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January 8, 2014

Lots of time left for Norman PSST talk

NORMAN — One of the questions raised in the push to put a 10-year extension of Norman’s Public Safety Sales Tax on the ballot this spring seems to be “what’s the big hurry?”

The tax — a half-cent, seven-year temporary tax to support additional police officers, firefighters and accompanying capital improvements — won’t expire until 2015.

When passed in 2008, proponents said the city’s retail base was expected to grow and absorb the new police and firefighter positions. The recession slowed that notion.

Proponents would like to get the extension before voters on April 1. To get the ballots rolling, they’ll need to call the election at next week’s city council meeting.

At a public meeting this week, some residents asked the city to slow down a bit and get better details about how the money would be spent.

The tax has generated about $42 million since it began in 2008. It’s been used to build two fire stations and remodel the Armed Forces center on West Lindsey Street into an investigations hub for police and fire.

Some wondered how “temporary” the tax would be if it would be extended another 10 years, making it a 17-year tax. The new police officers and firefighters hired with the proceeds are being hired as permanent employees. School-based police officers are envisioned, if voters approve an extension.

Chamber of Commerce President John Woods questioned the need to move so quickly on the project with limited public input. He also questioned why some of the new police and firefighter salaries couldn’t be shifted to the city’s General Fund.

Some capital items proposed include a new Fire Station No. 5, a new city communications system and building to house it, as well as new fire engines. Norman voters have shown they will pay for projects if they know exactly what is promised. A little more time and information could help the prospects for passage.

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