By Don Wyatt
Today the Tulsa County Budget Board held its annual Special meeting to approve the Tulsa County Budget for 2013-2014 (also referred to as the 2014 Budget). The new budget was approved 7-1. If approved by the Excise Board later this month, the new budget will take effect July 1, 2013. An audio of the meeting is attached below. Click here to review the new Budget.
Repeating a pattern that has become all too familiar, a summary of the Budget was published in the Tulsa Daily Commerce & Legal News, indicating a General Fund budget of $67,471,289, and a total for all budgeted funds of $83,568,846.
However, in response to public pressure and protests, the new budget has been expanded to a total of 266 pages, including a new section beginning on page 245 which is identified as “Not Part of Tulsa County Budget, For informational purposes only.” Here we find substantial funds, used to pay essential county expenses including significant portions of county payroll, benefits, operating expenses, and debt service.
It should be noted, however, that these funds which Tulsa County calls “Not Part of Tulsa County Budget” ARE included in the budget for Oklahoma County. Tulsa County is not “forbidden” to include these additional funds…they merely choose not to include them.
On page 260 of the new budget, there is a one-page summary of the apportionment of Ad Valorem taxes (property taxes) for the 2011-2012 Fiscal Year to the various county entities which totaled $638,040,943.21!
If, however, you want to get an understanding of the total financial scope and scale of Tulsa County finances, you must also add in millions of dollars of sales tax and hundreds of millions in bonds issued by Authorities that are not answerable to our elected officials.
The budget amount published in the paper, therefore, represents less than 10% of the dollars which the taxpayers of Tulsa County will pay to finance county entities. In fact, once we determine the real numbers, the published budget may represent less than 5% of the true cost of our county operations!
Today’s meeting was an improvement over previous year’s Special meetings in several respects. Copies of the proposed Budget were available when we entered the room. There was a sign-in sheet for taxpayers that wished to make comments. The Budget includes additional data which was not previously included in past budgets.
Several taxpayers pointed out irregularities with the Budget and raised questions about County practice and policy. NO CHANGES were made to the Budget in response to these concerns, and, in my opinion, there were NO ANSWERS provided to the questions and requests which we submitted.
We expect to do additional research and post additional information and insights in the immediate future. Meanwhile, our taxes continue to go up and our county government seems to prefer opacity to transparency.