Your Questions: Sooner Pool project delay explained; Hillcrest Drive update

October 13, 2020
By Kelli Williams

I read recently the Sooner Pool Expansion Project was postponed due to seven years of budget shortfalls and now the City is moving forward and completing the project with less money than planned, reducing the scope of the overall project. Can you clarify what happened here?

I can, but not without talking about sales tax extension elections, legal requirements of project descriptions and completion, and the nuts and bolts of capital project scheduling. In other words, it’s going to be boring.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This project was approved by voters in the 2013 Half-Cent Capital Improvement Projects Sales Tax Extension Election (say THAT three times fast), which is a tax that voters have approved every five to seven years since 1990. (The period in question was a seven-year extension while all other extensions were for five years.) The tax generates revenue over the CIP period and projects are scheduled for funding based on revenue generated during that period.

It’s all semantics, probably, but it is somewhat misleading to say the Sooner Pool Expansion Project was postponed every year during the seven-year sales tax period due to shortfalls as it was not bumped each year and not all of the seven years during the period generated revenue below the projections.

It is perhaps more accurate to say the project was always planned for the last year of the seven-year CIP sales tax period but was not fully funded due to the tax generating less revenue than projected over the overall period.

Why wasn’t it set for funding sooner? It was scheduled to be funded late in the period because it was (and still is) one of the larger “discretionary” projects identified during that election cycle.

This seems like a good time to go over what “priority” and “discretionary” projects are. But to do that we have to bring up a seemingly unrelated but actually quite-related matter — and that is General Obligation Bond Elections/Funds.

For G.O. Bond elections, Oklahoma law requires that 70 percent of the projects in each category that will be put before voters be specified in the ordinance calling for the election. These are “priority” projects. The law also requires that these projects, sometimes called “70 percent” projects, be completed with the bond funds (essentially) as presented.

Projects representing the remaining 30 percent of the requested funding are classified as “discretionary,” or “30 percent,” projects and do not have to be specified in the ordinance. There is also no legal requirement to fund these projects or even to complete them.

Worth noting, however, is the City of Bartlesville has completed all projects presented to voters in past G.O. Bond and sales tax elections, both of the priority and discretionary variety.

The legal requirements that apply to G.O. Bond elections do not apply to sales tax elections. Despite this, the City of Bartlesville handles both elections in the same manner in an effort to simplify the process as much as possible and to maintain complete transparency.

So priority projects are, as the name implies, given priority and are scheduled for funding before larger discretionary projects to ensure that funding is available for the priority projects — and, as previously determined, the Sooner Pool Expansion Project is a discretionary project.

Here’s a word (or two) from the experts:

“We have to schedule the projects at the beginning of the seven-year period to have a general idea of what we can fit in each year, but it also changes based upon available funding each year,” said Director of Engineering Micah Siemers. “We fully funded the priority projects during this period, but eventually there is only so much left for discretionary projects such as this one if the actual revenues don’t meet what was projected.”

CFO/City Clerk/Treasurer Jason Muninger says City staff makes estimates at the time the project list is compiled for voter consideration, but how much tax is generated — that is, how much funding is actually available for projects — is ultimately up to consumers.

“This is a list of projects we hope to complete over those seven years and the only way to complete them is for sales tax to give us the resources,” Muninger said.

Now, about that project “scope.”

Estimates for the project were laid out by consultant company Kimley-Horn and Associates based on a conceptual plan that included possible amenities that could be featured in the expansion.

“There was not so much a ‘scope’ but a budget based upon a conceptual plan at the time,” Siemers said. “This budget was established using the same consultant we are using today, as they came up with the conceptual options and associated price tag.”

The amount originally projected for the Sooner Pool Expansion Project was $3.75 million. The amount actually available to complete the expansion project is $2,550,000.

To further complicate this explanation, a separate project — resurfacing the pool — will be completed at the same time as the expansion so that cost has been lumped in as well, bringing the overall budget for the expansion/resurfacing project to $2.85 million.

The City Council earlier this month approved a contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates to complete the design portion of the project. A tentative schedule indicates bid advertisements could start in April 2021 with construction options in the May/June time frame, which is, of course pushing into the next swim/summer season. It is likely, therefore, that actual construction would begin later in the year to be on full display and use in the spring of 2022.

The bottom line? Shop locally. It matters.

So close

Has there been any progress on the reconstruction of Hillcrest Drive between the high school and the Caney River bridge? Voters approved the project in 2013. The last word was the starting of an engineering design which would take 10 months, with the project being under taken in 2021. Could you please update the progress?

The Hillcrest Drive improvements project approved by voters in the 2013 Half-Cent Sales Tax Election consists of widening Hillcrest Drive between 18th Street and the Caney River, adding shoulders and extending the Pathfinder Parkway trail in the area.

In September 2019, the City Council approved a contract with consultant Olsson to design the project. According to Director of Engineering Micah Siemers, that design is now complete.

The project is set to advertise for bidding in the next month. A contract for construction could be considered and possibly approved during the Dec. 7 City Council meeting. If a contract is awarded in December, construction on the project should start in the first quarter of 2021.

21 days

I was curious what the rules for political candidate signs that are posted on city property are and to whom do citizens report improper placement?

Political signs are not permitted on City property. This includes parks, buildings, medians, the roundabout or any other places that are clearly City property. They are also not permitted on rights-of-way without permission of the property owner.

To report illegally placed signs, contact Neighborhood Services at (scroll down) or call 918.338.4230.