Former OKC mayor tells Fort Smith Board that a vision is needed

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

On the 125th anniversary of Oklahoma City's founding, its former Mayor Kirk Humphreys was in Fort Smith to speak to the city Board of Directors about what his city did to transform from a place that was boring and dead after 5 p.m. to a city that is now among the fastest growing in America.

He said the transformation seen in Oklahoma City started because of MAPS, the city's Metropolitan Area Projects sales tax initiative passed in the early 1990s, which raised the city's sales tax by a penny (from a rate of 7.375% to 8.375%).

According to Humphreys, the sales tax initiative turned the city "that had nothing going for it" into a city with some of the lowest unemployment numbers in the nation, a growing population and amenities that rival larger cities, such as Dallas and Denver.

But in order for the once-decaying city to get to a point of growth and pass the sales tax that has now been approved in some form or fashion seven different times and has resulted in more than $4 billion in private development in the city's downtown core, Humphreys said the city had to have five things:
• A pressing need;
• Unity among elected leaders;
• A mayor with political capital;
• A strategic focus; and
• The ability to deliver on promises made.

The city was able to convince voters of the need and the result has been the construction of a new sports arena that now houses the Oklahoma City Thunder professional basketball team, a new baseball facility, a canal through the heart of the city's former warehouse district, as well as numerous other projects. He said the vision was cast by former city leaders, including then-Mayor Ron Norick.

"You see, our role as city leaders is to set the agenda for our city," he said. "It's our role to say, 'No. Here's where we are, but here's where we could be.' Your city will never go beyond your vision. It just won't. They may catch up with it, but they'll never go beyond it."

Humphreys told the Board that the city had a prime opportunity to do something with the city's riverfront, telling them to "look at what it could be" versus what it is.

Asked what Fort Smith could do to take the lessons from Oklahoma City's rebirth and apply them locally, Humphreys said the city should look at out-of-the box ideas to transform the city.

"I think there's some options that you have with…you could come up with a blended program of public and private partnership," he said, further elaborating on the possibility of Fort Smith doing a half cent sales tax to jump start revitalization efforts.

"What if you said, 'OK. We're going to do a half-penny sales tax.' I would make taxes limited in duration," Humphreys said, adding that the city could potentially double their money by getting local corporations or other entities based in the region to match spending possibly dollar for dollar so that Fort Smith could have more bang with its buck.

While the former mayor was simply floating a theoretical example, he again said its incumbent on the leadership of Fort Smith to be the visionaries and think outside the box.

"I think the big question is not what is our tax rate, but are we satisfied with the way my city is? And if I'm not satisfied with the way my city is, then I've got to do something to change it. You can only economize so much and sooner or later you have to make new investment."

WATER PARK BIDS
In other business, the Board held a special session in order to approve a set of resolutions that approved bids for subcontractors on the Ben Geren Aquatics Center, as well as increased the fee payment to Flintco, the project's construction manager.

While the resolution to approve 29 contracts totaling $6.267 million was passed without opposition, the second resolution to amend the fee schedule with Tulsa, Okla.-based Flintco to $466,530 from an original fee of $371,250 received the no votes of City Directors George Catsavis, Philip Merry, and Pam Weber. The increase, according to Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, was due to the increased cost of construction from $7.5 million to $9.348 million since the original fee agreement was signed.

"The resolution goes on to establish the Construction Manager's Guaranteed Maximum Price of $9,763,852 for all construction phases of the project," Dingman said in a memo to the Board, adding that including fees to be paid to Larkin Auatics and money to pay for furniture, fixtures and a point of sale system bring the total cost of the project to $10.897 million. Between the city and Sebastian County, both governments had committed a combined $10.9 million for the project.

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Merry said he was in favor of the project, but did not agree with the move to increase fees to be paid to Flintco before any substantial work had been completed on the project.

"I'm a real believe in a deal's a deal. I'm so for the aquatics (center). I'm for it. But I feel like a deal's a deal. I feel like there had been a commitment made for services to be rendered, there had been a commitment made on what the city should pay and to now give a raise or some sort of increased compensation before we even break ground feels funny. It seems like that'd be something you do at the end if you come in under budget and had a great successful project and wanted to do a bonus. But before we enter into performance to even be had, we're already giving raises."

County Judge David Hudson has told The City Wire that the Quorum Court was not required by law to approve the bids.

