NORMAN — Shortly before 11 p.m. the Norman City Council approved the creation of a Norman Economic Development Authority trust following lengthy public debate. The measure passed six votes to three with Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, and council members Roger Gallagher and Dave Spaulding voting against.
The council cut off the public debate, but comments resumed during the public comments portion at the end of the meeting.
Tuesday’s council meeting was another long and bumpy night full of public disputation, not the least of which was over the council’s approval of a contract between the Norman Utilities Authority and Garver LLC to provide preliminary design, final design and bidding services for Phase 2 of the Water Reclamation Facility improvements at the existing southside sewer plant.
The unanimous council approval came after lengthy discussion over whether Sewer Sales Tax funds should be spent on this southside project or reserved for a future northside plant.
The actual contract with Garver was not the issue of dispute, but options for funding the contract were shifted to allow to set aside some of the funding for a future northside plant.
A decade ago, plans for the city projected that the proposed northside plant would be built before the southside plant was expanded. A proposal for the northside plant was stalled when the Department of Environmental Quality did not approve a pipe crossing over the Little River, however. Now, the plan to improve and expand the southside plant is the more affordable option.
In addition, DEQ regulations require upgrades at the southside sewer plant.
“We’re at the point where we have to design something for the treatment plant,” Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.
Three funding sources were proposed in the budget to pay for the southside improvement project — the Water Reclamation fund, collected from sewer customers; the five-year Sewer Sales Tax approved by voters to pay for improvements in existing sewer service; and the Sewer Excise Tax, which is levied on new development and must be used for expanding capacity.
Even with those three sources, voters will need to approve a rate increase to pay for the full project amount. However, the Norman Developers Council has asked for nearly $6 million of the Sewer Sales Tax to be reserved to pay for a northside treatment plant.
Proponents of reserving the Sewer Sales Tax money for the northside plant say in 2003 voters approved spending up to $8.5 million on the northside plant and any other use would be illegal.
Opponents of using the Sewer Sales Tax money for the northside plant said the 2003 vote allowed city council to spend the money on a northside plant, but it did not dictate that it must be spent that way.
Council member Carol Dillingham, an attorney, said both sides have very good arguments to support their viewpoints.
“There’s always two really good sides in any lawsuit,” she said. “It is not the public’s responsibility to pay for everything. It is not the developers responsibility to pay for everything.”
While Rosenthal said she believes new interceptor lines and improvements at Lift Station D which serve newly developed areas in the northside of town have fulfilled the city’s obligation to provide service in those areas, the Garver contract is a good thing.
“I’m pleased we’re going to be approving this contract tonight,” she said. “There’s been a lot of saber rattling and not-so-veiled threats in recent weeks.”
Residents complained that the Norman Developers Council has put pressure on the city council. The mayor and council members said consideration of a rate increase will be several months down the road and how to pay for the southside sewer plant improvements and expansion can be fully explored at that time.