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January 23, 2013

Council calls vote on tax increase

NORMAN — Norman City Council members on Tuesday unanimously called an April 2 election to ask voter approval of a 25 percent increase in the city’s hotel and motel room tax.

The proposed increase, from 4 percent to 5 percent of the room’s cost, would generate an estimated $280,000 per year on top of the roughly $1.1 million per year that is currently generated by the room tax.

Half of the tax money is currently spent on convention and tourism promotion, a fourth on city parks and a fourth on the arts. The city has 2,831 hotel, motel and bed and breakfast rooms.

The vote comes on the same day as the mayor and council elections.

“Any increase will be an improvement over our current budget,” said Stephen Koranda, executive director of the city’s convention and tourism bureau.

Koranda said the city bureau’s funding ranks 13th of 18 among peer cities and is “glaringly underfunded” compared to Big 12 cities. The tax generated $1,006,105 in fiscal year 2010, $1,069,000 in fiscal year 2011 and $1,133,930 in fiscal year 2012.

Ward 1 Councilman Roger Gallagher reminded colleagues that a quarter of the tax proceeds are reserved for park maintenance.

“We have parks in the community that need maintenance on a daily basis,” he said.

Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said community arts organizations have a stake here, too.

“I know that there are folks in the arts community that are concerned about possible reductions at the state level,” she said.

Earlier, council members approved a $5,897,600 contract with CGC LLC to begin construction of Legacy Park in the University North Park development, north of Robinson and east of Interstate 35.

The park will be paid for through ad valorem and sales taxes collected by commercial ventures in the development. The plan excludes a water feature that was originally envisioned.

It includes a fountain and a 46,000-square-foot lake. Councilman Gallagher asked about evaporation of the lake and fountain. The lake is estimated to have 2.25 million gallons of water, with a 30 to 40 percent evaporation rate.

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