by J.B. Alexander
Owasso Taxpayer Alliance
Friday, January 16, 2009
OWASSO, Oklahoma – Following a long struggle our forefathers authored the greatest document man has every put together and on July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the newly formed US Congress. Several years later, in 1787, the U.S. Constitution was adopted. These documents were created so that men were truly free, no man was above the law and that government held limited powers. However it appears that our city leadership may not be aware of some of the provisions in these documents and might need a refresher course in Constitutional Government.
At the November 4, 2008 Owasso City Council meeting two councilors were absent leaving a legal quorum of three councilors present to conduct official business. At this meeting councilors voted 2-1 to accept the consent agenda. Part of the consent agenda included several “ordinances”. One of the ordinances was for the annexation of property on East 96th Street North.
At the November 18, 2008 council meeting a plat for this same property on East 96th Street North was presented for acceptance. I questioned the council on how they can approve a plat on a piece of property that was not legally annexed into the city and I referenced Section 2-13 of the Owasso City Charter. Section 2-13 states:
Section 2-13 Ordinances: Passage, When in Effect.
Every proposed ordinance shall be read, and a vote of a majority of all the councilmen shall be required for its passage. The vote on final passage of every ordinance shall be by yeas and nays, and shall be entered in the journal. The mayor shall have no power of veto. Within ten days after its passage, every ordinance shall be published in full or by number, title, and brief gist in a newspaper of general circulation within the city. Every ordinance except an emergency ordinance, so published, shall become effective thirty days after its final passage unless it specifies a later time; provided that a franchise for a public utility shall not go into effect until the ordinance granting it has been published in full in a newspaper of general circulation within the city and has been approved at an election by a vote of a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question.
My position for challenging the passage of these “consent agenda ordinances” is that the ordinances are NOT read, and in the case of the November 4, 2008 vote, the ordinances were passed by a 2-1 vote. A majority of “all the councilmen” would require at least three (3) votes for passage.
In December 2008 I received a copy of a memo supplied to Mr. Rodney Ray, Owasso City Manger from Owasso City Attorney Ms. Julie Lombardi stating her opinion of Section 2-13. In Ms. Lombardi’s official opinion:
“…the ultimate interpretation of the provisions within the city’s charter and/or code of ordinances is conferred solely upon the City Council unless and until litigation results and a court assumes sole jurisdiction over the matter”.
The current city leadership’s position is that they can interpret the city charter and the code of ordinances however they like. What rights do “We the People” of Owasso have if any seated council can interpret the city charter however they like.
What if the U.S. Government came out with an “official opinion” that the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution was left solely up to the currently seated congress? Can you image what shape our nation would be in if the majority of congress was controlled by either the Democrats or Republicans and THEY could interpret the U.S. Constitution however they saw fit?
The city charter is a document – like the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions – that was established by “We the People”. Our city government derives its power from the consent of the people of Owasso. The people of Owasso have the constitutional right to demand that their government represent the will of the people or we have the right to replace that government.
Our city has been bending the rules and regulations for far too long. And now their official position is they can tell us how they are going to interpret the very document that guarantees our rights as Owasso citizens and defines the limits of the city government. The very document that “We the People” in Owasso should be able to rely upon to keep our government in check – and protect us from an out of control government – has been highjacked!
Our city council needs to step forward and correct this misguided opinion. I call upon the city council to pass an ordinance that states the City Charter shall be interpreted literally unless a court determines otherwise. This would guarantee that the rights established by “We, the People of the City of Owasso” would be protected from further abuse.
The protection of our freedom and liberty is not a spectator sport. You must become involved. Please contact your city councilors and voice your concerns over this “highjacking” of our city charter.
