Transcript Staff Writer

The City of Norman's 2005 Community Report Card is out, with most indicators showing 2004 as a good year.

City Manager Brad Gambill said there are lots of areas to celebrate the city's progress, but there are many areas to improve.

"It's a great community to live in ? and to work in," Gambill said the report indicates. "But I think there is good and bad news."

The report card is compiled annually by 15 community leaders and city staff as a LINK Norman initiative, coordinated by Scott Martin, assistant to the city manager. It originated in 1996 to focus on several key categories to evaluate the quality of life in Norman.

The categories are civic participation, community safety, culture and the arts, economy and employment, education, University of Oklahoma, environment, health of adults and youth, mobility and transportation, recreation and open spaces and social environment.

The population for 2004 is estimated to be about 105,315, estimated from U.S. Census data, building permits, new business and other factors. That is up from the 2003 estimate of 102,154 and significantly up from 2000 at 95,694.

"It's probably a little higher than we did in the previous 10 years," said Gambill. "It's fairly significant ? about twice as fast as we normally would see."

There are 78,276 registered voters in the city, but election turnout was not good in 2004 with 3.42 percent voting in the most recent municipal election.

"That's pretty deplorable," Gambill said. "Yet we have great success in getting people to participate in various committees and functions that have various purposes. So hopefully we can turn that around. Because when we take action based upon that election, we hope that that election is meaningful."

Crime in the city continued to trend down from the previous year with a crime rate of 35.5 per 1,000 population, down from 35.7 in 2003, and 40.8 in 2002.

That is a victory of sorts for a police department that has the same number of officers today than in 2000.

"I've got to brag on our police department and fire department on the community safety. Crimes are down overall," he said. "What I see though is that we have fewer officers than we did in 2000 per 1,000/population and that concerns me."

Some crime categories that were up included motor vehicle theft, vandalism, fraud and disturbing the peace.

Significant decreases were seen in burglaries, sex offenses, drug abuse violations, offenses against family/children and driving under the influence.

Calls for fire service continued to rise with 7,769 for 2004, compared to 7,335 for 2003 and 6,240 in 2000.

"We had pretty much 1,500 more calls between 2000 and 2004," Gambill said, with the ranks of firefighters going up six from 121 in 2000, to 127 in 2004. "And fire code inspections are up almost 2,000. But we are doing it pretty much with the same labor force."

Police have stepped up compliance checks at local bars to discourage underage drinking.

"Hopefully that will keep a balance for people who serve alcohol at bars to make sure the person acquiring the liquor beverages is 21 or more," Gambill said.

And a new nuisance house ordinance took effect during the summer. "We're really paying close attention of that. And that may lead to more arrests for under-age drinking or public intoxication, but we've got to try to nip that in the bud. So those numbers ought to go down in the future," he said.

Norman's median income went up to $58,043, with the median family income for Cleveland County at $51,257.

"We're attracting higher paying jobs and Don (Wood) and the (Norman Economic Development Coalition) should be credited with a lot of that, if not most of it," Gambill said. "Because we're doing things here the right way. It's not a big, fast growing economy as far as new jobs, but it is significant in the quality of the jobs."

He said it sets the city up nicely especially in the weather-related and computer-related industries to use OU graduates to do that.

There are 44.2 percent of the population who are high school graduates or higher, up from 42.9 percent in 2003.

Residential building permits numbers 652 in 2004, with a consistent trend up from 447 in 2000. Total value of new single family residences in 2004, exclusive of land, was $108,269,569.

Education was another strong category in public schools and the University of Oklahoma.

Norman's ACT college-entrance exam scores averaged 22.4, above the state average of 21.8 and national average of 20.8. The percentage of Norman students taking the ACT continued to rise with 77.5 taking the test.

That can be partly attributable to the quality of Norman's teachers, with 44.2 percent having advanced degrees, compared to 33 percent in similar districts and 29 percent statewide.

"We've got very high school standards and (Norman superintendent) Joe Siano and those people ought to be commended for the kind of teachers they hire and the people who stay with them," Gambill said, noting that the teachers could work for substantially more in Texas.

One area of concern was an increase in the dropout rate to 5.6 percent from 4.3 percent in 2003.

The University of Oklahoma took a substantial jump in endowed chairs and professorships to 373 in 2004, up from 296 in 2003. The state university's endowment funds increased to $640 million, from $599 million in 2003. Research expenditures for 2004 increased to $211 million, from $92 million in 1994.

Environmentally, residents used less water in 2004 at 133 gallons per day, trending down each year since 2001 when residents used an average of 142 gallons a day.

"That is a significant reduction," Gambill said. "The projections were really hurting us to be able to acquire the water we needed in the future. ? It is leveling off and that is a good news story."

Water produced in 2004 was 4.37 billion gallons, down from 4.42 billion gallons in 2003.

"Water produced is down, but that's all weather dependent ? so if we have a rainy summer it's going to be down," he said.

The complete report is available at City Hall, 201 W. Gray or on the city's Web site at www.ci.norman.ok.us.

Carol Cole 366-3538 ccole@normantranscript.com

Recommended for you