Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum wants to put a permanent property tax for public safety on the ballot in August 2022.
Bynum told city councilors Wednesday that’s his plan under a new state law allowing public safety districts, which cities can create to dedicate generally stable property tax revenue to their police and fire departments rather than just sales tax.
Bynum’s proposal is for five mills — roughly $75 a year for a house worth $150,000 — but City Finance Director James Wagner said the repayment period for upcoming bond issues could be extended so property tax bills don’t go up.
"This is just like if you were to have a 30-year mortgage versus a 15-year mortgage. You're going to pay a little more in interest. But over the life of the bonds that we're going to issue for Improve Our Tulsa 2 — so, those are the ones that go out through 2027 — we're estimating about $13.5 million in additional interest expense," Wagner said.
Wagner said the city generally tries to keep its share of property tax revenue at 22 mills. Nearly all of the city’s share of property tax revenue currently goes toward bond debt service.
Cities saw sales tax revenues take big hits during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they have during other economic downturns. Bynum said diversifying revenue is important, and it’s something he’s pushed for since seeing more than 100 cops laid off as a city councilor in 2010 because of a city budget shortfall.
"That was a defining experience for me, being in the council chamber and seeing kids and spouses of first responders and knowing that they were going to lose their jobs and feeling powerless to do anything about it because the city had not prepared," Bynum said.
Bynum also told councilors he does not want to specify in the ballot measure how the public safety district funds should be spent. Instead, his preference would be for those funds to be allocated through the city's normal budgeting process.
Public safety districts require 60% voter approval. The law allowing them takes effect Nov. 1.