CityScape September 2017

Q&A with Georgie Rasco, Neighborhood Alliance

The general obligation bond and sales tax proposals on the Sept. 12 ballot will create a safer, better Oklahoma City for all residents. Read on for a Q&A with Georgie Rasco, executive director of Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma, to learn how voting YES on Sept. 12 will benefit neighborhoods throughout Oklahoma City.

What do you see as the biggest need for neighborhoods across Oklahoma City? Neighborhoods are the backbone of our City. Neighborhoods work cooperatively with police and fire to reduce crime and fire risks and they know firsthand how stretched our City’s public safety resources are. In surveys and focus groups, neighborhoods have repeatedly asked for better streets, more sidewalks and more police/fire protection. How does the upcoming election address that need? The City heard us! Neighborhoods have an opportunity to vote YES on a $967 million bond package. With the sales tax proposals, it will invest $847 million in rebuilding OKC streets and hire 129 more police officers and 57 more firefighters. This is not even mentioning the investments in libraries, parks, police and fire stations, transit systems and economic development that leads to good paying jobs. Most of the improvements neighborhood leaders have asked for over the years are addressed in this package. What will happen if we don’t address our deteriorating roads? I would hate to see the condition of our roads if we stopped investing in them. We went so many years in the ‘70s and ‘80s without improving our streets and we are still suffering those effects today. We allowed developers in the 1930s to convince City leaders that they shouldn’t be required to build sidewalks because cars were the way of the future. The City is now fully aware of the benefits of sidewalks and is trying to retrofit sidewalks throughout the City. Maintenance of infrastructure should not even be a question: We simply have to do it. How will the street improvements impact neighborhoods? The streets, sidewalks, drainage and traffic controls all work together to keep people safe

and proud of their neighborhood. Many of us have had out-of-town visitors say, “We love OKC, but what about those streets?” Surveys show only 9 percent of OKC residents are satisfied with our current street maintenance. Street repairs were the No. 1 issue as ranked by neighborhoods in the bond surveys that were completed in early 2017. In the past, penny sales tax proposals have been used for transformative projects, but the temporary sales tax on the Sept. 12 ballot will fund street improvements. Why should we use these funds for something so practical? Most homeowners enjoy the results of a bathroom remodel much more than repairing a cracked foundation. However, in the bigger picture maintenance pays off the most. Citizens must vote to allow the City to spend money on our maintenance needs as well as the “new stuff.” This initiative will create a $240 million, debt-free investment in our streets. The $240 million we will collect includes $168 million for street resurfacing (in addition to the $491 million allocated for streets through the bond proposal), $24 million for streetscapes, $24 million for sidewalks, $12 million for trails and $12 million for bike infrastructure. A strong City is achieved when all neighborhoods are doing well. The extension of the penny sales tax helps make this statement a reality in our City. What role does funding for police and fire departments play in quality of life of residents? We don’t really think about an emergency worker’s response time until there are flames coming out of our neighbor’s roofline, or a burglar breaks into our home at midnight. We need our professional public safety officers there sooner rather than later. By adequately funding our police and fire units, response times will be reduced and more officers will be patrolling the streets. Adequately staffing our

police department is something neighborhood leaders talk about on a regular basis, and now we have a chance to make it happen! Why is it important to increase public safety funding? Can’t we just make do with what we have? This is the first time the City of OKC has asked for a sales tax increase since 1976. It will only add 25 cents to each $100 purchase you make. A permanent quarter-cent sales tax increase is estimated to bring in $26 million in revenue, which will help to bolster our police and fire. Response times for police now average around eight minutes, but when we hire an additional 129 officers that response time will dramatically decrease. There are also quality of life improvements as part of the bond package, like improvements to parks, libraries, and other programs that create jobs. Why are those important to neighborhoods? An opportunity to stay in OKC and work in a well-paying profession can mean generational change for some families and the neighborhood leaders I work with support that effort. I think of parks and libraries as the neighborhoods’ living room, where everyone comes together to play or learn. Continuing to grow and improve our system is a huge investment in community and in our children. Why should people vote yes on Sept. 12? Neighborhoods show their civic pride almost daily, by landscaping public areas, participating in clean up days, volunteering to help neighbors in need, and helping local schools succeed. By voting YES on all 15 of the Sept. 12 ballot proposals, you are saying you are behind the City’s plan to put money back into the neighborhoods by improving our community infrastructure and increasing public safety citywide.


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