Public safety is “a runaway No. 1” priority, an Oklahoma City councilman says as the council begins work on the fiscal 2014 budget.
For the runners who were away from the start line at Sunday's Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, public safety was more than a passing concern. Run just two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, the local event pulled in officers from state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies. From a security standpoint, it went off without a hitch.
Now that the race is run, citizens will return to their lives with an understaffed police department. Police union officials wonder if staffing really is a “runaway No. 1” priority. Adding police officers draws no opposition, but “How do we fund them?” asks Councilman Pat Ryan.
Funding MAPS 3 with a dedicated sales tax (extended from previous capital improvements packages) was a source of contention between public safety unions and civic leaders. The MAPS tax funds specific projects and runs for a finite period of time. Funding public safety is an annual budget matter drawing on general and dedicated sales tax revenues.
Local Fraternal Order of Police head John George would like to see a police force of 1,250 officers. The department is authorized for nearly 1,100 positions but not all of those are currently filled. George seems to think that a MAPS-style sales tax is needed to truly boost the department's numbers.
Remember, though, that capital improvements aren't the same as ongoing expenses. Dedicated, term-limited sales taxes are ideal for capital improvements. A public safety sales tax would be dedicated but not finite. Complicating the matter is the pending need to fund and operate a jail with a countywide sales tax.
Perhaps the time's come to discuss a new sustainable funding source for public safety, but let's avoid comparisons to MAPS. It has a finish line. A public safety sales tax would keep running indefinitely.