Edmond road projects
The City of Edmond has slated $2.5 million to widen Sooner Road north of Conference Drive, provide a left turn lane into the new Crest Foods location and add signal lights. (Joe Tomlinson)

City of Edmond staff have identified nine key road improvement projects estimated to cost $99 million, but municipal leaders are still trying to identify a funding source — local, county, state or federal — for about $73 million worth of the projects.

With the city’s capital improvement projects funds nearly fully pledged for the next several years, Edmond officials are looking for different revenue sources, and some have called for the city to consider an election to take out general obligation bonds to fund road improvement projects.

“Council has had on their strategic plan to look for alternative funding sources and the Willdan study mentions, ‘Hey, you have no bond debt. You’re missing opportunities,'” Scot Rigby, Edmond city manager, said. “When I say missing opportunities, there’s an opportunity if you want to do some additional projects and move projects along — there is a value for that.”

Rigby said utilizing general obligation bonds could provide the city with a different funding source than sales or use tax, which finances multiple city functions besides capital projects, and can ebb and flow.

“Sales tax, use tax — those are some [sources] that can be volatile, whether you’re Edmond or any other city,” Rigby said. “Sales tax might be up, great, but you always have this balance of a GO to say, ‘Yes, there is some level of balance.'”

Rigby said multiple incoming feasibility studies and plans could lead the city to focus funding on quality-of-life projects:

“Those are all ticket items, so how do you fund those? You could fund them, it just may take this long to do,” Rigby said. “Versus if you had a GO (bond program), does that allow you to shorten that timeline?”

Asked if a municipal general obligation bond election could be possible as early as November, Rigby said he would not speak for members of city council.

“That’d be really quick, but I’m not going to tell council they can or can’t do it,” Rigby said. “There’s certain processes you have to go through, whether it be a sales tax or property [tax] and things like that. What are the projects you’re going to fund with it or not fund with it?”

‘I think a GO bond is going to be the way to go’

Route 66
U.S. Route 66 and U.S. Route 77 intersect at South Broadway and East Second Street in downtown Edmond, Oklahoma. (Joe Tomlinson)

General obligation bonds are essentially loans taken out to finance projects with an entity’s full faith and credit backing repayment over time. Prior to an election to authorize general obligation bonds, city leaders would typically propose a list of capital projects to be funded.

While the Edmond Public Schools district has used general obligation bonds for decades to fund new school buildings and renovate existing facilities, the city of Edmond has never used them. Some Edmond leaders note that every other city in Oklahoma with a population of at least 50,000 residents has done so.

Members of the Edmond City Council and the Edmond Planning Commission have publicly floated general obligation bonds as a way to expedite road improvement projects.

When donor Hal French and attorney Randel Shadid proposed the now-defunct Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park to the Edmond Planning Commission on April 18, Commissioner Brian Blundell pointed out the city’s inability to widen North Coltrane Road before the project’s anticipated completion date due to insufficient balances in the 2000 and 2017 Capital Improvement Project funds.

“I would love to see this have the widening of that before this project happens. It’s not possible,” Blundell said. “The city doesn’t have the funds yet. They are already obligated. The (Capital Improvement Projects) committee is fully funded for the next several years.”

Blundell then called for the city to consider an election to authorize general obligation bonds to provide ample funding for road improvements.

“The roads are a problem in this city. (…) I think everybody in this room who is here talking about road projects needs to start thinking about how do we get these road projects, and I think a GO bond is going to be the way to go,” Blundell said. “When you start hearing a campaign, start really thinking about that.”

When French and Shadid presented the project to the Edmond City Council on May 22, Ward 1 Councilman Tom Robins floated the same idea.

“Our city needs dedicated, transparent transportation funding for our city. It’s a conversation that we haven’t had. We tend to take it out of our general revenue or CIP, which need to go to the support of our quality-of-life projects,” Robins said. “I might be wrong and the voters might give me a big thumbs down, but from a leadership standpoint, what I want to propose over the next year is something that we’ve been talking about or people have been chatting about — will this city support a general obligation bond for transportation?”

Robins: Transportation the top priority for Edmondites

Then-Ward 1 candidate Tom Robins speaks during an Edmond City Council debate Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Michael Duncan)

Robins said Edmond residents’ No. 1 priority is transportation infrastructure year after year, and the city needs a plan to address that concern. Ideally, Robins said, he would like to have a similar transportation plan to that of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, which outlines the state’s road projects eight years into the future.

