Council members want to know the worst-case scenario before the next vote to end the apportionment of the city’s contentious Tax Increment Finance District.
The City Council postponed making a decision on a package of actionable items that would end the flow of sales tax dollars into the University North Park TIF district after a five-hour meeting Tuesday.
Over the years the city has seen shortfalls in the general and capital funds, and the council considered several options in August 2018 to end the UNP TIF apportionments. After considering ending the district, the developers, UNP LLC and University Town Center LLC, sent a letter threatening litigation in February.
Developers, city staff and council spent the past eight months negotiating project plan possibilities and the master operating and development agreements in response to threatened litigation.
The fiscal 2020 budget, which started July 1, was created under the pretense that the UNP TIF would end around June 30. Every month the UNP TIF continues it costs the general and capital funds about $300,000, which has now reached $1.1 million.
Some council members requested Tuesday that city staff look at some potential issues if the apportionment does not end, such as possible cuts that would have to make up a $4 million shortfall. City Attorney Kathryn Walker said she’s not sure where the cuts would come from just yet, but city staff will be crunching numbers and exploring possibilities for the finance committee meeting Nov. 21.
The City Council will take to the dais again on Nov. 26 to reconsider the package of actionable items that would end the UNP TIF apportionment. They can vote that night on the amending the UNP TIF project plan if they do not make a substantial change to the proposed plan, Walker said. If the amended plan looks drastically different, the new amendments would have to go through the review process again, including going back to the Statutory TIF Review Committee, the Planning Commission and the public hearing process, she said.
Walker added it will also require city staff to negotiate similar amendments with developers. Walker said her recommendation in that case would be that action on the remaining items be postponed to ensure an agreement can be reached.
Mayor Breea Clark, who chairs the statutory review committee, said Tuesday she doubts the statutory review committee will meet in December and Clark is gone for the first half of January.
The project plan amendments that came out of the earlier negotiations with developers would 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.
Tuesday’s postponement stemmed from an additional amendment from council members Kate Bierman, Ward 1, and Alison Petrone, Ward 3 that would remove the cultural facility aspect from the district’s plan. City Attorney Kathryn Walker said the amendments were drafted Tuesday and the council did not see them until right before the meeting. Developers in the district, UNP LLC and UTC LLC, didn’t see the amendments Tuesday either, she said.
Walker said she sent the amendments to the developer’s representatives Wednesday morning and said she anticipates they will object to the proposal.
“The developers are committed to moving forward with the amendments that we’ve worked on for the last eight plus months,” Walker said. “If the city unilaterally amends the project plan in a way that is contrary to the term sheet adopted by the council in June and/or contrary to standing development agreements, I anticipate litigation to be filed.”
Walker said Norman Forward projects, from the initiative that funds quality of life projects through a 2015 voter-approved temporary half-percent sales tax, could be impacted by this delay. To the extent the postponement creates uncertainty regarding location and availability of a construction supplement, the projects may be delayed, she said.
The projects are in the early design process, but she said location and overall budget becomes more important the further the architect gets on design. Some residents advocated for these projects during the meeting Tuesday, but residents like Alva Brockus just wanted the council to make a decision either way.
The council lost her, Brockus said, adding she has lost count of how many meetings she’s attended. Brockus said she’s seen the council let issues fall apart through its indecision with topics such as storm water or marijuana facilities, and now the UNP TIF.
“We sat for two years while you guys went back and forth over the damn TIF. We just want to build our facilities so that our children can use them and our adults can use them and our seniors can use them, but you guys can’t just choose a side and do it,” Brockus said before the postponement.
Some residents were in support of the postponement, because it gives the council more time to find an option that benefits all of Norman and gives the council time for understanding.
Ian Moore, city resident, is new to Norman and said a lot of UNP TIF issue is new to him, but the substance of it doesn’t seem new to him based on other governance that he has seen in a lot of different places. Moore supported the postponement, and said there is not going to be a perfect option with the UNP TIF, but there can be better options or other options and that has been his frustration with this process the whole time it’s been a matter of “this or this,” a black and white when there is typically a middle ground or gray area.
“It appears to me that as a council and as a community we want to get rid of something, and we are in such a hurry to get rid of this thing that we are willing to let it take over all other aspects of the community,” Moore said.
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