A copy of the Owasso City Charter can be viewed at http://www.owassotaxpayer.com/owasso-city-charter
A copy of Ms. Lombardi’s memo’s concerning this issue can be viewed at http://www.owassotaxpayer.com/file-cabinet
By James Parsons
Owasso Taxpayer Alliance
Saturday, November 29, 2008
OWASSO, Oklahoma - Over the last month the American People have been on a rollercoaster of ideas concerning the economic situations we face. On one channel you hear we could be in for a long recession going toward a global depression. If you turn to another channel you might here a commentator mention the market signals are saying we are going to have a short recession with a quick recovery. Some seem to believe better times are coming with a new administration while others feel the worse hasn’t happened. There also seems to be debates on whether we are going to see inflation rise with a falling dollar or deflation with a falling job market. The only thing these experts are certain about is that we are headed for uncertain times.
This past week, my wife and I took another look at our finances, changed our budget, committed to putting more in savings, paid off debt, and created an emergency plan if things get bad. I would expect my local government to do the same thing. Unfortunately, instead of Owasso leadership preparing for uncertainty, they are planning to get us deeper in debt while our city’s sales tax revenues decrease.
Over the next several months, the city plans on increasing our long term debt anywhere from 60% to 104%. Owasso currently has $45.8 million in obligated long-term debt. What we know is that Owasso leaders want to spend another $8 million for a city sanitary sewer system, $5.2 million for Stone Canyon’s sanitary sewer system, and $4.6 million to TTC/TCC as a free gift. At the November 20, 2008 Capital Improvements Committee meeting Owasso City Manager Rodney Ray reported that one possibility for funding the CIP projects was an additional $25-30 million dollar bond issue to be paid for by a new property tax for Owasso property owners.
Adding more debt when we know we are headed into a period of inflation or deflation is dangerous for the taxpayers of Owasso. If we start on promised projects during a time of high inflation our cost for making the improvements will increase more than our budget making the taxpayers liable for cost overruns. On the other hand, if we have debt during a deflation period, revenues shrink and our city assets decrease in value making the taxpayers liable for the shortage of money.
Don’t worry…our city leaders think they have solved that problem. As I mentioned, one idea is to ask you, the Owasso voter, to approve a new property tax making Owasso one of the highest paying property taxed cities in the highest paying property taxed county in the state of Oklahoma. Yes! You read that correctly. The city of Owasso will be high on the list of property taxes in the State of Oklahoma if this idea is implemented. Is there no better way to encourage businesses to come, build, and join this community? The last thing we need during uncertainty is to discourage businesses from coming and staying in Owasso.
But our city leaders don’t seem to be paying attention to what is going on around us in the Tulsa area and that’s a bit scary. Here are several examples:
1. In 2003 the voters in Tulsa County approved Vision 2025 to give American Airlines $22.3 million in upgrades at the city’s maintenance plant. On top of that, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry provided another $10 million incentive package to expand two aviation projects and “create 600 jobs.” Governor Henry stated, “By putting state incentives on the table…we are creating hundreds of good jobs and enhancing Tulsa’s already-unparalleled reputation as a national aviation center.” (“Governor Henry Announces $10M for Tulsa Aviation Projects” Daily Oklahoman May 2007)
What have we gotten for our “investment?”
American is continuing to lay workers off. In July 2008, American laid off 1,500 people in their maintenance system nationwide due to ridership declining and losing $1.45 billion in the April-to-June quarter. (“American Set to Cut 1,500 jobs in Tulsa” The Oklahoman July 19, 2008). Tulsa, being the largest maintenance plant in the system with the most employees, laid off more people than the other plants. The next month, Tulsa television station KJRH reported that American Airlines in Kansas City was going to cut their staff even more and move those jobs to Tulsa.
The station states on their website: “The Chamber says they believe the reasons for the transfer of work (is because) ten million dollars from the Opportunity Fund which was approved by the legislature to support American’s infrastructure, and money from Vision 2025” (“Additional American Airlines Work Could Move to Tulsa”, KJRH August 14, 2008). But American Airlines CFO Tom Horton was less promising when he hinted the last cuts were because the maintenance organization was built for a much bigger airline and not cuts to move jobs (AP, July 2008).
