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.
Earlier council members, meeting in study session, discussed curbside recycling and the current contract with Waste Management Inc. Council members seemed to lean toward city crews taking over the services for the 29,500 residential customers.
Officials asked for more information and plan to bring the matter up at a future study session. Several council members indicated that they wanted the recycling expanded to apartments.
In other action Tuesday, council members:
· Amended the city’s land use plan to allow construction of a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on the northeast corner of Porter Avenue and Woodcrest Drive. Council members and citizens quizzed the applicant about lighting, fencing, landscaping and truck delivery traffic.
· Approved contracts for homeless prevention and housing relocation services through the Oklahoma Department of Commerce with Food and Shelter, $50,000; East Main Place, $100,000; Women’s Resource Center, $100,000; Salvation Army Inc., $100,000 and Thunderbird Clubhouse, $100,000.
· Proclaimed Feb. 9 as Mardi Gras Day in Norman. The 19th annual parade will be at 7 p.m. in downtown Norman on Main Street. An estimated 4,000 persons attended last year’s parade. The event, which includes a canned food drive, benefits Food and Shelter.
· Appointed 45 residents to four comprehensive transportation plan subcommittees. They include Charles Hollingsworth, Joe Sparks, Jim Adair, Robin Allen, Stephen Koranda, Suzanne McAuley, Bill Nations, Charlie Nicholson, Rainey Powell, Chuck Thompson, Chris Applegate, Brad Worster, Roger Brown, Evan Dunn, John High, David Huddleston, Marguerite Larson, Gary Miller, Mark Nanny, Jennifer Newell, Renee O’Leary, Larry Walker, Doug Myers, Tom Sherman, Mary Albert, Rachel Butler, Teresa Capps, Marion Hutchison, Richard McKown, Chris Nanny, Cody Ponder, Linda Shannon, Karleen Smith, Evan Stair, Walt Strong, Nick Hathaway, Jim Bailey, Harold Brooks, Chris Davis, Dr. John Dyer, Harold Heiple, Rick Nagel, Joe Lester, Eddie Sims and Joe Lester.
· Approved the purchase of seven Hewlett-Packard laptop computers for $7,327 for the city’s Department of Planning and Community Development.
· Approved a limited license to place four signs within the public rights-of-way for the Friends of the Norman Library romance book sales.
· Approved a $1,986 claim from Hazel McDonald, 2377 Wheaton Drive, for personal property, landscaping and garage floor damage caused by a broken water line.
Late Tuesday, council members went into executive session to evaluate the city manager’s performance.