Local government mandates–first the good news

Nobody fears the coming of a new legislative session more than Oklahoma’s 1,900 local governments. Because they are legally “creatures of the state,” our counties, cities, and special districts are subject to the state’s complete control. The Legislature often exerts that control by restricting funding sources for local governments, preventing them from taking certain actions, requiring them to act in certain ways, and giving them new duties, often without funding the additional costs. Collectively, these existing and new mandates play an important role in shaping how communities provide public services.

The 2009 session was fairly calm for local governments. A later post will address some negative legislative results for local governments. Here are some that most local governments would view as positive:

  • SB 431 allows counties to establish fines and to cite and prosecute alleged violators of zoning, subdivision, flood plain, and storm water ordinances. This gives counties more tools to manage the growing development that is taking place outside city limits.
  • SB 487 gives state agencies and local governments sued under the Government Tort Claims Act more flexibility in working with claimants to structure settlements. This could allow local governments to reduce property tax impacts of these settlements.
  • Local governments got a little more revenue flexibility and freedom from HB 1480, which expands allowable uses of lodging taxes, and HB 1048, which reduces steps counties must take in collecting delinquent property taxes.
  • Counties got more management flexibility from HB 1608, which adds sheriff’s deputies and others to the list of public employees who can work shifts of more than eight hours per day, and SB 490, which raises the dollar amount where counties can award contracts to the second lowest bidder if the lowest bidder cannot fulfill the contract.
  • HB 1483 gives Oklahoma water use priority over out-of-state use. Oklahoma cities support this bill since it may help them meet growing water demands.
  • City governments may find it easier to hire for key positions due to HB 1753, which expands the area in which a city manager may reside to include the school district serving the city and an area within 10 miles of the city limits, and HB 1420, which lets small cities hire part-time city planners.

Local governments came close to another small victory when the Legislature passed SB 490 to increase the number of citizens who must join a taxpayer lawsuit from 10 to 100, but Governor Henry vetoed this bill, claiming “SB 490 would take a backward step and make it more difficult for citizens to hold public officials accountable.” This could be the case, though in this author’s experience as a local official, such suits have more to do with policy disagreements than accountability.

Cities also are happy over the defeat of SB 347 and HB 1484, which would have made it more difficult for city water systems to buy out rural water districts while still protecting the interests of water customers.

Perhaps most important of all the victories–which could affect every county and school district, as well as many cities and special districts–was the defeat of SJR 5 and HJR 1016, which would have allowed voters to limit annual property tax assessment increases to three percent instead of the current five. This would have cost local governments over $20 million the first year and a larger amount each succeeding year. Our fact sheet provides some background on this. Legislative sponsors expressed extreme disappointment at the outcome and indicated it will be back next year.

Next week we’ll discuss the negative impacts this year’s session had on our local governments and report on why the state still owes local governments $21 million for disaster recovery expenses.


Paul Shinn

Paul Shinn served as Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst with OK Policy from May 2019 until December 2021. Before joining OK Policy, Shinn held budget and finance positions for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Department of Human Services, the cities of Oklahoma City and Del City and several local governments in his native Oregon. He also taught political science and public administration at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and California State University Stanislaus. While with the Government Finance Officers Association, Paul worked on consulting and research projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and several state agencies and local governments. He also served as policy analyst for CAP Tulsa. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Oklahoma and degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Carmelita.

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