county is coming after now to expand the jail and build the juvenile justice center.  The citizens never get a break!

Now it’s almost April, just enough time for you to forget that your property taxes were raised and if this jail/juvenile center tax passes you will NEVER see the “lowering of your taxes” that G.T. Bynum promised.  It is shameful the way elected officials play games with its constituents – the very people we elect to look out for our best interests just can’t seem to keep their hands off our hard earned money or speak honestly.

I haven’t even delved into the school bond issues that keep your property taxes high.  Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma’s average state and local sales tax rate is the fifth-highest in the nation, according to a report released by the Tax FoundationMore taxes are NOT the answer.

There are needs at the jail and the juvenile justice center but raising taxes isn’t the solution to the problem.  The county can find other ways to fund these needs, like using the overage from Vision 2025.  No one is quite sure exactly how much overage there will be, which is why Tulsa citizens should demand an independent accounting of Vision 2025 funds and anticipated overage before another new sales tax is considered.  The citizens should also be allowed to vote on the repurposing of Vision 2025 funding to pay for the expansion of the jail and the building of the juvenile justice center, and if the funding falls short, after the depletion of Vision 2025 overage a small short term bond can be voted on to complete the project and will be terminated upon completion of project.  There will be minimum bonding and interest fees since those costs are already factored into Vision 2025’s bonding.

As mentioned in my previous post, the amount of the projected overage from Vision 2025 is all over the board from $6 million to $123 million, to $150 million plus.  The $6 million figure comes from County Commissioners Karen Keith and Ron Peters (elected officials) and the $150 million plus figure comes from someone who sits on the Tulsa County Vision 2025 Oversight Committee (a private citizen).  Which figure do you believe?  Or better yet, who do you trust?

On December 23, 2013, Commissioner Keith signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” between Macy’s Corporate Service, Inc. and the Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners “agreeing to seek any remaining required funds from the Tulsa County Vision Authority” (Vision 2025) to help pay for road construction for Macy’s new building.

It appears that the county is willing to spend taxpayers hard earned money on building a road that benefits BIG business, not to mention all the other tax breaks Macy’s is receiving from moving here that the ordinary citizen or small business doesn’t receive but they have no problem continuously asking the tax payers for more of their hard earned money.  Macy’s was never a part of the Vision 2025 projects and funds should not be used from Vision 2025 to pay for an access road.

How can citizens trust the people they elect when the answer to every need is to raise taxes?  How can citizens trust their elected officials when the officials are eager to waste hard earned tax dollars on millions of dollars in bonding fees and interest instead of using the pay-as-you-go system resulting in more tax dollars going to actual projects?  How can citizens trust when year after year they hear, “this is a temporary tax” and yet it never goes away?  I trust the citizens to vote NO on both propositions April 1st .  I trust the citizens to hold our elected officials accountable by demanding they terminate bonding and use a “pay-as-you-go” method of paying for existing and future projects.  I trust that if given a choice, the citizens would choose to use Vision 2025 overage funds to pay for the needs of the jail and juvenile justice center.  I trust the citizens will send a message to our county commissioners that “Tulsa CAN DO BETTER” and raising our taxes isn’t the end all-fix all to the problems in Tulsa county.

Posted by Ronda Vuillemont-Smith on Just Ronda

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Don’t ‘FOOL’ Me Bro: New taxes aren’t the ONLY way!

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Dont fool me Bro

Another tax?  NO WAY!  When will the madness end?  Every time there is a perceived need (aka want), the city or county (this time) comes after the hard working taxpayer for more of their hard earned money instead of finding other ways to pay for the problem.  It’s time to get government out of our pockets!

While most people would agree that there are needs with the juvenile justice center and the jail that need to be met, it’s the manner in which those needs are met that we have the most disagreement.

For some unknown reason, Tulsa loves to ‘bond’ the money they spend which results in millions of tax dollars being wasted on bonding fees and interest.  The better way to accomplish building projects is by using a ‘pay-as-you-go’ plan, with no bonding fees and no interest, which means we get something to show for our hard earned tax dollars.  The county commissioners will tell you that we can’t ‘pay as you go’ because they need the money NOW!  This method will result in millions of taxpayer dollars going toward bonding fees and interest, giving the taxpayers a GREAT BIG NOTHING for their money!

If we were to think outside the box we could come up with other ways to pay for the jail expansion and the new juvenile justice center.  What about the overage from the Vision 2025 funds?  Since the projects from Vision 2025 have been completed, the tax dollars we are collecting is more than sufficient to meet the bonds with an estimated $11 million surplus each year.  We will continue collecting taxes through December 2016 and with what we currently have in the bank ($90 million), three years of approximately $11 million each year in overages (after paying bond obligations), we would have in excess of $123 million remaining.  Please note:  these are the low end figures of what is anticipated to be Vision 2025 overage, some believe it could go as high as $150 million plus.  There was a promise made to the outlying communities that they would be given $45 million (total) upon completion of collection of Vision 2025 sales tax, so that obligation needs to be honored.

Let’s recap, the low budget estimate is that we will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $123 million in Vision 2025 sales tax overage (note: revenues are coming in higher than projected), we pay the outlying communities their $45 million, it will leave approximately $78 million for us to expand the jail and build the juvenile justice center.  Your taxes don’t rise and our community is safer!

Of course when you ask the county commissioners about using the Vision 2025 overage to pay for the jail/justice center we are told we can’t use those funds because the funds are delegated to specific types of projects as voted on when Vision 2025 sales tax passed, September 2003.  The truth is, they can allow the citizens to make the decision on how they want their tax dollars spent by allowing them to vote to authorize the use of Vision 2025 funding to expand the jail and build the juvenile justice center.

When asked about the overage from Vision 2025, you get a different answer each time.  Last I heard from Commissioner Keith was that estimates were that there would only be about $6 million in collection overage.  A Vision 2025 oversight board member estimates that the overage could be $150 million plus and other county officials give a modest estimate of $123 million.  These numbers are all over the place and I believe the citizens should refuse a proposal of any new taxes until Vision 2025 funds have been satisfactorily accounted for.

So, what do we do?  First we have to vote down the tax increase the county is seeking on April 1, forcingvote_no1 the county commissioners to go back to the drawing board and come up with a BETTER plan!  We demand an accounting of all Vision 2025 sales tax collections and anticipated future collections.  We bring the idea of using the overage from Vision 2025 to pay for the jail expansion and juvenile justice center to a vote of the people, allowing them a voice in how their tax dollars are spent.  There will be much moaning and gnashing of teeth from city and county officials, the chamber of commerce and others that stand to benefit from the “NEW TAX” April 1 tax passing – you see, they believe they know how to spend your money better than you do and they have plans for that money.

Before you vote on April 1, ask yourself – is raising my taxes the BEST way to solve the needs of our community?  Can this be done in a manner that doesn’t cost the tax payers additional money?  I believe it can!  Vote NO on April 1 – let’s send them back to the drawing board because Tulsa County CAN Do BETTER!

Posted by Ronda Vuillemont-Smith on Just Ronda