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Tax extension for road repairs: OKC council seeks input

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Leaders want to hear from the public as it considers extending a one-cent sales tax to help fund public safety and infrastructure.

The tax expires at the end of the year and has been used to fund MAPS projects like the modern streetcar and downtown park.

Under the plan, one-quarter cent would be permanently extended. The council intends for the money to be used to hire additional police officers, staff additional fire stations and bring a fire engine back into service.

The remaining three-quarters of the penny would be invested in roads, sidewalks and trails. The tax extension, to last 27 months, is estimated to generate $180 million.

"People are upset when their streets are crumbling," said Mayor Mick Cornett. "And we have now created the capacity to go back in and give a booster shot to the streets and get the resurfacing process necessary to address the needs of the citizens."

According to the city, the tax extension will raise $126 million for street resurfacing, $18 million each for sidewalks and streetscapes and $9 million each for trails and bicycle infrastructure.

It's money the city needs as it struggles to bring in sales tax revenue, Cornett said.

"Our model may have worked ten years ago, it doesn't work today," he said. "All you have to do is look at our revenue over the last four years and see we're flat, yet the population of the city keeps increasing and the quality of our streets keeps decreasing."

Ward 2 City Councilman Ed Shadid says the upcoming bond obligation already provides plenty of money for roads and bridges.

He questions whether the tax extension could be more helpful if sent elsewhere. A survey he conducted allowed voters to explore other options.

"Among the most popular is to spend a portion of this addressing the crisis in Oklahoma Public Schools," Shadid said. "I think the people realize that our education system is broke in terms of funding and we cannot keep funding and meet the city's economic growth goals."

Cab driver Greg Dotson though, says he wouldn't be opposed to extending the tax to fund the roads because he wants to see the streets continue to improve.

"I see tons of construction all over the place and I see a lot of beautiful roads," he said.

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday's city council meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m.

If approved, voters would have the final say on the tax extension in a special election Sept. 12.