TULSA - The Civil Division of the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office says the county can't use an overage in Vision 2025 tax collections to pay for a new Juvenile Justice Center and an expansion at the county jail.
All concerned agree the Juvenile Justice Center must be replaced and the county jail expanded, but there's serious disagreement about how to pay for the projects.
John Luton, Chief of the DA's Civil Division, issued his opinion by email to County Commissioner Ron Peters.
The county hopes to get a measure before voters in April that would extend a .067 penny tax due to expire in June.
The county has three town hall meetings scheduled this week to discuss the need and the funding mechanism with voters.
- Tuesday Jan. 21 - TCC West Campus Auditorium, 7505 W. 41st St., Tulsa
- Wednesday, Jan. 22 - South County Community Center, 13800 S. Peoria Ave., Bixby
- Thursday, Jan. 23 - Owasso Community Center, 301 S. Cedar St., Owasso
Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel recently told KRMG the county has a surplus of money left over from Vision 2025, and while it might require a ballot initiative, he thinks that money could be repurposed.
"I don't think there's any dispute any more, even though I've been saying it for three or four years, that we have a surplus. So let's put it to use for our highest priorities to the citizens, and to me that's curing the concerns at the jail and creating an appropriate juvenile justice center," he said.
"It looks like it would probably take a vote of the people to do that," he added. But, "to go out there and raise the taxes arbitrarily is wrong. We need to let that tax just expire for the City of Tulsa and every place else -- it already has in the rest of the county -- so what they're putting out there in front of the people is a tax increase."
But County Commissioner Karen Keith countered that Yazel was wrong, on several counts.
"First of all, it's not a new tax," she told KRMG, "it's .067 that's part of the existing tax. Number one. Number two, we can't access that money until like 2017. He knows that, he knows darn good and well that we can't even access that money until 2017, it does not help us. And as you know, we have some immediate needs at both the jail and the juvenile center, and Ken has acknowledged that. But this is just part of his schtick, he knows that what's he's touting is absolutely not going to work."
Yazel counters by saying the county wants to have its cake, and eat it, too.
"If we allow them to go out there and raise new taxes, they're going to have this $110 million dollars to do as they wish in 2025, and the taxpayers are paying more sales tax to do the high priority stuff."
Keith questions his numbers -- she says the actual overage will be closer to $36.5 million.
But whatever the amount, she says, the money belongs to the cities of Tulsa County, not to the county.
And in any case, she stresses, that money wouldn't be available for years, and the need is urgent.