2. Earlier this year, Tulsa County Commissioners along with the Tulsa City-County Health Department, the Tulsa City-County Library, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Technology Center, and the Owasso School Board voted to lower the property taxes for Electronic Data Systems Corporation (EDS), a Plano, TX based Data Center with facilities in Tulsa. In early 2007 EDS began work on expanding their database “bunker” located in the Cherokee Industrial Park just west of Owasso, an estimated $105 million dollar improvement.
District 1 County Commissioner John Smaligo stated, “This is terrific news since EDS is such an important part of the economy in both Owasso and Tulsa. This announcement highlights our community's focus on creating a better environment for the recruitment and expansion of high-tech industries." (EDS News Release, July 26, 2007)
As a result, EDS was able to place that tax break in their portfolio and the company was sold to HP in 2008. In 2001 EDS had 2,200 employees in Tulsa, has since reduced its work force to around 1,300 employees and continues to ship jobs out of the Tulsa area. County Commissioner Smaligo and the Owasso School Board were aware of these massive layoffs before they supported this tax break.
3. The Sunoco and Sinclair refineries had been planning huge improvements to their Tulsa facilities. Sunoco announced in November 2008 that they were scrapping their $375 million dollar facility improvement plan and were pursuing selling the facility (Sunoco Investor Relations, “Sunoco Reports Third Quarter 2008 Results”, November 5, 2008). As far as we know Sinclair is still planning on their $1 billion dollar Tulsa expansion project (Tulsa World, September 6, 2007). Time will certainly tell on this one.
4. I am sure everyone remembers the “loan” Owasso city leadership gave Vanguard Car Rental (Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor’s company) back in 2003. This loan was to help relocate the company to Tulsa from Florida. After moving to Tulsa, Vanguard was bought out by Enterprise Rent-A-Car and since that merger occurred 17.4% of the Tulsa jobs have gone away (Tulsa World, February 22, 2008).
5. Earlier in November, Nordam laid off 3% of its workforce and released this statement from the Board of Directors: “Like many other corporations in the aerospace industry, Nordam has been negatively impacted by the global economic downturn. The rapid economic decline coupled with the lack of available financing is adversely affecting our customers and their demand for our products and services…Accordingly, we have made the decision to reduce the size of our workforce in Tulsa…we hope to mitigate the impact of the downturn on the vast majority of our stakeholders.” (Tulsa World, November 11, 2008)
6. Whirlpool announced in late October they were laying off jobs at the Tulsa plant as home sales continue to decline (The Tulsa World and NewsOK.com, October 29, 2008)
These examples exclude the thousands of people that go to work in Tulsa at places like Dollar Thrifty which recently laid off 107 Tulsa workers, ORU which announced an upcoming lay off of 100 Tulsa staff members in January 2009, Trinity Structural Towers will lay off 131 Tulsa workers in January 2009, Nautilus (StairMaster) will close by years end laying off 148 Tulsa workers and SemGroup which laid off 110 Tulsa workers and with the possibility of more after their bankruptcy case is completed.
I am not a doom and gloom reporter and that is not the point of this article. I am just stating that the economic indicators for our economy in and around Owasso show that we are in uncertain times. Our Owasso leaders plan to get us out of these times with more of the same: raise our taxes, increase our debt, spend more money, and give handouts to rich companies and big developers. It is reverse welfare. The poor are giving money to the rich.
Call your Owasso City Council member and let them know that you do not approve increasing our debt under any circumstance unless it is an emergency. Demand that the city lives within its means, use money for roads, police, fire, and other previously promised projects.
Concerned Owasso Citizens,
For those of you that have been following the reports of my leaving the City Council meeting on November 18, 2008, I would like to offer the following explanation.
First, let me say that I have the utmost respect for my City Council colleagues and the citizens of Owasso. I take the position of serving as your City Councilor very seriously.
The agenda for the November 18, 2008 meeting was posted on Friday, November 14th. The agenda for that meeting had several very important issues to debate and decide upon. I had been working diligently over the past several weeks to educate and inform Owasso citizens about these upcoming important issues. Several citizens were in attendance to listen to the discussions and many were signed up to speak about these issues.
