The Norman Transcript

October 11, 2013

Committee raises questions about PSST

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The Citizens Public Safety Oversight Committee raised questions Thursday about where the city council is with renewing the Public Safety Sales Tax bond.

The committee is eager to get feedback from council members about whether the half-cent tax will become permanent, remain temporary or even be renewed as a half-cent tax.

“There’s still needs in this community for public safety,” committee chairman Eddie Sims said. “There’s still a lot of assets that we either don’t have that other communities our size do have or that needs to be replaced. So I think there’s a capital part of this going forward that this will probably be the only opportunity that we have to get some of this stuff.”

Sims said he would like to get a list of needs from the police and fire departments that would cover the next five years so they can plan for future capital needs.

“We can’t go back; this community cannot go back. We still need to move forward,” Sims said.

Committee member George Henderson said it’s important to keep surrounding communities in mind, as well.

“We need to put what we’re doing in relationship to our metropolitan area. We want to be competitive. We want to be one of the best communities, but that’s going to cost,” Henderson said.

The committee will request the presence of the mayor and a council member during a future meeting to discuss the issue more.

Norman police and fire departments also reported several updates to the committee, some of which involved using safety sales tax dollars for equipment needs.

Fire Chief Jim Fullingim said the fire department is currently in a position where it will need to replace a major apparatus every year.

In the next year or two, the department hopes to replace an aerial ladder unit, which could cost a little more than $1 million, he said. The current aerial ladder unit has a 1969 model ladder and the truck is a ’97 model.

“Its time has come,” Fullingim said.

A fire engine would most likely take about half of the budget set aside for city fleet replacement, he said.

The fire department is expecting a standard fire engine to be delivered around the last week of October for Fire Station 6 on East Alameda Street. Two more fire engines have been ordered for stations one and four expected to be delivered in February.

“The two (engines) that will be replaced in February are both on their last leg,” he said, adding that they’re probably only worth $2,500.

The purchase of two tankers were approved for Stations 8 and 9 as well, Fullingim said. The tankers are expected to be delivered by March, in time for grass fire season. Tankers are typically built faster than fire engines, he said.

Police updates: Chief Keith Humphrey said they hope to be moved into the Smalley Army Reserve Center no later than the first or second week of January. The building, on West Lindsey Street, used to be an old military facility with a weapons locker.

The facility will provide an area for police and fire investigations, a crime lab, evidence storage and other police-related activities.

Humphrey said the police department gave their first full certification to Vicksburg Village Apartments for completing the Crime-Free Norman program. The program focuses on what apartment complexes can do to help reduce crime in the community.

Lt. Jim Keesee reported that a new police academy began Oct. 4, starting out with 91 applicants. The number of individuals continuing with the academy is 11. Many get filtered out throughout the process, due to a number of reasons, Keesee said.

Some of those reasons may be that other law enforcement agencies get to them before Norman selects them, some may not have the required experience or college credit hours and some may have been previously convicted of felonies.

Keesee said it’s been reported that 1 in 5 adult males are convicted felons, which can narrow down that pool.

“We’re looking for the cream of the crop,” he said.

Competition is tough with other metro-area law enforcement agencies as well, Humphrey said. While they are starting to look not only across the state but in neighboring states as well when recruiting, that costs money, he said.

“It costs to recruit,” Humphrey said. “You have to make sure you’re not just spinning your wheels.”

Keesee reported that there are 28 total vacancies, 18 out on the street and 10 others at the department.

Some of those positions will be filled by those in field training and those in the academy, he said. The next academy will likely begin next spring.

The fire department currently has five vacancies, which is not uncommon, Fullingim said. They typically do not like to begin an academy until there are six or more vacancies.

He said they will most likely begin looking to fill those vacancies mid-year next year.