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Tulsa Mayor Wants Voters To Decide: Spend On Streets Or Public Safety?

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Mayor Dewey Bartlett pitched a new "public safety tax" that would give the city more to spend on the police and fire departments. Mayor Dewey Bartlett pitched a new "public safety tax" that would give the city more to spend on the police and fire departments.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett says it's clear police and fire need more people, but voters are not willing to pay more to get them. Mayor Dewey Bartlett says it's clear police and fire need more people, but voters are not willing to pay more to get them.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

The mayor Monday pitched a new "public safety tax" that would give the city more to spend on the police and fire departments.

But the city would have a little less to spend on street repairs, because the mayor wants to redirect a part of the sales tax we're already paying.

Tulsans have already voted to spend more on roads, and that's why there are so many repair projects going on now, like the one that started Monday by Woodland Hills Mall.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett says it's clear police and fire need more people, but voters are not willing to pay more to get them.

"I don't think the public is really interested in a tax increase, and we have to show ability, we have the ability to manage our revenues well, and if we can do it without a tax increase, I think that's smart management," Bartlett said.

6/5/2013 Related Story: Top Candidates For Tulsa Mayor Lay Out Plans For Police, Fire Departments

That's why Bartlett wants to spend an existing sales tax for road repairs on salaries for public safety instead.

"We, the council and the administration, have made the commitment that we want additional public safety," Bartlett said.

Last week, the council approved a budget that avoids the cuts of past years, but essentially keeps the two departments where they are on staff, only hiring to replace people who leave.

The new tax would slowly build up the size of the departments, by 70 police officers, and 45 firefighters.

"We're trying to get above breaking even, we're trying to increase our force. We were at 830 in 2007, and we're at 770 now, so we're trying to get back up to a functioning police force, so we can provide all the services to the citizens of Tulsa," said Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan.

Hiring more police and firefighters would come at the cost of a few road projects, but the council is working on a separate street bond that could offset the loss and keep up the pace.

"What this money would do...is add firefighters in the field," said Tulsa Fire Chief Ray Driskell. "What that means is, right now, we respond with three firefighters on each truck. Typically, you would want four or five."

Changing how that tax money is used requires approval of the council and voters. The council will take a look at it this Thursday. Voters could see it on the ballot this fall.

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