By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Members of city council and the citizens public safety oversight committee continued discussion of the renewal of the half-cent Public Safety Sales Tax on at an oversight committee meeting Thursday.
Nearly everyone voiced their concerns that the sales tax needed to be renewed, but whether that renewal will go to voters in the form of a temporary or permanent tax during elections in April is under debate.
The two forms of temporary sales taxes being discussed include a seven-year or 10-year time frame. Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said the 10-year temporary sales tax would be more ideal because it would allow them to pick up more capital needs project.
Council member Robert Castleberry said he believes if they are going to hire people for permanent positions, it needs to be a permanent tax. He also discussed making part of the tax permanent and part of it temporary, using the permanent portion for employee salaries and the temporary portion on capital needs.
Castleberry said that option would include making three-eighths of the tax permanent and using the last eighth, the temporary portion, for capital needs.
One member of the oversight committee, W.E. Duff, said one of his biggest concerns is making sure the revenue from the public safety sales tax is only used for public safety purposes.
“If you don’t tie this money down tight to where the city can’t dip into it, you’re going to have opposition,” Duff said.
Rosenthal said with the current tax, they have abided by the ordinance set forth when the tax was voted in.
Castleberry said when money was taken from the public safety sales tax fund and placed in the Rainy Day fund, if that money was ever taken out, it could only be used for public safety.
Other discussions included addressing the need for more dispatch employees. Oversight Committee Chairman Eddie Sims said there is a huge need for more dispatchers.
Just as the current sales tax incorporated payroll for police officers and firefighters, they should incorporate payroll for more dispatchers, he said.
City council members will continue discussion on temporary versus permanent sales tax options in another work session next Tuesday, Rosenthal said. The oversight committee also agreed to continue the discussion during their next meeting Jan. 9.
In addition, Rosenthal said they will schedule a public meeting to get feedback from the community on the issue, most likely in early January.
Police and fire departments also gave their monthly updates during the oversight committee meeting.
Fire Chief James Fullingim said they will have a contract ready in January for the purchase of two new tankers.
As far as filling the nine vacancies at the fire department, there were 180 qualified applicants for the new fire academy. Applicants will take a written exam on Saturday, Fullingim said.
The training portion for the fire academy is expected to begin in April, he said.
Norman Police Lt. Jim Keesee said they have six more officers who recently hit the streets for patrol duties. Eleven still are going through the current academy, and if all recruits graduate, there will only be 12 vacancies at the police department.
Not counting the 11 in the academy, there’s are 23 total vacancies, Keesee said.
The police department also reported that they recently helped host an anti-bullying symposium, received the Human Rights Award for their My Body, My Life program, graduated their fifth Citizens’ Police Academy class and logged about 325 hours of community-oriented policing.
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