UPDATE1. Legislative advocacy to promote local control, with priorities given to Municipal Finance, Governance, and Economic Development
OML has formed two working groups, whose tasks are to study ideas and innovations in order to diversify and improve the quality of municipal revenue sources. The recommendations from these groups are the basis for proposals to the legislature and state agencies. These working groups are the Municipal Liaison Board to the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and Municipal Revenue & Efficiencies Task Force.
The Municipal Liaison Board to the OTC meets monthly and has met several times with Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) directors and staff. They are working with the OTC to improve administration, collection, and enforcement of local sales taxes, audits and monthly reports. After a 12 month effort, they were successful in a rewrite of the sales and use tax collection contract between the OTC and municipalities. They will be holding a pre-conference workshop where they will be introducing the new sales and use tax collection contract with the OTC and offer ideas for local efforts to increase enforcement of sales taxes, cooperating with OTC and some new revenue ideas.
Legislation that resulted from the November 2010 Oklahoma Academy on Municipal Government includes:SB 216
by Sen. Paddack and Rep. Peters creates an 11-member Task Force on the Collection, Distribution and Enforcement of Municipal Sales Tax. The Task Force is to examine OTC’s assessment, collection and distribution of sales and use tax to local jurisdictions. The report is due to the Governor, Pro Tempore, and Speaker by December 31, 2012 with each responsible for appointments to the task force. Municipalities will have seven seats on the Task Force and OML has been instrumental in helping seat municipal members.
Legislation as a result of efforts of the OML working groups includes:SB 750
by Sen. Marlatt and Rep. Sullivan allows municipalities to enter into agreements with third party private collectors to help with the collection of municipal taxes. The program is set up just like the Independent Audit program that was established last year in HB 2359. In addition, it safeguards millions of dollars in current municipal revenues by ensuring compliance with the Streamlined Sales Tax
Several other OTC accountability bills were introduced during the session, but did not make it through the legislative process in 2011. OML will continue to work during the interim on broadening our coalition of supporters to ensure there is accountability and transparency from the OTC for the retainable monies cities and towns collective pay them each year ($17 Million) to collect their sales and use taxes.
The Revenue & Efficiencies Task Force is co-chaired by Mayors Mick Cornett (Oklahoma City) and Dewey Bartlett (Tulsa) plus mayors and city managers of other municipalities both large and small. They have met several times to review many aspects of municipal finance and revenue issues. They make recommendations, as well as to give direction to OML staff to help pursue new methods of enhancing revenue streams.GovernanceWe continue to oppose legislative and agency efforts to increase municipal costs of doing business and which impede growth and development
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) through the Administrative Rule making process, proposed a 5 year fee increase to municipalities for both drinking water and waste-water. By providing testimony to the DEQ board along with our municipal officials and working with legislative leaders to bring these onerous increases to their attention, we were instrumental in totally eliminating the increase on drinking water and reducing the 5 year increase on wastewater to a 2-year increase approved by the DEQ board.
Some of our target governance issues at the legislature last session included the repeal or reform of binding interest arbitration and repeal of non-uniformed municipal employee collective bargaining (MECBA). A deeply divided House of Representatives, coupled with intense fire and police union pressure, kept binding interest arbitration from becoming law, although the issue will be carried over to the 2012 legislative session. One bill we did support that passed was the repeal of the Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act (MECBA) affecting cities 35,000 and above.Economic Development
The Mayors Council of Oklahoma has taken the lead on this issue by forming a Mayors Council on Economic Development (MCED). This initiative was suggested by Edmond Mayor Patrice Douglas, who, with a panel of three mayors (Mike Lester, Broken Arrow; Nicholson, Homer Nicholson, Ponca City; and Jeff Shockley, Poteau) introduced the idea at the MCO Retreat in Broken Arrow this past June. MCED is a mayors-only working group who will share ideas, brainstorm, and hear from a variety of experts from the business and retail community, government agency representatives. The goal is to improve Oklahoma cities and towns by studying all phases of economic development enhancement. Through this cooperative effort, they can learn innovative ways to help them to be more effective ambassadors of their cities, in order to attract retailers and business opportunities, while maintaining and improving relationships with existing vendors.
OML Executive Director Carolyn Stager recently spoke during a meeting presented by the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Ed (Making Place Matter) to discuss economic development efforts taking place between cities & universities. Although there are many successful initiatives are taking place, there is also much need for improvement. Secretary of Commerce Dave Lopez, along with the Regents for Higher Education, has offered to assist in any way they can.
