The council approved the end of the UNP TIF apportionments

It was standing room only in Norman's city council chambers Tuesday, with several attendees also filling the lobby area in anticipation of the council's vote on the University North Park Tax Increment Finance District project plan amendments and agreements to end the UNP TIF apportionments. (Katie Standlee / The Transcript)

The City Council ended the city’s most contentious Tax Increment Finance District apportionments after a meeting that lasted more than seven hours.

The council passed a package of line items that end the University North Park TIF apportionments at a meeting that started Tuesday and ended early Wednesday morning. On a vote of five to four the council passed the pre-negotiated project plan amendments ordinance with council members Sereta Wilson, Ward 5; Lee Hall, Ward 4; Alison Petrone, Ward 3 and Kate Bierman, Ward 1 voting against.

The UNP TIF continues until the projects laid out for that area are completed, but council's vote does end the UNP TIF apportionment.

Following that vote, Petrone made a motion to strike each mention of “at least $2.5 million” and the regional draw descriptor from the master operating and development agreement. The motion to strike failed on a vote of four to five with council members Alex Scott, Ward 8; Stephen Tyler Holman, Ward 7; Bill Scanlon, Ward 6; Joe Carter, Ward 2 and Mayor Breea Clark against.

Through the passage of these items the council avoided a $3.5 million shortfall in the general budget.

Bierman proposed some additions of performance standards for the entertainment district, which are more specific to what a developer can build with a $5 million incentive built into the plan.

The motion to amend the entertainment portion of the master plan failed on a vote of five to four with Scott, Holman, Scanlon, Clark and Carter against.

The council then passed the master operating and development agreement on a vote of five to four with Wilson, Hall, Petrone and Bierman against.

Lastly, the council unanimously passed the audit that puts the apportionment funds back into city coffers.

Before the vote to end the UNP TIF there were two hours of council discussion on a new amendment to the pre-negotiated University North Park TIF project plan amendments failed, which would have removed the cultural facility aspect. The new amendment was spearheaded by council members Bierman and Petrone and failed on a vote of four to five, with Scott, Holman, Scanlon, Carter, and Clark against.

The vote required a super majority to pass the Bierman/Petrone amendment. The council originally postponed the package of items Nov. 5 after wanting more time to review the then newly presented Bierman/Petrone amendment.

Discussion for the additional amendment began around 9 p.m. after several items for development and re-zoning measure were considered by the council, and the vote didn’t occur until about 11:30 p.m.

Before the vote on the complete package of UNP TIF items Clark allowed the public to make comments, even though the two public hearings on the matter had already been completed. Several residents got up and spoke to how long the council has taken on the UNP TIF decision and to express frustration with the council’ use of taxpayer dollars.

Greg Burge, professor of economics at the University of Oklahoma and member of the Statutory TIF Review Committee, strongly recommended that the council pause and see what’s in the city’s best interest. This is not the best the city can do, he added.

Some residents were pleading with the council to make a decision, and others were telling the council that it has more options in ending the UNP TIF. Residents vying for the Indoor Aquatic and Multi-Sport facilities also came to the podium, because the funds for the land acquisition of those projects were in jeopardy without the end of the UNP TIF apportionments.

Joe Carter, Ward 2 council member, shared his excitement Tuesday for ending the apportionment, because he considers it to be the most divisive city council error. He noted the benefits for the Indoor Aquatic and Multi-Sport facilities, city budget and added he is strongly in favor of the proposal and moving the city forward.

Scott said she wanted to support City Attorney Kathryn Walker with her vote, and Holman echoed some of the same sentiments. Both wanted to end the increment so more projects can proceed, the city is protected from a natural disaster and road projects can be completed.

Bierman reminded everyone before the vote that there are many creative options in the ending of the UNP TIF apportionments, and said the pre-negotiated deal is OK for some, but really bad for many more. She later said this whole process has eroded public trust.

In reference to those options, Wilson said she feels there is a long game they aren’t seeing. She said the council should be learning from past mistakes and write language that stays away from making them again.

The council originally moved to end the UNP TIF apportionments to address a tight general fund and simmering political pressure, and in August 2018 it first considered several options. After considering an end without negotiations with UNP LLC and UTC LLC the developers sent a letter threatening litigation in February.

In response, the council, city staff and developers entered into executive sessions to negotiate the project plan amendments and master operating and development agreements, which were drawn up over the course of 10 months.

The fiscal 2020 budget, which started July 1, was created under the pretense that the UNP TIF would end around June 30, 2019. Every month the UNP TIF apportionment has continued past June 30 has cost the general fund about $300,000.

The project plan amendments will reduce funds for Legacy Park, the lifestyle center, cultural/recreation facility, economic development and additional costs while increasing funds for traffic and roadway improvements on Robinson Crossings, Tecumseh and Flood and Tecumseh and 24th, among others.

Katie Standlee


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