OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — On Tuesday morning the City Council of Oklahoma City met to hear plans for the financial future of the City.
Council approved an initial plan for American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and also approved the first plan for implementation of MAPS 4 projects.
The Council also received a report on the most recent resident satisfaction survey, and set aside an incomplete plan for new public housing units during the four and a half hour meeting.
Assistant City Manager Kenny Tsoodle gave a presentation about the initial plans for categories of spending for federal relief funds coming to the City from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA).
Tsoodle quoted Assistant City Manager Aubrey McDermid as saying the CARES Act money was akin to giving everybody apples, whereas ARPA is more like planting orchards.
By that, City leadership is responsible for using this money, within Treasury Department guidelines, for the purposes of revenue replacement and building resiliency for the City. Although, Treasury has not issued very strict guidelines for the use of this money, even with the initial disbursement in May.
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Tsoodle explained that the money has to be used for projects and can not be simply added to the General Fund.
Tsoodle and his team have devised several categories for prospective use of these funds. Revenue replacement is a very broad category that can include such things as restarting street projects that have stalled, or sewer improvements. Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon* asked Tsoodle about broadband improvements and Tsoodle said those can fall under that umbrella.
Additional business assistance is part of the plan for some of this money, with a special emphasis on assisting minority owned or disadvantaged businesses and nonprofits.
Some housing allocations may be included, as existing affordable housing has dilapidating infrastructure.
Some funds will be used for continued public health assistance and planning, such as the sewage monitoring program that gives good measurements of COVID variants in Oklahoma County.
A point underscored by Tsoodle and later by Mayor Holt, is that the Treasury’s equation for granting these funds is complicated. While Oklahoma City is the 22nd largest city in the U.S., it received the 58th largest allotment. Holt was sure to remind members of the public that if they see a smaller city like Syracuse, NY doing a transformative project with their allocation, that they got significantly more money than our community did.
Ultimately the Council approved the initial plan with only Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell voting against.
The Council was given a presentation of the schedule for implementation of the 16 projects for MAPS 4 on Tuesday.
The plan for implementation is fairly aggressive for a series of very expensive projects that are funded on a pay-as-you-go schedule.
Of course, the State Fair Coliseum is the first project on the slate, as the shadowy organization that runs the Park has money in it’s trust. That, plus a $25 million dollar advance from MAPS allowed the design and planning to begin months ago. That $25 million is supposed to be paid back to the City from the State Fair Park Trust.
Of the 16 projects slated for MAPS 4, 14 are scheduled to begin in-depth planning and design, plus operation agreements, before the end of 2022.
This plan will be fine-tuned over the coming months and years, of course. After adoption of the plan, Mayor Holt will now begin the work to narrow down appointments to the various subcommittees overseeing the projects.
Last year the Council passed a resolution stating that the subcommittees would have 7-9 members. On Tuesday, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice said she would like to revisit that.
“I’m concerned with who has already been involved with what, before we even got this plan,” Nice said.
The plan was ultimately adopted.
Ian Colgan of the Oklahoma City Housing Authority (OCHA) gave a presentation on a new public housing development in the works. The sites are where OCHA currently has a series of duplexes that have fallen into great disrepair as have the streets in the neighborhood.
OCHA proposes a whole new neighborhood called Creston Park. The neighborhood would have multi-family housing, senior housing, and assisted living, all at HUD “affordable” rates, as well as mixed income housing, and mixed use development.
Nice expressed grave concerns about the difference between OCHA’s handling of the residents already in the area versus the private conversations she has had with OCHA leadership.
Nice said that her understanding was that new construction would begin first, so that residents could be moved to new housing before existing housing was demolished, saving them from displacement.
This is not what happened. Instead residents were offered choices of other public housing sites while demolition happens. Nice reported hearing from residents who were already angry about displacement, some of whom said they don’t want to return after how they’ve been treated.
For his part, Colgan seemed lost, if somewhat condescending on the topic, saying he hadn’t heard concerns from residents.
Nice said, “Mr. Colgan, you and I both know if [residents] aren’t going to talk to you it’s because they are afraid of retaliation and being permanently displaced.”
Nice moved to defer the item.
Mayor Holt pointed out that the item on Tuesday’s agenda was simply to introduce the item.
Councilwoman Nice sharply explained to the mayor that she wasn’t comfortable moving any part of the project forward until her concerns had been addressed.
The item was deferred by a vote of 7-2 with Holt joined by Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher.
Another year brings another positive response from the annual resident survey.
This year’s survey showed that respondents are overwhelmingly pleased with city services, and customer service.
And, as usual, streets were the greatest frustration among those surveyed.
The survey suggested that most residents believe the city is headed in the right direction.
The top three areas for improvement were streets, traffic flow, and police.
The Council will meet again on September 28 at 8:30 a.m.
*Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon is the wife of this reporter.
Last Updated September 14, 2021, 4:49 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor