Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Muskogee City Council sets August vote on $78M bond issue, sales tax renewal

County Assessor Ron Dean during public comment at the Muskogee City Council meeting Monday

Brace for impact, Muskogee: our city council has set an election for a bond and sales tax proposal totaling over $78,000,000 on August 27th.

I dropped in for my first city council meeting in years yesterday when I heard that a special meeting had been called to vote on sending the mega-million dollar package to the ballot. You can view the agenda here; scroll down to items 14, 15, 16, and 17.

You can read a 'preview' article of the meeting from the Muskogee Phoenix: Council to consider bond issue, sales tax extension and budget Monday. The proposals are broken into three general obligation bond propositions, plus a "half-penny" sales tax renewal.

  • Proposition 1: about $47M
    • New police department building: $11.5M
    • Replace the fire station building on North York Street: $4M
    • New fire engines, equipment: $11.4M
    • New  police equipment, vehicles, body armor, bodycams: $19.3M
    • Contingency funds: $1M
  • Proposition 2: about $14M
    • Street/sidewalk projects downtown on Broadway from Main to Fifth Streets: $3.9 million.
    • Widen Smith Ferry Road to three lanes (near Hilldale Schools): $5.6 million.
    • Hospital district street projects: $2.1 million.
    • Widen intersection at Country Club Road and Shawnee Bypass: $1.8 million.
    • Replace Centennial Trail pedestrian bridge over U.S. 69: $460,000.
    • Contingency: $300,000.
  • Proposition 3: about $17.4M
    • Expansion of MLK Center: $7.8 million.
    • Replace HVAC system, interior updates at Civic Center: $5.5 million.
    • New sports fields at Hatbox: $3.7 million.
    • Contingency: $375,000.
Also included in the package would be:
  • Sales tax renewal: renews 0.5% sales tax previously approved in 2019 that expires in September 2025 (no such thing as a temporary tax).
    • Street improvement and maintenance.
    • Site development and flood control at the city water treatment plant and other Port Muskogee facilities.
    • Renovation of Muskogee Municipal Building and Muskogee public works building 
    • HVAC and renovations at Muskogee Public Library.
If all three bond propositions pass, property owners would see a 15-mill increase in property taxes, possibly for up to 25 years. City Manager Mike Miller says this would be an increase of $150 per year on a house valued at $100,000. This is on top of a 12-mill increase passed in a school bond issue in 2019 (which was estimated then at $120 per year for a house of the same $100k value).

If the sales tax renewal passes, the city sales tax rate would remain as-is.

The police and fire chiefs both spoke regarding the bond issue affecting their departments. There are some definite needs there as it relates to the fire station on York Street and the city police building (currently built inside what was the ~1920s civic center). Much of their equipment is expensive -- communications radios for both run around $5-6,000, fire engines around $600,000 and take two years for delivery. I think there is a concern about using long-term bonding (up to 25 years) for some short-term needs; the bond would outlive the useable lifespan of some of the equipment being purchased. 

Some of the other propositions seem to be more "want" than "need", given Muskogee's economic and tax situation. Bad economic decisions further up the food chain (ahem, Washington DC) negatively impact what governments closer to the people have ability to do. This plan calls for higher property taxes on the back of property owners during a time when interest rates are not great and inflation is hurting citizens. 

County Assessor Ron Dean, and a few other citizens present, made a good argument for the council to postpone action until this plan had been publicized more and had more community input, but the council forged ahead with a unanimous vote to put it to a citywide vote on August 27th.

Dean was one of four or five who spoke against immediate action on the plan, while two others spoke in favor of the package, including Mayor Patrick Cale's recent college-grad son, who spoke passionately about returning to Muskogee to help build it back (and directing his comments at the four new councilors, seemingly swaying two of them). I'd say there were about twenty-five people present to watch the proceedings.

A recording of the council meeting can be watched below:

2 comments:

  1. Remember when the judge ruled against the city ($6.1M) in the Vaughn v. City of Muskogee inverse condemnation case (where the property owner has to sue the city to receive "just compensation" as required in the Fifth Amendment). Well, there are three companion inverse condemnation cases that will be heard by the same judge that ruled against the city in the Vaughn case. Those cases are to be heard June 28 in Muskogee. The city could have settled for $30M (plus 50% attorney fees = $45M) but instead decided to have a bench trial to be heard by the Vaughn judge on June 28. State Statute title 23§71 says that when a government forcibly ejects/excludes someone from the possession of real property, the damages are three times "such a sum as would compensate for the detriment caused to him by the act complained of." So now the three plaintiffs (England, Taff, Lacey) have "upped the ante." Now they're asking around $32M EACH. So $32M x 3 = $96M plus $50 percent legal fees ($48M) =$144M x 3 (State statute 23§71) = $432M. According to law, the plaintiffs should "immediately" receive one-third of the award ($144M) with the remaining $288M placed on CITY property rolls, and must be paid off in three years. Does this sound like "a plan?" City Manager Mike Miller knows well and good about these three cases, instead of waiting for the judgment he barrels ahead not caring about our tax burden. I spoke to the county assessor's office who told me Miller didn't even visit Ron Dean, the county assessor, to brief him on this bond issue and ask whether businesses would have to close due to the higher property taxes. This is not a city manager who cares about the property owner, just his reputation to "get things done." We need a new, professionally trained city manager.

    $97M x 3 = $291M plus the attorney gets 50 percent, which is $145.5M which totals $436.5M of which one-third has to be immediately given to plaintiffs and the remaining paid off within three years.



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