By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The recent passage of the transportation bond by Norman voters has freed up several million dollars over the course of the next few years that the city can devote to other projects. This year, $1.9 million previously budgeted toward road projects has been freed up and now is available for use.
The Norman Finance Committee, which is comprised of city council members and city finance staff, met Wednesday evening to discuss possible projects for the funds. Linda Price of the city’s planning and community development department presented possible projects for consideration.
“These are high-profile projects that we would like to see get done,” Price said.
The first thing to be deducted from the available money will be expected cost overruns from other transportation projects, including up to $400,000 on the Robinson Street railroad underpass. All totaled, overruns from six city transportation projects is estimated to run as much as $625,000, leaving the city with $1.3 million to spend on other items.
New road projects identified by council members as priorities during the finance committee meeting included the Indian Hills Road overpass deck at a cost of $150,000 and the signals and intersection at 12th Avenue Northeast and High Meadows Drive at a cost of $70,000. High traffic, a school and apartments for persons with disabilities makes the High Meadows intersection a high safety priority, council members said.
In response to the city clerk’s request, council members also identified the council chamber’s audio visual system replacement as a high priority. The estimated price tag on that is $350,000.
While council member Tom Kovach said he would like to look at other unfunded building maintenance needs as part of an effort for the city to take care of what it already has, a need to replace three HVAC systems was identified. Those systems are in the Reaves Center for $10,000, the Senior Center for $10,000 and the Firehouse Art Center for $15,000.
“I think we need to target those future savings,” council member Jim Griffith said.
Griffith said that increasing energy efficiency by replacing those HVAC systems would save the city money in the long run.
Council member Roger Gallagher stressed that the city needs to maintain its systems to extend the life of the equipment as much as possible.
Price agreed but said the systems to be replaced are very old and well past their life expectancy.
Council member Robert Castleberry also requested that a percentage of the money be put into reserve savings.
Park improvements also will be looked at in conjunction with money that has become available through in-lieu-of development fees paid “in-lieu-of” land dedication. A city charter change approved by Norman voters now allows that money to be used in the area collected for improvements in cases where more land is not available.
That money has already paid for numerous upgrades in older parks and for new equipment in the newly established Monroe Park on land leased long-term from Norman Public Schools.
In other finance committee business, City Attorney Jeff Bryant reported on the downtown parking lot meter project.
A building was demolished on the site, increasing the size of the parking lot on Gray Street between Peters and Crawford avenues to serve customers in the area. To deter long-term parking by employees who have designated spaces further away, the city has agreed to install low-cost parking meters.
“The only thing we were looking at was a funding source,” Bryant said.
Republic Bank offered an interest-free loan to finance the purchase of the meters. The loan would be paid by revenue generated by the meters. The loan will be for $140,000 payable in 10 years, though it will likely be paid off within two to three years.
City council members chose to issue that interest-free revenue bond through the Norman Municipal Authority.
Finance Director Anthony Francisco also discussed a contract for the collection of delinquent taxes at the meeting. The contract has two portions. One element would allow the city, acting as an agent of the Oklahoma Tax Commission, to collect back taxes. OTC regularly reports to the city on taxes that are delinquent over 90 days.
“In some cases, businesses are delinquent in paying collected taxes,” Francisco said. “What we would like to be able to do is, first, on our own devices, is to try to collect.”
Francisco said the number of businesses that are delinquent is very small and most will respond to a letter requesting the funds.
“That failing, we would like to use a vendor to collect those taxes,” Francisco said.
The second part of the contract allows for an agreement with an outside vendor to collect the funds and, in some cases, to perform an audit to identify if a business has paid taxes to the wrong jurisdiction.
Francisco said the city can collect back three years on taxes where it was paid improperly.
“Sales tax applies at the point of delivery,” Francisco said. “We would only go after the ones that we potentially think will gain new revenue.”
Other cities are already in that hunt, and Francisco said if Norman doesn’t take action, the city could potentially lose tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The outside vendor selected is Revenue Discovery Systems.
Discussions regarding room tax adjustments and a report of open positions was not taken up because of time constraints. The room tax consideration is a high priority, however, and the council will take it up at the next possible meeting.
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.