The Norman Transcript

May 7, 2014

Tough choices lead to downgrade of park road

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Not enough money, Norman City Council members said while slashing $225,000 to rebuild failing roads in Reaves Park to $50,000 for an asphalt overlay.

Comprised of nearly 80 acres in the center of Norman, Reaves Park is one of Norman’s largest parks and serves as a gathering for public events, including Medieval Fair, Fourth of July fireworks and the Earth Day Festival.

Norman Streets Superintendent Greg Hall reported that a section of asphalt roadway has failed, as has a longer concrete section that serves as the park entrance from Jenkins Avenue, then turns south to exit at Constitution Street.

To save money, Norman’s city road crews will do the repair work. The short asphalt section will be completely replaced, but the cement section will be repaired with an asphalt overlay that Hall said could buy the city about five to seven years. At a budgeted cost of $50,000 for the project, that’s about $10,000 per year.

Originally, the road was budgeted for $225,000 for a cement replacement that would hopefully last another 50 years.

Earlier, council members considered removing the project from the budget entirely — at that time, there were discussions of trading the developed park acres to the university — but those talks are reportedly off the table. Now, council members said, the funds are just not available.

“My overall preference would be to reconstruct it,” Ward 7 Council member Stephen Holman said. However, he doesn’t know where the money would come from for the road repairs.

The proposed capital budget was impacted by a $600,000 cost increase for the Robinson Street railroad underpass project. That hefty price tag came as part of a long-negotiated final bill and represents the city’s share of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation-managed project.

Another $125,000 was added for the Griffin Master Plan — a redevelopment study of the property owned by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services along Robinson Street and 12th Avenue Northeast.

Currently, the city leases portions of that property for Griffin Park, Frances Cate Park and Sutton Wilderness. The state will sell some of the property, and a group of community stakeholders has been looking at how best to redevelop that land.

“The community committee has had two meetings,” Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said. “Of these eight goals, there are several things that require planning.”

Goals include a long-term financial collaboration, making portions of the land available for new uses, continuing to provide services for the mental and physical health of the Norman community, development options for affordable and market-rate housing, a master plan to determine cost and impact to the community, restoring the Bishop Creek watershed, securing long-term recreational assets and creating mixed use development for business, retail, social services and recreation.

Another addition to the capital budget is Norman’s $75,000 share of a study for reconstruction of the Interstate 35 and Indian Hills interchange. A traffic corridor analysis is needed.

“This is one third of the anticipated cost of the analysis,” Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.

Sidewalk replacements and repairs on Robinson from 24th Avenue Northwest to 12th Avenue Northeast for $200,000 also was added to the capital budget. The sidewalk is badly needed for accessibility and to connect with core city destinations, city staff reported.

The city has identified more than $3 million representing 30 unfunded but needed sidewalk projects throughout the city, based on requests by Norman residents.

Still, it could be argued that the Parks Department has suffered the most from budget cuts and freezes that started during the recession years. According to the Parks Master Plan’s 2009 count, Norman has 65 parks with 1,140 in total system acreage.

During the recession, four parks maintenance positions were left unoccupied when personnel left. Those positions have since been eliminated.

And while a city charter amendment freed up money for park repairs and amenities, those funds are limited to neighborhood parks and do not benefit large, public parks like Reaves.

Over a period of years, developers were required to either donate parkland or contribute money in lieu of land. By amending the charter, that money became available and must only be used in the neighborhood for which it was originally destined.

Those funds have helped provide improvements for small parks, but there is no special fund for large, public park projects.

Private donations and charitable groups have long supported Norman parks from donating trees and benches to building new pavilions.

Recently, people volunteered weekend hours to refurbish the Kidspace playground at Reaves. That community involvement has been crucial, but some would argue that more funding is needed to maintain the parkland resources Norman currently owns.

Meanwhile, the city moves forward with a lean budget.

Last week, the council discussed the enterprise funds — water, trash and sewer — which are paid by Norman customers. The water fund is particularly tight. The city produces more than 4.5 billion gallons of water annually and maintains more than 570 miles of pipes.

Norman has the lowest water rates of comparable cities in the region including Midwest City, Moore, Edmond, Enid, Ardmore, Bartlesville, Lawton, Oklahoma City, Broken Arrow, Tulsa and Stillwater. Norman rates also are much lower than those in Lawrence, Kan., Lubbock, Texas, and Denton, Texas.

The city budgets $400,000 for emergency water purchases from Oklahoma City and another $1.2 million for raw water purchase from the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District, which manages Lake Thunderbird. This year’s estimated ending fund balance is projected at $3.2 million.

With a targeted operating reserve of 8 percent and a capital reserve equal to the annual average of the next five-year capital expenditure plan, the water fund is short $10.5 million of its desired target.

The city has several water projects slated, including the Phase II upgrade of the water treatment plant. Those projects and the shortfall of funds based on current water revenue means the city must look at all means possible to find the money needed for this crucial service. Norman voters could be looking a a rate increase proposal in the near future.

A public budget hearing is slated for May 27, and the council will consider the final budget for adoption on June 10.

Joy Hampton




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