Public mass transit in Yukon?

Town hall participant suggests rapid system to alleviate congestion, invite visitors

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About 35 Yukon residents attend the third “Community Conversation” town hall forum on Thursday night, Oct. 21 inside the Jackie Cooper Gym, 1024 E Main. The interactive discussion was facilitated by Adam Brooks and Erica Hollis of Candor Public Relations. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Having reliable public transit could help solve some of Yukon’s traffic issues, one resident told attendees of a town hall forum this week.

Longtime resident Jody Harlan believes having a rapid transit system would bring people to Yukon, while reducing vehicle congestion on city roads.

“You can’t have a ‘big league city’ without public transit,” Harlan said.

It’s an investment she believes the City of Yukon could make, just like north Texas leaders did about 25 years ago when they approved a mass transit system (such as busses and elevated trains) funded through sales tax.

Incentives are available and there is a significant “return on investment”, Harlan added.

Her comments came Thursday night, Oct. 21 during the third in a series of “Community Communications” town hall events in Yukon. About 35 people attended the “listening session” inside the Jackie Cooper Gym, 1024 E Main.

The interactive discussion was facilitated by Adam Brooks and Erica Hollis of Candor Public Relations, who asked town hall attendees to be candid and “not hold back.”

Yukon residents were frank as they shared their thoughts about Yukon and its future during the 1 hour 20-minute listening session.

This was the largest and most engaged group among the three town hall meetings, the facilitators agreed.

Yukon city officials will use input gathered from these forums and citizen surveys to develop a capital improvements plan. Voters are expected to consider projects to be funded in a 2022 election.

The latest Yukon town hall meeting was the best attended featuring some spirited discussion. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

TRAFFIC, GROWTH AND WATER…

Increased traffic on Yukon city streets – particularly along Garth Brooks Boulevard, N.W. 10th Street and during Christmas in the Park light festival – was a hot topic during Thursday’s town hall forum.

Several town hall participants said they didn’t want Yukon to grow any more or become like Edmond, with too many people and too much congestion.

A familiar issue was brought up during the most recent Community Conversations – that Yukon is surrounded by Oklahoma City.

Significant development is occurring just outside Yukon’s borders that support Oklahoma City’s tax base while taxing Yukon’s infrastructure and public resources.

A large retail center just south of N.W. 10th off Czech Hall Road was again cited as an example.

All sales generated by these businesses (that have Yukon addresses) – like Crest, Academy Sports, Longhorn Steakhouse, and many others – all benefit the City of Oklahoma City.

One woman told fellow Yukon residents she “rarely shops south of 10th Street” and tells everyone she can “that’s not our tax dollars.”

Crest would be inside Yukon city limits had the Frisco Road interchange been built 20 years ago when it was first discussed, she opined.

Canadian County is Oklahoma’s fastest growing large county, with a 35% population increase over the past 10 years according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Much of this growth is in eastern Canadian County around Yukon.

A challenge facing Yukon is the need for a long-term water supply. The city relies on Oklahoma City to augment its supply and “blend” water to reduce arsenic levels that meet federal standards.

At Thursday’s town hall, Harlan said Yukon should invest in an arsenic filtration system. The city doesn’t use some of its wells because arsenic levels are too high, she noted.

Jim Schmaelzle said Yukon should combine efforts with other municipalities to address water source needs thus reducing reliance on Oklahoma City water.

Schmaelzle referred to decades ago when Yukon allowed Oklahoma City to annex the land south of 10th Street.

Suggestions were made that the City of Yukon should try to “buy” or “annex back” some property from Oklahoma City.

John Irvin said Yukon needs to increase its tax base while maintaining infrastructure to accommodate growth. He believes it’s “going to take really strong business minds” in city leadership to accomplish this.

Irvin joined other town hall speakers in lamenting the quality and condition of Yukon’s 38-year-old community center, especially compared to Mustang.

Rhonda Howard said she moved her CPA firm outside Yukon city limits three years ago because of a lack of Internet provider options. Many people “could not function” in their jobs with poor Internet service, she added.

Howard pointed out the City of Yukon’s current council and management were left to deal with infrastructure problems created by past leadership and a “lack of trust” in city government due to previous financial issues.

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SPORTS PARK … WHAT ELSE?

Several people at Thursday night’s town hall forum expressed a desire to see Yukon develop a new sports/recreation complex with ballfields that bring families here for weekend tournaments, thus boosting the local economy.

One small business owner who moved his family to Yukon 15 years ago said “nothing has changed” and the city’s existing ballfields haven’t improved.

Yukon voters have defeated sports park proposals twice already, Harlan noted.

A couple people talked about wishing to see more revitalization of Main Street to capitalize on historic Route 66 in downtown Yukon.

Yukon has one of Oklahoma’s top Main Street programs, Yukon Chamber of Commerce CEO Pam Shelton reminded the audience.

Shelton referred to “opportunity tours” planned for vacant businesses in downtown and other areas of Yukon.

Town hall attendees shared other ideas about what they’d like to see come to Yukon:

  • New arts/theater venue
  • Pickleball courts
  • Updated city tennis courts
  • New museum building
  • Better sidewalks near schools
  • Refreshed city facilities
  • Expanded or new public library
  • Improved interior roads
  • Re-striping streets as needed
  • Widened access road exiting westbound I-40 at Cornwell

A funding source – possibly a sales tax increase or bond issue – must be identified for many capital projects that Yukon residents want to see.

Howard believes the best option would be a temporary, dedicated sales tax like Oklahoma City has passed four times for MAPS programs.

Sales tax is paid by everyone – not just residents – who spends money inside city limits, the CPA noted. That compares to property tax, which is only paid by business and property owners.

The consensus at Thursday’s town hall was that Yukon city leaders provide “specifics” about any tax proposal – and spend funds on those projects they promised voters.

Harlan, meanwhile, wants Yukon to “get its share of federal stimulus aid” for “qualifying expenses” before raising taxes.

Several members of Thursday’s town hall audience described some of Yukon’s positives, such as:

  • Helpful police department
  • Responsive city staff
  • Relatively safe community
  • Quality schools
  • Friendly people

Residents were reminded to complete the Yukon Community Survey, which is due Oct. 31.

Paper copies of the two-page survey have been included in Yukon residents’ utility bills. People are asked to fill out and return the survey or take it online at yukonsurvey.com

The survey also may be accessed through the City of Yukon’s website, www.yukonok.gov.