Robins said he believes Edmond is in a great position to tackle its transportation needs at the municipal, county, state and federal levels. Robins noted that two Edmond-area legislators, Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) and Rep. Preston Stinson (R-Edmond), lead the Oklahoma House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Committee on Transportation, respectively.

“As we’ve grown to about 100,000 residents and we continue on that path, if our No. 1 concern is transportation, then we need somebody who’s going to take the bull by the horns and understand how all those groups fit together,” Robins said.

Asked for his stance on a GO bond election, Robins said the city needs to get each of those levels of government on the same page before deciding how to attack the city’s road improvement issues.

“I think if we don’t know what the plan is, what the opportunities are and how we can magnify it all together, it’s a little premature to say we have to do X, Y, Z in funding, right?” Robins said. “But I think I’ve told every single person I’ve met with I want to have the conversation.”

Peterson: City growth is a ‘fact of life’

The Edmond City Council returns from executive session at its meeting Monday, June 26, 2023. (Joe Tomlinson)

Ward 4 Councilwoman Stacie Peterson said she supports holding a GO bond election for road improvement projects and that she is eager to find alternate revenue sources.

“It’s absolutely something I would like. It’s hard to know how the citizens of Edmond would go for something like this. It could go either way, because they are so serious about fixing the roads,” Peterson said. “Edmond is growing. We have more and more roads to take care of because the population [increase] and people using them. It’s just a fact of life.”

But Peterson said Edmondites do not want their quality-of-life projects cast aside.

“The citizens of Edmond will not put up with us saying, ‘OK, give money for quality-of-life 100 percent to roads,'” Peterson said. “It won’t happen. It can’t happen. It won’t happen in this community. People in this community require quality of life.”

Asked if she might lobby other council members to support a GO bond election, Peterson said she would.

“Ultimately, I can support it all I want. It has to be voted on the people. It is their right to vote on any sort of taxation,” Peterson said. “They’re going to have to want it, but I think it’s also my responsibility to put it before them to have that right to vote on.”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Christin Mugg said she wants to continue having the conversation about finding additional revenue sources, including GO bonds.

“The community wants more projects and more things to happen than we have sales and use tax revenue to do it. So, I think we’ve got to explore other strategies to increase revenue,” Mugg said. “I think general obligation bonds are certainly something we need to have the discussion about. I think if we did consider it, I would support it being incredibly specific what that bond is for, so there is a lot of clarity for voters.”

Mugg said taking out GO bond loans for road projects could free up future CIP funds to be used for quality-of-life projects.

“I think if people are paying additional property tax, I think transportation projects are something that I think almost everyone would support and feel good about supporting,” she said

In a statement, Edmond Mayor Darrell Davis also said he wants to have the conversation.

“I feel we need to have open communication with all our stakeholders such as the school board, citizens, Edmond Chamber of Commerce, Edmond Economic Development Authority, and city staff to determine what alternative funding strategies to use for city budget matters. It is widely known that many families move to Edmond for the educational systems here,” Davis said. “The ad valorem tax goes to the Edmond Public School system, Francis Tuttle Vo Tech School, and Oklahoma County. I support these allocations, but as mayor, we need to have discussions and economic studies on the most effective and efficient means of generating revenue to fund essential government services.”

Rigby said other ballot questions could come before Edmond residents in the next few years, such as an increase to the the city’s 4 percent lodging tax and a vote to renew the 1/2-cent 2017 CIP sales tax, which generates about $11.5 million annually. Residents may also be asked to support a metro-area commuter rail effort.

In November, the Edmond City Council received a recommendation from VisitEdmond to place a question on a 2023 ballot asking Edmond citizens whether to increase the city’s lodging tax from 4 percent to 5.5 percent.

“We have multiple questions that are out there. VisitEdmond has said, ‘Hey, what about bed tax or hotel tax?’ Is that something to address? (…) ‘Hey, you’ve got your sales tax that is scheduled to expire in 2027. You don’t have to wait till 2027. Do you want to tackle that earlier?'” Rigby said. “So is that a different priority than GO? I don’t know. Council has got to weigh all those different situations.”