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 4.1 (10 votes)

Comments

No mention

It's easy for the good mayor to make general statements regarding redevelopment and public-private partnerships when your city is home to very large and very profitable energy companies. We don't get the same benefits from high oil prices and the fracking boom.

OKC also got GM about the time it did Bricktown

...I bet that helped. Well at any rate it has all but been confirmed what this gigantic production has really been about. This public/private partnership..you get three guesses at the main one but the first two don't count.

city needs five things.....

• A pressing need; - Yes. we need to do something to jump start this area • Unity among elected leaders; - *snort* bwahahaha. Nope. They can't decide what they're going to do from week to week consistently • A mayor with political capital; - Nope. Ray had it, but at times he misused it. Don't see Sanders able to push things through right now. • A strategic focus; Hold on, not yet, but we're gonna do ANOTHER SURVEY and study to get another one that we won't use. • The ability to deliver on promises made. - .......... Do I even need to comment here? Until we get a board and a mayor that has some fortitude, and quit pandering to the old guard, nothing's gonna happen.

Five Things and More

You nailed it in one short comment! Thanks for not beating around the bush and telling it in plain old common sense talk.

Another one...

Here's another one - another person/group giving advice that the area won't take. However, the area has a 'vision' but, unfortunately, the 'vision' is a bad one. You cannot base the entire existence of a city on one single thing - its history. We keep voting these people in office and none of them are competent enough beyond their own agendas and interests. None of them are capable of getting anything real done to move the city forward towards growth. I don't see anything improving the area (and I'm not talking aquatics center type 'improvement' either) for the next 10 years at least.

A 30% sales tax is what your grand children will pay if..

the rate of increase I have seen in my lifetime continues and I see no indication it will not. (3.5%-10%) Not to mention the world class creativity on our utility bills. Fact. Mr Humphreys says temporary but he also says it has been approved 7 more times in OKC so far. Don't they always say, 'This is not a new tax..it is one you are already used to paying'.. when that temporary time is up?' (Shouldn't we be realistic and call it permanent?) Fact. I told you long ago the Marshall's museum would somehow morph it's way into the city budget and now may I direct you to the part above where Kirk mentions public/private partnerships with...other entities? Briefed well wasn't he? $5,000 would be my guess. It'll will be there in Nov if they can wait that long.
the rate of increase I have seen in my lifetime continues and I see no indication it will not. (3.5%-10%) Not to mention the world class creativity on our utility bills. Fact. Mr Humphreys says temporary but he also says it has been approved 7 more times in OKC so far. Don't they always say, 'This is not a new tax..it is one you are already used to paying'.. when that temporary time is up?' (Shouldn't we be realistic and call it permanent?) Fact. I told you long ago the Marshall's museum would somehow morph it's way into the city budget and now may I direct you to the part above where Kirk mentions public/private partnerships with...other entities? Briefed well ...>> Read the entire comment.

Marshalls Museum

I like the next person doesn't like to pay taxes, unless I can directly see the benefit of my tax dollars. B/c of this I would be more thatn happy to help pay for the Marshalls Musuesm. It is something the NO OTHER city in the country has it's OURS. Also, it's the first big development on the river I truly believe it can and will be a catalyst for devlopment all along it. I've been to Little Rock and other river walks. A tax for something that directly benefits us is not something to balk at.

Spell Check and Reality Check

You write,"A tax for something that directly benefits us is not something to balk at." It directly benefits the pork barrel crony construction contractors, bankers and insurance thieves. I may indirectly toss a few crumbs out to the masses. If the Marshals museum was such a great idea, then those rich Dick Cheney cowboy's in Wyoming would have done something about it long ago. No other city in the country but our's is sucker enough to take the bait. Build it they will come is an risk that the taxpayer cannot afford to take at this time. The riverfront property owners have enough capital of their own to go it alone. If it's their skin in the game you can be sure they will get it done most efficiently and cost effectively....besides, they're rich enough for the tax write-offs. If only the City of Fort Smith Municipal government stays out of the way and the taxpayers are not "tapped-out", then the Riverfront can be developed by private enterprise.

Give Till It Hurts Bryan, But Allow the Working Class to Pass!