Two of the items on the agenda were projects totaling $8.2 million dollars for which the Owasso citizens would be indebted for many years to come. These items included:
At this meeting the City Manager’s employment contract was also set to be discussed. Believing that this should be a discussion of all five (5) council members, I respectfully asked that this item be tabled for a future council meeting. My request was met with resistance from the Mayor as he wanted to proceed with discussing and voting on the city manager’s contract. I felt this was a contradiction to the process that had just been explained to me by Mr. Ray.
It is always my desire to maintain professionalism and I feared that I would be unable to do so if I remained at the meeting. By excusing myself and eliminating the legal quorum, it forced the meeting to end.
It is my personal opinion that the operations of the city are being compromised on a regular basis and I fear that many citizens are unaware.
At this time, I would encourage all concerned citizens to educate themselves on the issues that were tabled. I need your feedback and support to best represent your interests. I would encourage the other councilors to visit with their constituents as well.
I am committed to serving the citizens of Owasso assertively, to the best of my ability and I will be running for re-election in April 2009. You may contact me at 918-371-8111 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns.
Councilor Ward 1
City of Owasso, Oklahoma
by J.B. Alexander
November 18, 2008
Just hours before the scheduled Owasso City Council meeting Tuesday evening city leadership pulled two very controversial issues from the agenda. With a legal quorum of three city councilors present, the Tulsa Technology Center/Tulsa Community College (TTC/TCC) $3 million dollar gift and the 990 acre Stone Canyon annexation items were pulled from the agenda. Over the past several weeks both of these issues have become hot topics of conversation around Owasso.
City leadership was to present a plan to borrow approximately $3 million dollars through the Owasso Public Works Authority to purchase 25 acres of land and give this land to the Tulsa Technology Center to build a campus in Owasso to house TTC and TCC. This loan was to be paid back through the Capital Improvements Third Penny sales tax fund.
Following the release of information from Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel, stating that the Tulsa Technology Center (through Career Tech) and the Tulsa Community College have a combined $119.9 million dollar carryover, citizens began questioning why the city would “borrow” money when these organizations have this much taxpayer money in their accounts.
The consent agenda contained Ordinance No. 934 which would have officially annexed 990 acres of the new Stone Canyon subdivision. Owasso city leadership has already approved a $358,000 contract for the engineering of the sanitary sewer system for the Stone Canyon development even though it is not offically in the city. The cost for the construction of this system is estimated at $5.2 million dollars.
As the council was getting ready to go into executive session to discuss the city managers new employment contract, Councilor D.J. Gall moved to table the executive session for discussion at a later date. Mayor Stephen Cataudella stated he was in favor of continuing with the executive session. At that time Councilor Gall removed himself from the council chambers leaving only two councilors present, causing the meeting to come to an abrupt end.
With the possibility of two of the three councilors present ready to vote against both of these controversial issues it seems coincidental that they were pulled at the last minute. Approximately 25 citizens were present at the meeting expecting to listen to and/or speak out concerning these controversial issues. I feel that by removing these two issues from the agenda and not allowing a legal quorum to discuss and vote, city leadership has created a dark cloud of trust over the issue of being “transparent”.
Mr. Rodney Ray, Owasso City Manager, stated he expected to bring these items back at the next council meeting in December. I urge all Owasso citizens to continue to contact their council representative and visit with them concerning these issues.
For more information on these and other Owasso issues go to www.owassotaxpayer.com
by J.B. Alexander
The Owasso City Council is scheduled to vote November 18th on a plan to borrow $3 million to purchase land and GIVE this property to the Tulsa Technology Center (TTC) to build a 25 acre campus in Owasso. This amount is on top of the $1.6 million dollar roadway improvements already underway.
According to information discussed Tuesday night at the Owasso City Council work session, TTC will be building a facility to house the TTC and Tulsa Community College (TCC). According the Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel TTC and TCC have a combined carry over this year of $119.9 million dollars. Tulsa Community College alone has a $12.3 million dollar "unobligated" reserve.
