Why I voted NO – Against City of Norman Oklahoma Stormwater Utility + Service Fee – 23 August 2016

Lantern Timeglass Journal

Editorial Article

by Jim Lantern, resident of Norman Oklahoma since 3 May 2008

Special Election Tuesday 23 August 2016

Why I voted NO – Against City of Norman Oklahoma Stormwater Utility + Service Fee…

City of Norman, Cleveland County, Oklahoma

My NO vote is more against bad city management (and an already too high city sales tax) than against the proposed needed stormwater utility and service fee.

New management is needed before I’ll approve more money by voting YES for anything. New city manager, new department managers, new mayor, new city council. Politicians promise many things and rarely follow through, using money for other interests if they get it. The only city personnel I see doing a good job in Norman every day are EMS, Fire, Police and other emergency services, as well as the people who manage the library. They deserve more money. People who can get a job done should get the money.

The city should have presented a detailed plan to the citizens…

  1. An actual work schedule – what will be done, how, and when.
  2. Then provide an estimate on what it will cost.
  3. And then present a proposal for ways to pay for it.

…Instead, the city is focused on #2 and over-focused on #3. So it is like saying, “Just give us the money and trust us – we’ll know what to do with it and you don’t need to know the details.”

NO.

News 9 Article – Excerpts…

  • The City of Norman has come up with a plan to stop flooding and clean up Lake Thunderbird. However, it will take a majority vote to put the plan in action and not everyone is on board.
  • Councilman Stephen Holman said the City has this storm water master plan, but no money to implement it.
  • “Some homes in Norman, the back of their houses are literally 10 feet away form a creek that is literally carving in and the city has no ability to help them,” Holman said.
  • That’s why the city wants to impose a new utility fee, where residents would pay $1.25 per one thousand square feet of impervious or hard surfaces like concrete, where water runs off instead of soaking into the ground. The city would use aerial photographs to determine that amount, with an average cost of $6 dollars a month.
  • Those with less than 500 square feet of impervious land wouldn’t have to pay. Low income residents would get 25 percent off and churches, schools and nonprofit organizations would have a $300 cap.
  • However, not everyone agrees with the plan, saying the fee structure is unfair. Those News 9 talked to wouldn’t go on camera, but said they simply don’t understand where the money would go.
  • “It’s hard to ask voters to pay more for something especially something new and complicated to understand,” Holman said.
  • Holman said the city would use the funds to clean out debris from storm water channels throughout the city, stabilize eroding stream banks and add more street sweepers.

KOCO Article – Excerpts…

  • If approved, the city would charge property owners $1.25 per 1,000 square feet of paved surface they own. That includes rooftops and driveways, plus a $1 service fee.
  • Gene Hansmeyer lives in the rural part of Norman, owns 110 acres, uses well water and doesn’t understand why he has to pay $20 for water that runs off from his rooftop.
  • “Ninety percent of the time we’re praying for rain and now they’re going to charge us because it runs off?” he said. “We’re gonna vote ‘no’ and encourage anyone else we come in contact with to vote ‘no.’”
  • Norman Director of Public Works Shawn O’Leary said this is a project the city has been working on for 10 years.
  • The average home will pay about $6 but the fee could range anywhere from $3 to $1,200.
  • “The bottom line is: The more stormwater runoff you have, the more you pay; the less you have, the less you pay,” he said.
  • O’Leary added that water quality and flooding is something that affects everyone in the city, including those who live in rural areas.
  • “They have storm drains. The road to get to their neighborhood has an elaborate storm drain. That’s the problem with stormwater. It’s invisible to people. They don’t see the pipes and the channels and the crossings and the bridges and the dams and so on because they’re embedded in the infrastructure.”
  • The Norman Chamber of Commerce has come out against the fee.

