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October 15, 2013

Sales tax showdownsahead for community

NORMAN — Two temporary sales taxes are funding public safety in Norman and Cleveland County. One is paying for the Cleveland County Detention Center and the other is for added police and fire positions, new facilities and equipment.

The city’s seven-year Public Safety Sales Tax began collections on Oct. 1, 2008, and will terminate on Sept. 30, 2015. The jail’s half-cent tax is bringing in higher revenues than was originally projected. Commissioners have pledged to end the tax once the jail bonds are paid back.

The thinking when voters passed the city’s temporary tax was that the city’s General Fund would be strong enough to support the added police and fire positions and equipment once the tax expired in 2015.

That thinking appears to have been lost in the current discussions. The citizens committee charged with oversight of the tax heard from police and fire officials this past week about their future manpower and equipment needs.

A new fire engine is expected for Station 6 later this month. Grass tankers for the newest stations, Nos. 8 and 9, should be delivered in the spring. Fire officials said they need to replace a major firefighting apparatus every year. An aerial ladder truck and ladder rig could cost more than $1 million.

Additionally, the remodel of the Smalley Center on West Lindsey Street for police and fire investigations is being funded from the public safety sales tax, a project not envisioned when voters approved the tax.

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