MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Phoenix Breaking News

Local News

June 18, 2014

Vote delays city economic fund

Move pushes back full funding for one year

— City councilors approved a request to delay full implementation of an ordinance that eventually will steer up to $1.2 million of use tax collections into an economic development fund.

City Manager Howard Brown Jr. initially proposed a $900,000 cap on annual deposits into the fund but backed off after meeting some resistance. With just one vote cast Tuesday against the measure — two city councilors were absent — Brown was able to delay for a year fully funding the economic development plan.

Brown’s request to amend the ordinance is part of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1. The $300,000 that will be redirected toward the general fund would be used to fund a one-time, 2 percent stipend for all city employees.

“The goal is ... (to) help put that (money) back in our local economy,” Brown said about the proposed stipends. “The majority of our employees live here in the city, so the hope is they will spend most of their money in the city.”

City Attorney Roy Tucker said the proposed stipends are subject to contract negotiations with the collective bargaining agents representing city workers. Employee contracts require the approval of union members and city councilors.

Deputy Mayor David Jones said, like others, he initially opposed Brown’s proposal but became a backer after further consideration. He cited the prospect of having to cut expenses as his primary concern.

“I am a firm believer and strong supporter of economic development in Muskogee as are the rest of council members,” Jones said. “But the more we got into it, the way I see it, if we don’t take the $300,000 from here we will have to cut our expenses somewhere else — the budget has to balance.”

The ordinance that established the economic development fund was passed unanimously in 2011 by city councilors at the insistence of former Mayor John Tyler Hammons. It dedicates up to $1.2 million of the city’s use tax collection for economic development projects.

The ordinance created two separate funds: a general account and an opportunities account. Funds deposited into the general account may be spent for any purpose related to economic development. Revenue deposited into the economic opportunity account may be used as incentives for projects “that creates new, high-skill, high-wage jobs” that “foster sound growth.”

Ward IV Councilor Marlon Coleman, a vocal critic of the proposal, stood his ground Tuesday while casting the single opposing vote. Coleman said the creation of the economic development fund was “a giant leap forward” in the city’s strategic effort to make Muskogee more competitive. Delaying those efforts, he said, is a step backward.

Brown said he knows of no project that would be impacted negatively by delaying full implementation of the economic development plan. Most of the money directed into the account now funds the contract with the Muskogee City-County Port Authority, which oversees the city’s industrial recruitment and development efforts.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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