Tulsa mayor talks about budget shortfall

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 11/14/2013 5:27 pm Published: 11/14/2013 4:18 pm

The city of Tulsa's sales tax collections continue to fall below projections, causing a budget shortfall that continues to grow.

Officials with the city's Finance Department now say the city is $5.5 million below its projections.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett avoided discussing the shortfall until after the election and sat down with FOX23's Ian Silver to talk about his plan to manage the shortfall.

Bartlett acknowledged there is a growing budget problem, but assured FOX23 he has a plan to manage the city out of the shortfall without having to lay off any of the city's 3,600 employees.

"We're fine, there's no problems. We're in very good shape financially," he said.

Lower-than-expected sales tax revenues suggest otherwise. But Bartlett said a months-long hiring freeze across the city and limiting travel for employees have already saved the city big bucks.

He also said efficiency recommendations from a KPMG study two years ago are working and will continue to help.

"Those have been successful. They take a while to work their way through the process, but they do help. And, collectively, they've saved us millions of dollars," he said.

Beyond that, he said there's a list of other cost-saving measures he will ask the City Council to help implement.

But when FOX23 asked him to share some of those measures, he answered, "Probably not yet. Probably a little bit, a little premature."

The question remains: how did we end up in such a financial hole?

"Internet sales and the expiration of the payroll tax reduction, I think those had a significant hit on our sales tax receipts," he said.

Bartlett said the Finance Department tried to factor in those things in their projected revenue, but clearly under-estimated their impact, even though revenues are up overall from last year.

He pointed out use taxes on items sold online out of state are up, which is starting to offset some of the sales tax shortfalls.

He also said a good holiday shopping season could cut down that shortfall quickly.
"Obviously, that's the hope," he said.

He also said if saving and a big holiday season can't catch revenue up, the city has at least $12 million in emergency funds that could be used as a last resort.

Bartlett said he wants to start planning the budget two years in advance instead of one to avoid problems like this.

He also said next year's budget could be even more difficult, because several grants that have paid several salaries will expire and the city will have to find money to continue paying those.

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