Norman residents will vote Tuesday, Aug. 25 on four separate general obligation bonds, referred to as GO Norman 2020, which consist of projects with a combined cost of about $120 million.
The bond propositions aim to finish the remaining Norman FORWARD projects, address homelessness in the city, renovate and expand municipal facilities and develop a relief program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Breea Clark said these propositions could play an important role in Norman’s recovery from the pandemic.
“First of all, with the yes vote Aug. 25, that will allow us to lock in low interest rates for the construction that will inevitably happen as we start building these projects,” Clark said. “With construction also comes job creation, which will be very important in pulling us out of the downfall that has been the economic fallout of COVID. And why this is the perfect time is because we can move forward on those two aspects, but we won’t feel the financial impacts of a property tax increase until 2022.”
If these four bonds are approved, the average Norman homeowner would pay about $14 a month, according to the city’s website.
Proposition 1, the most expensive bond proposition, would authorize $85.6 million toward completion of the remaining projects for Norman FORWARD, a proposal that was approved by voters in 2015 to renovate, expand, construct and fund quality-of-life projects such as recreational facilities and parks.
This includes an indoor multi-sport and aquatic facility that would cost $59.4 million. Clark said this facility would allow Norman to host more sports tournaments, which she said could create more economic opportunities for the city.
“Not only is it less travel for our athletes, but it helps bring that sport tourism piece to get people to stay in our community, to stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants,” Clark said.
University of Oklahoma economics professor Cynthia Rogers said from a broader community perspective, research suggests sports facilities do not serve as economic drivers for the community.
“The question really isn’t just ‘If we spend a whole lot more money, will more people come to town?,’” Rogers said. “What you would really have to do is a cost-benefit of that. We’re talking about almost a $60 million investment. So for that much, how much net new or extra new economic activity - so spending in restaurants - would it take to cover that spending? And when you look at it that way - if you ask that question - the research is pretty clear. They (researchers) say it doesn’t create net new activity, at least not enough to cover their (the city’s) costs.”
Rogers said the operating costs for pools are very expensive and typically don’t do enough revenue generating activity to cover those costs.
“I think the question that we missed and the city just kind of skipped this step was ‘What’s the optimal size pool to balance all our needs and work within our budget?,’” Rogers said. “I think that’s the conversation we need to have, not do we want a pool or not. As taxpayers, we don’t get to vote on the size we want. We get take it or leave it.”
Proposition 2 would have $5 million go toward research, planning and construction for “one or more built solutions” for Norman’s homeless population. Proposition 3 would provide $24.3 million to renovate municipal facilities such as the police department, city hall and fleet and fire maintenance facilities.
According to Clark, this would create a “user friendly, one-stop shop” permitting location. These offices are currently housed in different buildings.
She said this proposition would fund the construction of a new emergency operations/dispatch center, which is currently located in the basement of the police department.
Proposition 4 would authorize $5 million to develop a relief program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We could see the holes in funding that was coming from the state and the federal government to help these businesses and so ours (relief program) was looking at really kind of supporting the smaller businesses,” Clark said.
The proposition would reimburse businesses for expenses associated with transitioning to online services during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Clark.
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