Following the failure of a bond package to boost slumping sales tax revenue for community projects, city officials say they’ve got some tough decisions to make.
In 2015, voters approved the Norman Forward half-cent sales tax by 72% with a forecasted 4.25% revenue growth rate. With a slump in sales tax collections, rising construction costs and changing designs for projects, the City Council hoped voters would pass an $85.6 million bond supplement in Proposition 1. Voters declined to pass all four bond packages Tuesday.
All is not lost, said Norman Forward Citizens Financial Oversight Committee Chair Andy Rieger. He said the committee supported the bond and now looks to the council.
“It’s important to note that the remaining Norman Forward projects still have budgets based on the 2015 public vote and that three of the four completed projects (Westwood Water Park, Eastside library and downtown library) came in under those projected budgets,” Rieger said. “It will now be up to the mayor and council, the city staff and the various consultants and constituency groups to work within those budgets or find other revenue sources to enhance the projects.”
The failure of the bonds and the need for the boost in revenue did not surprise Rieger.
“Even without the additional bond money, there was concern that there could be a revenue shortfall toward the end of the tax because our city’s sales tax collections have not grown at the pace projected in the initial Norman Forward estimates,” he said.
City spokeswoman Annahlyse Meyer said the projects will have to be scaled back to fit within “funding available,” including planned renovation and expansion of the municipal complex and a proposed transit facility.
Two projects are the subject of negotiated outcomes, for land location and land acquisition.
Plans for the previously promised Senior Wellness Center to be located in Norman Regional’s Porter Campus remain in place, said Parks and Recreation Director Jud Foster.
“The Senior Wellness Center is still planned to be located at the NRH Porter Campus, off of Findlay Ave,” Foster said in a prepared statement. “NRH is currently working on platting the area, which will identify the specific site for the Senior Wellness Center. Negotiations between the City and NRH, relative to the purchase of city owned property at that location, will continue until an agreement is reached. We are hopeful those negotiations will result in sufficient funding to construct the new senior facility as it is currently designed.”
The currently designed center features an indoor pool, walking track, gymnasium, catering kitchen and multiuse room for art and other activities. As designed, the $12.4 million project is short $4.8 million.
Also, funding has fallen short of design and construction costs for the indoor aquatics and multi-sport facility. Originally imagined as a 25-meter pool, the committee overseeing the project boosted it to a 50-meter pool to attract regional tournaments and the revenue that comes with it. The facility is estimated to cost $58.8 million and remains $36.3 million short of the funds needed to complete it.
The Young Family Foundation, of the famed NBA star player Trae Young, promised to donate $4 million to the project if the facility was built according to design made possible by the bond.
“We are continuing our discussions with the Young Family, and are hopeful that they will remain engaged in the project. At this point, they have indicated a desire to stay involved,” Foster said in his statement.
Foster said he was not aware of grants available for the project “sizable enough to subsidize the additional cost needed to build a larger aquatic facility.”
“It is not likely that we can convert this project to pay-go funding, since the annual Norman Forward sales tax revenues are not enough to cover the cost of construction,” Foster said.
The facility location is contingent on the University North Park Tax Increment Finance District agreement between the developers and the city. The amended project plan, approved by a split council vote in November 2019, provides land for the facility but construction must begin by January 2021.
“The agreement states that we are to begin construction by January of 2021. Recent discussions with the seller indicate that we are not likely to lose that discounted land option in the event we do not meet that timeline,” Foster said.
Despite the funding shortfalls and ongoing negotiations, Foster said the city plans to start remaining projects, including adult and youth sports field improvements, concurrently “to the extent that current…
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