The Norman Transcript

April 10, 2013

Council approves hospital bond refinance

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The Norman City Council gave the thumbs up Tuesday night to a revenue bond refinance proposed by the Norman Regional Health System Board that will result in a savings of $3.68 million.

The health system is a public trust and approval for debt issuance is required by the Norman City Council. With interest rates at an all-time low, the opportunity to save through refinance arose for $27.385 million worth of 2002 bonds.

In January, Siemens Public Inc. offered to purchase $25 million of tax-exempt debt from the hospital authority.

The new bonds are projected at an average interest rate of 3.73 percent, with 10-year terms replacing the 2002 bond’s average rates of 5.45 percent.

Like the 2002 bonds, the new debt will be refinanced as revenue bonds “secured only by the proceeds generated from the operations of the NRHS. No city of Norman revenues, property or credit was pledged to secure” either series of bonds, according to city staff notes.

The original bond issues totaled $55 million, and much of that debt has been repaid. The new bond issuance will be for $25 million.

In other city business, two potentially controversial items were postponed.

A high-density project proposed for 710 Asp Ave. was postponed again until May 14 at the request of the applicant, Mark Risser. The project has encountered opposition from some residential neighbors and at least one Campus Corner merchant. The project is located in the Campus Corner district.

Currently, the Norman City Council is creating special zoning districts to allow for higher levels of density than is currently allowable by the city’s Mixed Use Development or Planned Unit Development zoning.

Campus Corner is one area under consideration as a possible High-Density Zoning Overlay District. However, Ward 4 Council member Greg Jungman, among others, are pushing to keep building height requirements limited to three or four stories in that area.

Some developers say high-density projects may not be financially feasible with those height limitations. The Risser project on Asp has gone through many changes and has been postponed several times, both at the Planning Commission level and the city council level.

Currently that property is occupied by the Norman Economic Development Coalition and others in NEDC’s business accelerator, eTec. The eTec provides 10,000 square feet of business space to assist new technology companies.

One option is for NEDC to stay in that location, but even if the offices relocate, Executive Director Don Wood said NEDC is not taking a position on the project. NEDC has a second business accelerator on Flood Avenue.

Another controversial zoning issue postponed at Tuesday’s meeting was a request to allow a former single-family residence at 1515 W. Main St. to be converted to a private school.

The home was purchased so a Waldorf-based educational system school, Rose Rock School, could be established on the site. The current zoning for the site is R-1, single-family residential, and a special use must be granted to allow for the school on the property, according to city staff notes.

Opposition to the school from neighbors has focused on traffic issues when children are dropped off and picked up.

Following the regular meeting, the city council went into executive session to discuss two items: pending litigation, Chavez vs. the city of Norman, and the city manager’s evaluation.

Court records indicate Jose Chavez is a former Norman police officer. He resigned and believed he would be paid a percentage for unused sick leave but was not. He filed suit and the court found in his favor on Sept. 19, 2012. District Judge Tom Landrith noted that the Collective Bargaining Agreement police have with the city is “silent on the issue of the payment of sick leave to city employees who resign.”

Therefore, the city’s Personnel Manual would be in effect in this issue, the judge said. Landrith found the city owed Chavez $8,206 in back sick pay plus “statutory post-judgment interest,” according to court records.

The city made a motion for a new trial and Landrith denied that in November.

The city next filed an appeal.

While the amount ordered paid to Chavez sounds relatively small by city budget standards, the case could set a precedent that would open the door to endless numbers of suits by former police and fire union employees to sue for back sick leave.

The last action recorded in the open court records available on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network is a request by attorney L. Wayne Edgar, to withdraw as counsel for Chavez. That request was filed April 2. Because Chavez is still represented by the firm of Don G. Pope, it seems unlikely this is the action that necessitated an executive session.

No possible action is listed on the city agenda for either executive session item. Therefore, the city council did not take any action on either executive session item.

Joy Hampton



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