I see three points that makes this a bad move for the Owasso citizens:
The Owasso City Council will be voting on a transportation ordinance possibly as soon as November 18, 2008. If this ordinance passes Owasso taxpayers will be subsidizing the funding for this system. If Owasso ridership proves to be like Broken Arrow, this will cost the taxpayers of Owasso $27,740 per bus per year. As more people use the system, and busses are added, the cost to the Owasso taxpayer will grow.
The City of Owasso recently conducted a survey to determine if there was interest for a mass transit system to serve Owasso. However, they failed to ask the question "Would you be in favor of this system if taxpayer money would be used to fund over half the cost".
An article titled "The Black Hole of Mass Transit" has been posted on the Owasso Taxpayer Alliance web site andaddresses the Owasso Transportation issue. A copy of the survey used by the city is also posted. A second article by the CATO Institute concerning the failure of mass transit in the city of Portland, Oregon has also been posted. To find these articles click on the "File Cabinet" link to the left.
By Jerry Whited
The Owasso City Council meets on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Tuesdays of each month in the Council Chambers located at 109 N. Birch (just east of city hall). The 1st and 3rd Tuesday's are regular meetings beginning at 6:30 pm where the council hears from citizens and votes on issues that are presented. The 2nd Tuesday is a "work session" meeting beginning at 6:00 pm where issues are discussed but not voted on. All meetings are open to the public.
by J.B. Alexander
2003 Third Penny Tax projects take back seat
Over $50 million of proposed projects are now being sidelined in favor of projects that do not benefit current Owasso citizens.
North Garnett Road widening: IGNORED
East 76th Street North widening: IGNORED
Thousands of current citizens will continue to deal with traffic headaches while city leadership diverts millions of tax dollars to other projects.
Empty Promises by Owasso City Leadership
On August 5, 2003, the Owasso City Council passed Resolution 2003-10, asking Owasso voters to pass a law allowing for the Third Penny Capital Improvement tax (CIP) to be made permanent so the city could do better long term planning of projects. Before 2003, the city was required by ordinance to ask Owasso voters every two years for approval to spend the CIP funds on designated projects.
During this campaign the city presented to the Owasso citizens a list of twenty-one (21) proposed projects for the next ten years, which included approximately 11 miles of roadway widening improvements. Seventeen (17) of the proposed projects were to be funded though sales tax revenue. On October 14, 2003 Owasso voters approved this request.
Now here we are 5 years later. Six (6) of the original seventeen (17) sales tax projects have been completed and three (3) are being designed or currently under construction. However, as of today, seven (7) of the original eleven (11) miles of roadway widening projects are not even on the drawing board.
The following is a list of projects from the 2003 tax vote, along with today’s estimated construction cost, that are being ignored:
Garnett Road widening (96th – 116th) $11,500,000
Main Street Redevelopment (76th – 86th) 5,000,000
96th Street North (129th – 145th) 5,000,000
North 145th East Ave (86th – 116th) 18,000,000
East 76th Street North (Hwy 169 – 129th) 5,000,000
Additional Police Station 3,000,000
Recreational Trail Improvements 3,000,000
Total Estimated Cost $50,500,000
That’s over FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS. These figures do not include right of way acquisition or engineering design cost. The final total will be several million dollars more, and even higher, as time goes on due to the rate of inflation.
As the city continues to increase in population our public infrastructure repair needs continue to grow. Without regular maintenance and repair our streets, sanitary sewer and water infrastructure will continue to decay. Here are some of the projects that are being ignored or reduced in funding:
Four years ago, Public Works personnel estimated that $1,600,000 per year in repair and maintenance funding was needed to bring our city streets up to a 72% rating, close to the national average. For the past three years, city leadership has approved $1,000,000 per year for street overlay and repair projects and this year $250,000 was cut from that budget. Due to this under funding our city streets continue to fall behind in required maintenance and upgrades.
The residents of the Hale Acres addition (German Corner) have been in need of storm water improvements for over two decades. This needed improvement is estimated at $1,250,000.
