City Council in Oklahoma City Votes to Send Arena Decision to Voters

News 9 - September 27, 2023 6:16 am

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The Oklahoma City Council voted Tuesday afternoon to give voters the December opportunity to approve a tax extension that would result in a new arena downtown.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of putting this on the ballot “with emergency.” Council members JoBeth Hamon and Nikki Nice dissented.

The Oklahoma City Thunder has a letter of intent with Oklahoma City that potentially retains the team until 2050, and called for a citywide election for the new arena. The letter of intent also states that the Thunder will contribute $50 million toward the cost of the new arena.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt has made clear the importance, he believes, of continuing this tax extension.

“I commend the Council for authorizing me to sign this historic letter of intent, I thank the Thunder for their partnership, and I congratulate all of OKC for getting to this point,” Mayor David Holt said after the letter of intent was signed. “One step does remain, and that is the vote of our residents on December 12th. We encourage everyone to come out and set the course for our city’s future.”

The penny sales tax on OKC City Council’s agenda Tuesday is intended to provide the majority chunk of funding.

“Is this really us being competitive with other markets or is this just the thunder ownership taking advantage of that sense that we might lose them?” said JoBeth Hamon, the City Council representative for Ward 6.

She stands firm on her stance ahead of the vote. “I think we can do better by our citizens and by our taxpayers,” she said. Hamon thinks the split of funding is too unbalanced. The sales tax would generate an estimated $976 million for the new arena, while the Thunder owners are kicking in $50 million.

“If they love being here so much, why are they asking so much from the taxpayers and not contributing more on the private end,” she said.

She cites issues like homelessness, city storm drainage, plus other maintenance, and upgrade projects as a better place for those dollars. But Mayor Holt says the city needs to keep growing economically to fund those projects– and losing the Thunder would be a setback.

“Your economy shrinks, your population growth shrinks and suddenly you don’t have the economic wherewithal to do all these things that we’ve been doing the last few years,” he said.

36 people addressed the city council on Tuesday morning, one of which was A. Jaye Johnson with the Boys and Girls Club.

“As a personal side, absolutely I’m going to vote yes. I’m looking forward to it,” Johnson said.

He says the team’s contributions to organizations off the court is reason enough to work to keep them.

“The Thunder have embraced the boys and girls club,” Johnson said. “They’ve done basketball camps with us, they’ve given our kids shoes.”

While he understands the reasons of those opposed, he believes the cost is worth it.

“They do so many things that people don’t see. That’s why it’s worth it having them here,” Johnson said.

Almost half of the speakers did not want the proposal to move forward. The primary opposition was to the terms of the deal.

“This is the worst contract negotiation that I feel I’ve seen in my public life,” Nick Singer said.

Singer spoke with several others outside of city hall calling on the team owners to step and pay more.

“Who negotiates a contract under threat? If they’re going to threaten us it should make us less excited to make this kind of investment,” Singer says

The proposal will roll out to voters on Dec. 12.

The proposal has multiple items which were voted on separately by council members.

Oklahoma City constituents will vote on the following proposition:

PROPOSITION SHALL ORDINANCE NO. 27,420 OF THE CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY BE APPROVED? The Ordinance levies a temporary excise tax of one percent on the gross proceeds or gross receipts derived from all sales taxable under the sales tax laws of the State of Oklahoma. The Ordinance earmarks expenditure of the tax for the limited purpose of funding all expenses related in any manner to constructing, establishing, providing, or maintaining an arena facility to be owned by The City of Oklahoma City. The Ordinance defines the word expenses, gives non-exclusive examples of expenses, and states that the word expenses includes without limitation payment of financing costs for obligations related to the stated limited purpose that are issued by a public trust having the City as its beneficiary. The Ordinance creates the Arena Facility Sales Tax Fund. The Ordinance provides that the tax begins at the same time the excise tax levied by Oklahoma City Ordinance No. 26,255 ends and, once effective, lasts for a limited term of 72 months and then such tax ends.

 

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