The Norman Transcript

January 19, 2014

Make the public safety sales tax permanent

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor’s note: These three former council members were instrumental in initiating the Public Safety Sales Tax which voters approved in 2008.

Editor, The Transcript:

As the public debate begins over the extension of the current half-cent tax for public safety improvements, we enter what is actually the final phase of a plan that was hammered out while we were on the City Council five or six years ago. It came on the heels of the rejection of a proposal the public thought was too broadly stated, so we took great pains to address what had been identified by our citizens as very specific needs with a plan to meet those needs. It was not an easy process. We debated over mechanisms of financing, timing, and accountability. The effort required those of us at the center of the initiative to be willing to compromise and cooperate with each other in order to produce a tax proposal that everyone on Council could support.

We eventually proposed a tax that would provide for the implementation of a Community Oriented Policing philosophy, the construction of two new fire stations, and the funding of appropriate personnel and equipment. This was to be done by sales tax alone, and a temporary one at that. It was a big project and an ambitious proposal, but it came with a Manager’s Plan and a Citizen’s Oversight Committee. Lastly, it came with a strategy for extension.

We felt this was vital in view of the fact that we had taken the very unusual approach of proposing to fund permanent salaries with a temporary tax. The strategy for extension was that the Council ask for the vote in year six, early enough that if it failed, a second attempt could be made to extend it in a way the public could support before the expiration of the initial tax. Additionally, the city manager would be required to have reserved enough funding that employees’ jobs would not be at immediate risk in the event of a refusal to extend the tax. In short, we wanted the question of extension to revolve around the effectiveness of the tax, without manipulation or scare tactics regarding jobs. Thus, we support calling the election in the spring.

We are pleased to say that we believe the tax has been executed as promised. That is to say, Norman has two new fire stations fully staffed and equipped, and our new police chief is fully committed to the more labor intensive community approach to policing which is also fully funded. All without borrowing a penny to do it.

We refer to the extension as the final phase because at the time we crafted the plan, we intended at the end to have created funding to enable all permanent positions to be supported by permanent funding. We therefore recommend that the City Council and the voters of Norman consider funding these public safety positions from the general fund and permanently increasing the general fund sales tax to offset the salary costs. By normalizing the funding for these positions, we signal the end of a project and seal our commitment to funding the improvements to public safety our community had requested.



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