The Norman Transcript

January 26, 2014

Public safety still a top concern for city council

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Public safety will continue to top the list as the city dialogue on a proposed vote continues this week at city hall. A work session on Monday and a study session followed by a regular city council meeting on Tuesday will allow city council members time to discuss when and how to move forward with the vote to renew the Public Safety Sales Tax.

On Thursday last week, the PSST Oversight Committee met and discussed the upcoming tax renewal vote and is making several recommendations to the city council.

PSST Oversight Chair Eddie Sims said he prefers a temporary tax because the temporary tax lends itself to accountability — if the money is misspent, residents won’t vote to renew the tax.

He said he also understands the desire to make the support for jobs permanent, however, and he personally will support whatever the city council decides.

 “Do we want something to become entrenched or do we want to keep this flexible?” asked Oversight Committee member David Burns.

The committee voted to support the tax renewal as a temporary, 10 year tax, but committee support was divided. With two members absent, four voted to support the temporary tax, two wanted the tax to be permanent and one abstained. Five agreed if the tax were temporary it should be for 10 years and two voted against supporting the 10-year tax.

The majority also supports an April 1 vote, but the committee was divided in a close four to three decision on the election date. The other alternative is an August vote which some say would allow more time for discussion.

The PSST committee unanimously supports continuing the half-percent tax at the same rate and supports using some of the money for school resource officers, communication officers and select capital projects in addition to continuing to pay the salaries of 71 fire and police personnel positions created by the original tax six years ago.

Perhaps most importantly, the PSST Oversight Committee agreed that the city has fulfilled its obligation in how it spends its money.

“The city did what it said it would do. We spent the money on public safety,” Burns said.

Despite some disagreement on when the vote should occur and whether the tax should be temporary or permanent, the committee strongly supports the primary elements of the tax renewal.

“Our common denominator here is we want this,” said Malaka Elyazgi, committee member.

It is uncertain how heavily those recommendations will sway city council members as they struggle to finalize details — or postpone details if an August vote is selected. The splits in the PSST committee over an April or August vote and over whether the tax should be temporary or permanent represent splits in the city council and in the city at large.

The Norman Chamber of Commerce and the Builders Association of Central Oklahoma have spoken in favor of an August vote.

“From my perspective, there is no problem with April. At the time, we felt they were only looking at one track, the 10-year temporary tax,” said Chamber President John Woods. “Since the last public meeting, council has been more open to alternatives. If they come up with an alternative that works and is more fiscally responsible than the current one, that’s OK.”

Woods said the most important thing to the business community is that the city “get it right” whatever that is. If the proposition is ready by April, that’s fine, he said.

“The most relevant issue is the permanency of the tax,” Woods said.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Monday to continue discussing the sales tax renewal.  The ordinance to put the tax on the ballot will formally be considered at the regular 6:30 city council meeting on Tuesday night.

The city council will also consider approving a contract between the Norman Tax Increment Finance Authority, the Norman Economic Development Coalition and Immuno Mycologics, Inc “to further economic development in University North Park,” according to the council agenda.

Immuno Mycologics, or IMMY, is a local company that is expanding and will purchase a lot in the Advanced Manufacturing Center located in the industrial and corporate business park portion of the UNP on 24th Avenue Northwest. Located north of the retail center and Embassy Suites Norman, the manufacturing center is being built on 60 acres of land purchased from the developer by NEDC.

IMMY will buy one lot in the manufacturing center for $1,920,000.

This initial lot sale will kick off the project and help solidify the funding of the loan for the entire project’s infrastructure, according to city staff reports.

NEDC is giving IMMY a $770,000 discount as an incentive, resulting in a “net purchase price of $1,150,000.”

Under the agreement, IMMY will be obligated to begin construction of a 60,000 square foot building within 18 months and complete construction within 36 months.

IMMY will invest about $12.5 million in additional capital with the project. If the company’s business plan moves forward as expected, it could purchase an additional lot for future expansion. IMMY expects to add at least 50 new jobs over the next 10 years at annual salaries of at least $50,000 annually plus benefits.

At the council’s non-voting 5:30 p.m. study session on Tuesday, discussion will include Phase II of the Water Treatment Plant Expansion project. 

Joy Hampton

366-3544

jhampton@normantranscript.com

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