The city’s sanitary sewer system has not had a rehabilitation project since 1995. The Sanitary Sewer Treatment facility treats about 2,000,000 gallons of waste water per day. When it rains that amount triples due to old and dilapidated lines. At a current treatment cost of about .79/thousand gallons this adds up over the years.
With all these millions of dollars of uncompleted 2003 projects, and the other currently needed improvements listed above, one would think that the city leadership would be working hard to complete them. Guess again!
Owasso City Leadership Diverts CIP Dollars
Earlier this year City Council voted to “borrow” (meaning: put the taxpayer in debt) $5,000,000 against the Capital Improvements fund and give it to the Tulsa Community College (TCC) so TCC could build a larger than already planned facility in Owasso.
According to Tulsa County Ken Yazel, TCC has a current fiscal year carry over of $41.2 million (Tulsa Beacon, October 16, 2008 and www.tctaxreduction.org). TCC’s own financial report shows they have an “unobligated reserve balance” of $12.3 million. Make sure you fully understand this. The City of Owasso is going to “borrow” money (meaning: put the taxpayer in debt) to GIVE to another tax supported agency which has MILLIONS of tax dollars sitting around.
With the defeat this year of the TCC property tax increase the building for the TCC facility in Owasso has been delayed. The city however is still proceeding with building a $1,900,000 roadway improvement for the future Tulsa Technology Center site at the same location.
Now the city is planning on annexing Stone Canyon, a residential development located two miles east of Owasso on East 76th Street North. With this annexation the Owasso Public Works Authority (OPWA) plans to “borrow” (meaning: put the taxpayer in debt) $4,800,000 to build a sanitary sewer line east of town to service this new development. On August 19, 2008 the Owasso Public Works Authority (OPWA) signed a $358,000 engineering contract to design this sanitary sewer extension.
There are also plans to build a new Owasso City Fire Station - funded out of the Capital Improvements fund - in this area (don’t you think the thousands of current residents of north Owasso/German Corner would also appreciate a new fire station in their area).
Mr. Eric Wiles, Owasso Community Development Director, was recently quoted in the Owasso Reporter concerning the Stone Canyon development:
“The cost to the city will be about $1,300 per acre and is estimated to cost $4,800,000. Stone Canyon’s developers will pay back the cost of the sewer line, Wiles said.” (Owasso Reporter, September 11, 2008)
Pay back the cost? When did the OPWA (AKA: City of Owasso) become a lending institution for developers? How can our city leadership justify “borrowing” (meaning: put the taxpayer in debt) millions of dollars just so a developer can pay us back? What does Stone Canyon offer the Owasso citizen? NOTHING!!
Mr. Rodney Ray, Owasso City Manger, was recently quoted in the Owasso Reporter by Editor Randy Cowling concerning future spending:
“He anticipates proposing to the council a $10 million revenue anticipation note by the end of the year for capital improvement projects. He ask that councilor(s) no(t) delay plans due to the current financial crisis. Next year city officials plan to borrow another $8 million from the OWRD for a water project”. (Owasso Reporter, October 9, 2008)
With the worse financial crisis in this nation’s history upon us, our city leadership is being told to “drive on” with borrowing more money. When it comes to personal finances the advice is “get out of debt”. Shouldn’t our city leadership take heed with this same sound advice?
Owasso Citizens Deserve Better
The projects presented to the citizens of Owasso in 2003 deserve to be given priority over a private development that will not benefit the current citizens of Owasso or the wants of another tax supported agency. And going further in debt is not in Owasso’s best interest.
Quoting from the vision statement for the City of Owasso:
“Public service is about removing the obstacles standing in the way of people celebrating their lives”.
These 2003 Third Penny tax projects would “remove the obstacles standing in the way of the current citizens celebrating their lives”.
The Owasso City Council is elected by you to represent you and they need to hear from you. We urge you to please, pick up the phone and call, or e-mail, all city councilors and let them know how you feel about these projects being sidelined and funds being diverted.