Bynum proposes $16/hr min. wage and virtual police center in budget

TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum presented his budget proposal for the next fiscal year which included pay increases for all city employees and a new way to battle crime in some of Tulsa’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

Speaking before city councilors, Bynum proposed a $944.9 Million budget for Fiscal Year 2023 which starts July 1st.

Bynum said inflation is acting as both a blessing and curse for the city and its finances. Because the price of everything has gone up, the sales taxes collected on items has also increased. At the same time, employees in numerous departments have started to look elsewhere for higher paying jobs because their municipal paychecks are not at a rate that is a living and competitive wage.

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“In the midst of once in a generation inflation, which has caused sales and use taxes to boom, costs on city have also risen, Bynum said. “Inflation has eaten into the earnings of city employees creating challenges in keeping employees who are looking for higher pay elsewhere.”

Bynum is proposing a $16 an hour starting minimum wage for all positions in addition to increasing all employees pay across the board.

“We can’t just raise the pay for new employees and forget about the ones who have been with us for years, that’s not fair,” Bynum said. “It’s not right to have someone who just came in the door making sixteen dollars and hour along side someone whose been with us for years also making sixteen dollars and hour.”

Between the police, fire, and non-sworn municipal employees, the actual new pay levels are subject to the collective bargaining agreements that will be reached if the budget passes as the mayor hopes.

Bynum said he is cognizant of how there will likely be a decrease in the price of things in the future, and the budget has safeguards built in to make sure all pay increases will remain even when hard times inevitably come.

“I took office three months before the Great Recession,” he said about first being elected to city council. “The City bumped up pay the year before, and a year later, the sight of police and firefighters begging for the jobs before city council when times got tough still haunts me to this day.”

The major expense for the City of Tulsa in every fiscal year is always public safety, and the matter of police and fire received the most attention.

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After visiting Las Vegas and seeing their camera monitoring system in action, Bynum is proposing the establishment of a real-time information center that will be set up at city hall to assist the Tulsa Police Department.

“Your average mall cop has more access to video than any of our Tulsa Police officers,” he said.

These numerous live cameras would be placed in high crime areas of the city where officers cannot be all the time. In previous meetings, one of the areas cameras for sure will be placed is in the neighborhood around East 61st and South Peoria. These cameras would be in addition to the flock cameras Tulsa Police are currently planning to use for scanning license plates.

“This real time center would be able to monitor flock and live action cameras at the same time,” Bynum said.

In order to try to squash fears that he is proposing a form of Big Brother, Bynum said numerous town hall discussions will be held as to where the cameras should be placed and are more effective in addition to outside consulting being done by civil liberties groups to make sure no one’s rights are being violated.

“The people of Las Vegas was worried about Big Brother before these cameras went in, and afterwards, they saw how effective they were, and they liked them,” he said.

The cameras would not be hidden, and Bynum said the goal is to make sure potential criminals know someone is watching before they commit a crime. He pointed to the likelihood that Tulsa will break its all-time homicide record this year as a reason for the cameras to document activity, including someone fleeing a scene, when an officer cannot be present.

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In response to the success of the TPD Community Response Team, which is designated to handle mental health-related calls, Bynum is proposing $250,000 more dollars towards the team after numerous incidents have happened where the CRT was needed at two locations but only one was available.

The FY ‘23 budget will also restore Tulsa police funding for new hires and recruitment back to pre-pandemic levels. With that restored funding, 90 new officers can enter the academy and be trained.

So far there will be no increases in the trash and utility rates, but there will be a 7 percent sewer rate increase as well as an 8.5 percent increase in storm water rates.

The budget must still be approved by city councilors, but Bynum and councilors appears excited for what was proposed and openly stated they’ve already been working together for months to achieve what the mayor proposed publicly. The mayor’s budget reflects many of the council’s priorities.