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Norman Voters Reject Stormwater Improvements

Sandbags are placed in front of a stormwater drain near a construction site in Norman.
Journal Record
Sandbags are placed in front of a stormwater drain near a construction site in Norman.

Norman voters rejected two propositions to improve stormwater drainage and water quality. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses a direct tie between water quality and the success of businesses and how the lack of investment in drainage systems and infrastructure could lead to serious public health problems. 

Full Transcript:

Katelyn Howard: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Katelyn Howard, and joining me is editor of The Journal Record Russell Ray. Today, I'd like to talk about a couple of propositions intended to improve stormwater drainage and water quality in Norman that failed in last week's citywide election. Specifically, I'd like to talk about any business implications. Your reporter Daisy Creager writes that this was part of a package of three propositions the Norman City Council put forward as the Vision for Norman proposal. One of the three propositions passed, but it was more focused on general transportation infrastructure. Can you tell us more about the two propositions that failed?

Russell Ray: Yes, Proposition 2, which failed with 42 % of the vote, was a $60 million stormwater bond funding 33 stormwater infrastructure projects that aren't backed by state or federal funds. The bond would have raised property taxes by $5.25 per month for the average Norman property owner with a market value of $150,000. Proposition 3, which failed with 39 % of the vote, would have complemented Proposition 2 by creating a stormwater utility to fund maintenance and upkeep of the stormwater system. The utility would have cost homeowners between $3 and $9 a month.

Howard: Now the third proposition you just mentioned is similar to a stormwater utility that Norman voters rejected in 2016.

Ray: Yes, that's right. Over 70 % of voters opposed it. It was a monthly stormwater utility fee that would have helped the city reduce pollution that runs into Lake Thunderbird. The monthly rates would have added a $1.25 per 1,000 square feet of hard surfaces on homes and businesses. There would be an additional $1 per month fee for administrative costs. The rate increase would be about $6 per month for a twenty-nine hundred square foot house.

Howard: What are some of the reasons that voters opposed the fee in 2016?

Ray: Well, the Norman Chamber of Commerce said the proposal didn't clearly define what could receive an exemption or rate reduction. Residents also wanted to know what credit was available to them before voting on it. Those against the proposed fee also said the city didn't spend enough time developing the utility rate fees.

Howard: And just to clarify, this time around the chamber did support the measures.

Ray: Yes. That's right, Katelyn.

Howard: Now the rejection of these stormwater improvements has also drawn some criticism. Robert Nairn, director of the Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds, is quoted in Daisy's article saying that Norman is "a 21st-century city with late-19th-century, early-20th-century infrastructure."

Ray: Yes, Norman is the only city of its size in Oklahoma without a designated revenue stream for maintaining stormwater infrastructure. And as a result, the city won't be able to afford proposed flood control projects designed to improve safety. It won't be able to hire additional staff members, and it won't be able to fund efforts to improve water quality, much less maintain the infrastructure currently in place. Some are afraid that the lack of investment in drainage systems and infrastructure could lead to serious public health problems later down the road.

Howard: Nairn also says in Daisy’s story that he thinks there's a direct tie between the success of businesses and water quality and water availability.

Ray: Yes. Nairn said the more and better water you have available is going to be better overall from an economic perspective than having poor water quality and flooding concerns.

Howard: And Norman also has to deal with its urban stormwater runoff ending up in Lake Thunderbird, its source of drinking water, which has led to the state dubbing it an impaired body of water.

Ray: Yes. Continued pollution will increase the cost of treating the water. Norman, Moore and Oklahoma City are on notice by the state to stop the pollution before it enters the lake. If the city does not get funding to make the needed changes, the state could levy fees and additional mandates against the city.

Howard: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. Thanks for your time today, Russell.

Ray: My pleasure, Katelyn. Thank you.

Howard: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Music provided by Midday Static

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