Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma City – In his first State of the City address last week, Mayor David Holt said “people and programs” are more apt to reflect community priorities than “bricks and mortar.” Candidates for city council were supportive of Holt’s comments, and government revenue reports point to a positive picture for meeting government needs.
Building on themes from his “Big Dream” campaign unveiled previously, Holt again asked for city residents to share their ideas for the envisioned MAPS 4 program with him and other leaders.
The historic Metropolitan area Projects began in 1993 and have led to significant investment of taxpayer dollars in infrastructure, largely but not exclusively in the downtown area. For the next round, if there is one, the mayor indicated he may seek a formal “endowment” – along the lines common for private charities and churches – to provide support for maintenance and other needs.
Holt indicated in his speech that the endowment concept would build on the “pay-as-you-go” (after first collecting the money) model of MAPS. He thought such an approach could strengthen efforts to meet the needs of homeless persons, care for the mentally ill and strengthen the seriously-challenged local public schools.
Holt said, “”If at its root the MAPS model was an example of a government trying innovative new approaches to solving community challenges, this endowment concept is just as innovative, just as groundbreaking, just as powerful,” Holt said.
“In that regard, it is in the tradition of MAPS as much as anything else.”
Renewing themes of inclusiveness and diversity, he said, “there is hardly a religious or international tradition that isn’t practiced somewhere in our increasingly cosmopolitan and big-league city. Through understanding of that, we’ll find continued empathy for each other, we’ll continue to set aside the things that divide and work toward a common purpose.”
Candidates offer encouraging words for Holt’s priorities
City Council primary elections are scheduled for February, and three candidates – two who are new to campaigning, the other an incumbent council member – lauded the mayor’s priorities.
Nathaniel Harding, seeking the open seat in Ward 6, told The City Sentinel, “The Mayor captured well what makes Oklahoma City special: our culture that prioritizes unity; that we are more successful when we support each other. Knocking doors every day I hear the same themes emerge that Mayor Holt outlined in the MAPS 4 discussion. Public education remains the greatest challenge, and we must address complex social challenges and balance quality of life priorities impacting all parts of the city. I admire Mayor Holt’s dedication to inclusion, education and unity. I look forward to working together soon.
David Greenwell, seeking reelection for the Ward 5 position, commented for The City Sentinel, “I think Mayor Holt has captured and shared the ideas of many citizens of OKC. They are pleased with the results of the previous MAPS initiatives, and the progress the City has achieved. However, at this point, it’s time to shift the emphasis from the core of the City, to a broader spectrum, benefiting citizens throughout the City.”
Ward 2 hopeful Suzanne Broadbent commented, “I would like to see MAPS 4, if the people of Oklahoma City approve a continued sales tax, be dedicated to improving quality of life in our neighborhoods. A concerted, coordinated effort to bring our public and private resources together to improve our quality of life would yield great returns. If an endowment is the best way to accomplish these public/private partnerships, I’m for it.”
Broadbent told The City Sentinel,” Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the endowment is the community discussion surrounding creation of the endowment and the ensuing community discussions of endowment-funded projects throughout the life of MAPS 4. These discussions will lead to creative and innovative solutions that will generate extra benefits even beyond the MAPS-funded results. “
Tax Revenue stream remains robust
The city government made it through the historic “Great Recession” and subsequent downturn in the energy economy relatively unscathed. The latest sales tax report (issued this week) found general revneue fund collections were up a robust 17.8 percent compared ot the same month last year. Further, the jump was above projections by 2.4 percent.
According to a press release from the city communications staff, “The January report includes collections for the last half of November and estimated collections in the first half of December, which total about $22.4 million for the General Fund. That’s around $529,000 above the projection. December is the seventh month of fiscal year 2019. General Fund sales tax revenue is 1.2 percent (about $1.8 million) above the year-to-date projection.”
The general fund pays for day-to-day operations of the city government, and sales tax is the primary revenue source.