Council votes to annex fairgrounds

By Lisa Stringer    
Friday, 06 April 2007 
Despite overwhelming opposition voiced by those who attended Thursday night’s meeting, the majority of the Tulsa City Council voted 5 to 4 in favor of annexing Expo Square.  The move will allow the city to collect an additional three percent sales tax on goods and services provided at the recently updated facility. 

Councilor Roscoe Turner, who assumed chairmanship at the meeting, made an attempt to limit discussion, but was overruled.  A significant number of the 20 citizens who addressed the council used their allotted five minutes to express concerns that a vote on the issue was premature and urged councilors to consider further study before making a final decision.

Many said they believed the three percent sales tax increase would have a negative effect on the facility’s events and visitors – and eventually on the city’s already burgeoning budget deficit.  Others stated their concerns that security and safety might be compromised if the Tulsa Police Department – and not the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department – was responsible for the area’s law enforcement.

Tulsa resident Dan Hicks said that in recent weeks, he took a petition door to door in several neighborhoods, asking the council to table the annexation until more definitive numbers are evident – and said most of the people he spoke to didn’t want to see Expo Square annexed.  “It wasn’t a scientific poll,” he conceded, “but I wanted you to have these petitions.  I don’t think people signed them because of my good looks and charm.”

Carla Gregory, who has worked with the Citizen’s Crime Commission for a decade, praised the county for doing an “amazing job” so that city police could do their jobs.  She expressed concern that the Tulsa Police Department might not have the manpower to provide comparable services.

Joe Wanenmacher’s annual gun and knife show – known to enthusiasts as the “Superbowl of gun shows” – lures 7,000 exhibitors and 15,000 spectators each year, 95 percent of whom are from out of town.  He said he fears annexation will deteriorate the shows to the point that it will eventually affect sales, as well as increase the city’s workload unnecessarily.  “What I’m telling you won’t happen overnight,” he said, “but it’ll happen.  If you do this, the buck stops with you.”

“Ninety percent of the people I talk to are against [annexation].  I’ve talked to people all over town and it’s been the same.  As far as the [Tulsa State Fair] goes, TPD can’t handle this problem – they are shorthanded and they’re needed in other areas of the city,” said an emotional John Remington.  Referring to the shooting in Crawford Park last weekend, Remington continued, “We’ve got kids getting shot in our parks.  We don’t need them getting shot at the Fair.”

“We need more facts and study before rushing into this,” added Lacy Lamb, president of the Tulsa Hotel and Lodging Association, after reading a statement from the group regarding the impact they feel annexation may have on them.

While all parties agreed that Expo Square is a “jewel in Tulsa’s crown,” others questioned the city’s perceived windfall from annexation.

Jim Rice said, “I personally don’t believe the increase in sales tax is going to make much of a difference.  Last year when the Fair was on, gas prices were at an all-time high and that didn’t stop anybody.  Turkey legs and a drink cost $7, and that didn’t stop anybody.  I don’t see that annexing the fairgrounds is the big fix.  I know we need the money, but let’s look into this.”

Councilor Eagleton confers with staff
Only the county’s continual critic, though, expressed unabashed support for the proposal, painting a picture of inequity.  “There’s a loophole in the heart of our city where the rules don’t apply,” Michael Bates stated.  “I would ask you to close that loophole.  It is crucial for the fairgrounds to have the same laws as the land that surrounds it.”

Tulsan Bernice Alexander acknowledged the city’s need for more revenue, but asked the councilors to do their most basic function – listening to their constituents.  “You all don’t listen to the people,” she said.  “I’m asking you to open your ears and listen to the people who have come here tonight.”

In the end, the councilors found the possibility of an estimated $338,000 in annual revenue from the annexation too tempting for them to consider postponing the vote.  Councilor Bill Martinson blamed the media and county officials for “blowing things out of proportion,” and several councilors expressed regret that the issue had become so divisive.

Council Chairman Turner closed discussion before the vote, saying, “We’re doing something that’s tough to do.  We don’t have animosity toward the County – we’re just trying to locate funds that should have been coming to the City.”

About the Author:
Lisa Stringer is a native Tulsan who received her bachelors in journalism from the University of Tulsa.  She has worked for Neighbor Newspapers throughout the metropolitan region and has been a contributing writer for Oklahoma and Vintage magazines. 

Last Updated ( Friday, 06 April 2007 )