The Marshal Museum is a privately funded project. So why should tax dollars from workers with the areas lowest median household incomes be forced to provide funding with their tax dollars? Why can't those who thought up the Marshal Museum idea and remain so passionate about this museum follow Alice Walton's example, but on a smaller scale of course? Alice Walton was passionate enough about Crystal Bridges Museum, she put up $800,000,000 of her own money. So Bryan, we don't need another $1 million plus loss like the convention center where leaders refuse to scale down or curb the huge salary packages that far exceed the median household incomes of Fort Smith, so feel free to give till it hurts.
The Marshal Museum is a privately funded project. So why should tax dollars from workers with the areas lowest median household incomes be forced to provide funding with their tax dollars? Why can't those who thought up the Marshal Museum idea and remain so passionate about this museum follow Alice Walton's example, but on a smaller scale of course? Alice Walton was passionate enough about Crystal Bridges Museum, she put up $800,000,000 of her own money. So Bryan, we don't need another $1 million plus loss like the convention center where leaders refuse to scale down or curb the huge salary packages that far exceed the median household incomes of Fort Smith, so ...>> Read the entire comment.

A Fistful Of Pennies

Didn't someone say just a penny in Sales Tax is worth about 25 million dollars in revenue to city hall every year in Fort Smith? That should cover expenses on the Marshal's Museum every year with a few extra bucks for a few more studies.

Paint the town Bled

We just supplied the sewer and soon we will help supply the reason for it. Ok people go to the museum...then what? Looks like we're still a fortune away from Nirvana. Wonder how they announce a tax everybody knows they're gonna announce? 'Well lookie here what the survey recommended..why didn't we think of this?'

10.25 % And A Promise

1/2 cent is about 12.5 million dollars and surely that will be enough to fund the Convention Center, the marshal's Museum, and the Water Park with a promise of "read my lips, no new taxes". The question is, will it stop there or will it continue with a property tax increase to help the already bankrupt county?

Can a bottomless pit ever be full?

Whenever they invest $340,000 in an attempt, they are serious about wanting to extract more money from the people. That means money for new projects and raises. We have what's called a hand to mouth type of government here. The only way it can end is if we are snuffed out.

The Answers Are Elementary

They thought the 18 million dollar grant from the State would launch the Convention Center but they were wrong and it routinely loses 1 million dollars a year and will most likely never get better. oops! They thought the Marshal's Museum donations would flow and fund the 50 to 70 million dollar construction cost but the economy tanked. Oops! They think the 5 to 7 million dollars in operational costs at the museum will be covered by admission charges but my bet is that it will be another giant oops and a Fort Smith taxpayer expense. My hope is that it all work but then we have the water park that will probably be another big time loser so where will all the money come from to cover all the scoops of oops. Hello Fort Smith taxpayer or maybe a new vision will appear and we will see lots of bikes, blues, and barbeque type events downtown that could bring 10 to 20 million dollars in new tax revenue to our city every year and up to 100 million dollars of economic impact to local merchants. We can only hope that someone will step forward and make it happen because we can't afford another giant oops.

Fix what we've got first.

Not having been embroiled in Civic controversy, a newcomer can clearly see Fort Smith government's primary agenda. The co-opted or should I say high-jacked taxpayers are footing the bill for a Contractors Cartel whose success depends upon continued short-term pork-barrel projects even though this town would not do worse without most of those projects. Less expensive and more immediate improvements to infrastructure and assets we already have would change the face of Fort Smith virtually overnight and at astronomically lower cost to the taxpayers. Clean-up and fix-up, show some pride, then visitors will not only come, they might stay awhile.

Spot On Handy Man

Many people have asked the County Judge and the City Administrator why they wanted Flintco of Tulsa as their construction manager on the water park project knowing that Flintco was investigated by the FBI and charged by the Attorney General with paying 2 million dollars in bribes. A local experienced water park contractor said that he could build the water park for 2 million dollars less and include 2 indoor pools for year around use. Still no answers from the Judge and the City Administrator on this question but it seems to be in the best interest of the taxpayers to save 2 million dollars on the project and generate more income and lower costs on the water park with year around use. Another question that remains unanswered is why they keep awarding contracts without using the low bid selection process and publishing the bids in the local newspaper to allow the taxpayers to see all bids and who was awarded the contract based on the competitive bid system. The lack of transparency in the bid process seems to point to a serious lack of concern by these people to keep the taxpayers informed on how the peoples money is being spent.

Lack of Transparency

All bids on contracts for city work should be posted in the newspaper like they are in other cities and low bid should get the contract. Something smells here in the way contracts are awarded and the water park project is a great example.

Back atchya

You ask....."why they keep awarding contracts without using the low bid selection process and publishing the bids in the local newspaper to allow the taxpayers to see all bids and who was awarded the contract based on the competitive bid system." One word, Kickback !!