2. Member support: training, information, technical support
OML conducts a total of six New Officials Institutes (NOIs) throughout the state each year. The two NOI’s held in June each attracted nearly 200 new and experienced municipal officials. The June Institutes also featured a second, optional, half-day presentation, which takes a closer look at meetings and agendas, budgeting and finance, and new this year, a presentation form the State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. He and his staff discussed audit procedures, how to identify fraud, and other topics. OML sponsored its annual Employment Seminar on August 5th, with more than 70 municipal attorneys, HR and personnel specialists in attendance. We are making preparations for hold our annual conference in Tulsa, where our educational sessions will continue to focus on the principles of economic development, finance, and governance. The conference has been bringing more than 400 municipal officials and 160 vendors in the past few years, and we hope to improve on this trend. After conference ends, we transition right into our fall season of district dinner meetings, which have been scheduled in five locations around the state. Future workshops include a Planning Workshop in November, Practical Guide in December, and Budgeting Workshop in January.3. Communication to priority audiences
During the legislative session, we provide our members with weekly legislative bulletins and Action Alerts to activate rapid communications from our members to their legislators on “hot” issues. Other communication devices include Municipal Policy Reviews, published at least six times a year, the Oklahoma Cities and Towns newsletter (OC&T) published once per month and regular Labor Bulletins for members of the OML Labor Program. We have established informational areas on the OML web site at www.oml.org that focus on our strategic goals as well.
An item discussed with the OML board is how we keep our members better engaged in the process, especially during legislative session. One idea being proposed by MCO is the formation of a mayor’s legislative advocacy program, where small groups of mayors visit the capitol each week during the legislative session. They will attend committee hearings, meet with legislators, and observe the house and senate sessions, in order to put a “municipal face” on the issues we promote or oppose.
OML staff will work to incorporate visits with state legislators as a part of the “goodwill visits” that continue.4. Protect & Enhance Municipal Finance
The efforts of the Municipal Liaison Board to the OTC & Municipal Revenue & Efficiencies Task Force both are focused on this issue. Additionally we have focused our efforts legislatively by enactment of bills to improve sales tax collections and enforcement.5. Eliminate/Modify binding arbitration
SB 826 along with other bills, were introduced this year and received a lot of attention from not only municipal officials but labor unions, specifically fire & police. We will continue to discuss this issue with legislators during the interim. Labor issues were the topic of a half-day session during the NLC Executive Directors summer meeting, as well as the NLC Staff Development Workshop. Although no definitive solutions were discovered, the consensus is the current system is not sustainable (only look at what has happened to private sector unions/UAW for example) and not think it cannot happen to you. Legislators need to be reminded of this. Most felt the issue of “local control” was the strongest argument and kept you away from the appearance of opposing the “unions” and your own employees. Opposing the overzealous and unsustainable benefits to prevent what happened in the public sector from happening in the public sector. The two presenters were Barry Bluestone, PhD, Stearns Trustee professor of Political Economy, the founding Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, and the founding Dean of the School of Social Science, Urban Affairs, and Public Policy at Northeastern University in Boston. Also, Elizabeth Kellar, President and CEO for the Center for State and Local Government Excellence talked about public pension plans and also said the AFSCME folks ‘get it’ that the current environment is not sustainable. It was a consensus that police unions are often easier to work with than the firefighters union. She also talked about new GASB rules regarding pension liability. I have contacted Mike Crawford’s for comment on this so we can share with our members as well as forward to NLC for inclusion in comprehensive comments prior to the September 30 deadline.
We will be working to engage local Chambers, specifically, OKC & Tulsa and the State Chamber and try and broaden our base of support on the binding interest arbitration with the believe it is truly an economic and business issue. We must also focus our efforts on determining how best to keep the cities unified on this issue. Again, our colleagues mainly think sticking to the idea of local control as much as possible to ensure unity.6. Membership Outreach
After a long and arduous legislative session that kept ED Carolyn Stager close to home, she was finally able to continue her statewide goodwill visits. She has entitled them “goodwill” and believes the visits truly bring OML’s goodwill to each community. She brings materials to share and update them about what we are doing, but also tries to take time to listen and learn a little about their communities, and the challenges they face as governing officials. To date, she has visited 129 cities/towns and has several more scheduled in August. You can read about her adventures in OC&T and on the web site. She is looking to expand our outreach by including Missy and perhaps other staff or legislative committee members on these visits and including or also taking time to visit local legislators while we are in their hometowns.7. Leadership development for municipal positions
There are currently four OML staff members who have answered the challenge to pursue higher education opportunities and are currently enrolled at OU, OSU and Rose State. We sent two OML staff members to the NLC State League Staff Development Workshop this summer. This workshop provides league staffers the opportunity to meet with their peers from other states. Although every municipal league is unique in its operations, they network and share information, so that they bring back valuable insights and ideas that OML can use to better serve our members. This intra-league networking is also enhanced by Carolyn Stager’s position on the NLC Board of Directors. OML General Counsel Diane Pedicord continues to serve on the State Advisory 9-1-1 Board, and with Sue Ann Nicely, spearheads the efforts of the Municipal Liaison Board and Oklahoma Water Law Group. Missy Dean and other staff have been attending legislative interim study sessions and OML has been asked to present testimony to the Oklahoma Task Force on Tax Credits & Incentives.