The Norman Transcript

January 12, 2014

Let’s settle the debate (part of it)


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

Having had more time to sit down and reflect upon the Public Safety Sales Tax (PSST I), with its past accomplishments and its much debated future machination, I, on behalf of the Norman firefighters, would like to once again thank the citizens of Norman, including the mayor and the council, for their commitment to and ongoing support of public safety in general, and the fire department in particular.

We feel, and hope that the citizens agree, that the original tax — with its projects and promises — was a success and has substantially improved overall public safety within the city.

And now, five and half years later, you are going to be asked — sooner or later — to put your stamp of approval on the original project and its efforts.

Our main concern is what that report card (i.e. ballot initiative-PSST II) will look like.

Specifically, will you, the voter, be asked to approve of the old tax by voting for its new manifestation (PSST II) — with new projects, new personnel and new money?

Will you be forced to think not just of the needs of the community but of the 71 men and women (and their families) whose employment hangs in the balance.

None (zero) of the personnel hired under the old tax were absorbed into the city’s General Fund, the fund that pays the salaries and benefits of all other city employees. They are “permanent employees” paid for by a temporary tax?

Or will you be able to vote for a continued level of service independent of any “new” Public Safety needs/wants- i.e., moving the 71 personnel from temporary-permanent to permanent-permanent by permanently dedicating a portion (half cent) of the new tax to the General Fund for staffing purposes, thereby wiping the slate clean and ensuring that any future Public Safety Tax stand on its own merit and not on the vulnerable backs of employees and their families?

We, the firefighters, whom you call upon in your time of need, are asking — no, pleading — for you, the citizens, to remove us permanently from this complex debate. Our jobs are not leverage, or at least shouldn’t be.

We are not interested in holding the 71 families over your heads, coercing you to vote “yes” to spend more of your hard-earned money on more “stuff” that you don’t even know for sure that you need — all the while promoting good feelings by calling it “public safety.”

We are not interested in deciding public policy priorities, nor are we capable of such an endeavor. We merely desire to be good corporate citizens, serving and protecting this community — letting you and the politicians decide what our city’s needs are and how we are going to meet those needs.

Please help us do just that. Help us remove special interest (albeit our own) from this discussion; help us continue to provide the level of response and protection that you voted for (PSST I) and expect.

Treat our employees like all other city employees by making the funding source for their employment a permanent fixture (permanent half-cent tax) in the overall management scheme and budget.

We are not a special class of employees, nor are we second-class citizens; we are public servants, just like all other city employees, seeking to meet the growing needs of this thriving city.

So by all means, subject our uniformed personnel — those associated with PSST I — to the same sort of General Fund budgetary debate and public review as all other city employees.

We don’t want to be treated special because of this tax. We are special because we have the privilege of serving this great community. So, please, help us.

Help settle this turmoil. Offer all our employees the same level of certainty and security by demanding a permanent funding source for permanent employees.

Thank you.

MATT HART

Norman

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