By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A request from McKinley Elementary for help funding a small section of road along the school’s west side will be put back into the proposed 2013 budget, Norman City Council members decided at Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting.
Council members, meeting with city staff to discuss budget concerns, spent much of the evening talking about putting a small portion — just more than $1 million of Public Safety Sales Tax money — into the Rainy Day Fund. The city’s Rainy Day Fund can only be used under extreme circumstances.
Council member Tom Kovach said, putting a fair proportion of PSST money in the rainy day account could protect police and fire jobs in case of an emergency.
“If there is a crisis, you take care of core services first,” Kovach said.
The proposed proportion calculated by the city’s Finance Department is $1,031,330. According to the ballot language, excess revenue from PSST money can be used for budget stabilization.
“The fund balance is, if you will, our savings account,” Kovach said. “You have flexibility as long as you have money there. Putting something in a rainy day fund, I think, is absolutely appropriate because it’s about emergencies.”
Kovach has served as a guardian of PSST funds in the past, insisting the council wait until Fire Station 9 had been built before using excess funds generated by the special sales tax.
“As far as the rational and the calculation, it makes sense,” Council member Robert Castleberry said. “I agree with Tom (Kovach). I think it’s totally appropriate.”
Council member Roger Gallagher disagreed.
“You shouldn’t be using it for something that broad,” Gallagher said. “I don’t agree to it at all.”
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and city attorney Jeff Bryant said making a contribution to the Rainy Day Fund from PSST would be fully compliant with ballot language.
PSST Oversight Chair Eddie Sims said the committee would rather the city council do an emergency budget transfer, if needed.
“I think you’re going to have a hard time telling voters you used money to enhance something when you’ve just used the money to pay for something you already had,” Sims said.
“When you talk about enhancing public safety, everyone knows that we have done that,” Kovach said. “We have done everything that was promised and additional several million dollars worth.”
Kovach said putting aside money for an emergency is a prudent act.
“I’m very comfortable with making this deposit in the Rainy Day Fund,” Rosenthal said. But she said a full $1 million is not needed. She suggested that only the $600,000 that is needed to make the fund full be transferred.
“I think the Rainy Day Fund is a great way to save some of that money for something that is dramatically necessary,” Council member Jim Griffith said.
Castleberry argued that the deposit should equal the full calculation of $1,031.
The consensus was to move forward with two proposed options for the council to consider in the future, one with the full share of $1 million and the other for the $600,000 needed to bring the Rainy Day Fund to its mandated balance.
Some of the PSST fund will also be used to pay a portion of the 911 Emergency Dispatch costs. The E911 Tariff paid by telephone system users pays for most of the cost. Sims said he believed his committee would support that.