For Comparison:

  • My former home city of Wichita, Kansas – from Wikipedia article and other sources. Population 382,368 (2010 census) 389,965 (2015 estimate). State sales tax 6.5% + Sedgwick County 1% + City of Wichita 0% (none) = 7.5% total. Wichita is the home to Wichita State University.
  • Norman, Oklahoma – from Wikipedia article and other sources. Population 110,925 (2010 census) 118,040 (2014 estimate). State sales tax 4.5% + Cleveland County 0.25% + City of Norman 4% = 8.75% total. Norman is the home to Oklahoma University.

Wichita has also always had some flood issues in the same neighborhoods. No sales tax in Wichita with a population 3.44 times greater than Norman with a city sales tax of 4%. Even so, many streets and sidewalks here in Norman are in extremely bad condition, some covered by normal rain water – not just heavy rain floods, and covered by mud after storms. Many sidewalks and curbs are not usable by people in wheelchairs and on bicycles or even just on foot. The city has asked for money before to fix those problems and others, got it approved, and so far as I can see nothing has been done. So what are they doing with the money?

Likewise special votes to get more money to clean up Lake Thunderbird and to solve the drinking water problem – bad smell and bad taste during “turnovers” of the lake, and other causes. Their plan was approved by voters and then nothing was done. What happened to the money? I have found the water department management to be deceptive, and vindictive against any citizen who dares to challenge or question them. Further, every time there is a water related special election vote, suddenly the water stinks and tastes bad. This has happened often enough it can’t be coincidence. I consider it to be deliberate as a kind of threat – to get people to vote YES or suffer from bad smelling and bad tasting drinking water.

It’s obvious Norman needs a stormwater utility because of serious flood problem from heavy rain storms, and other problems with normal rain. Considering how much money Norman already gets in city sales tax, and what the county gets in sales tax, both should have fixed this problem long ago. Bad management of the city and county is the problem, along with diverting money to other interests.

The city approved a new high-rise apartment building and parking garage, knowing it would alter the flood plain and make surrounding neighborhoods more likely to flood, as well as disrupting nature along Bishop’s Creek and the OU duck pond. Out of greed, the city made the problem worse.

Further, it cost about 226 tenants their homes – loss of their apartments at Bishop’s Landing Apartments, where I lived for 7 years – causing some to become out-on-the-street homeless – including me for a couple of months. The Norman Transcript doing a story about that lied when claiming new homes were immediately found for all tenants – that none became homeless. Some became out-on-the-street homeless, and then eventually got help from Food and Shelter for Friends, The Salvation Army, The Church in the Park, and the City of Norman and HUD for Public Housing and Section 8 Housing. A new 3x rent minimum income rule by landlords and pushed by police spreading across the country is contributing to the problem. For example, $500 apartment rent requires a minimum of $1500 net income per month. Loss of affordable housing is now the Number One cause of homelessness in the United States – accounting for 51% of homeless people including families with children. Greed is taking more homes than rainwater floods. Also the police pushing the minimum income rule, along with the Crime Free Lease Addendum. Police crime stats show low-income and no-income people are more likely to engage in crimes, and so that are targeting poor people in low-rent housing. It shuts out innocent people barely surviving on Social Security – disability or retirement, unemployment benefits, and welfare, as well as part time workers – including students. Landlords can discriminate against level of income.

NewsOK Article – Excerpts (from 11 February 2015)…

  • An aging apartment complex will be torn down and replaced by a high-rise, eco-friendly complex near the University of Oklahoma, despite protests from residents that the project will alter the Bishop Creek flood plain and adversely affect adjacent neighborhoods.
  • City council members voted 5 to 2 in favor of the five-story University House Norman Addition that would replace Bishop’s Landing at 333 E Brooks St. Council members Greg Jungman and Lynne Miller voted against the project. Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and Councilman Clint Williams were absent.
  • Inland American Communities Group is proposing a student-based/multifamily housing development that would increase the number of bedrooms from Bishop Landing’s 340 to between 900 and 950 bedrooms.
  • “This is a massive student dormitory and you’re going to stick this right next to my home,” said Charles Wesner, who lives in the Southridge Addition, just across Brooks Street from the proposed complex.
    “It is completely out of scale and will negatively affect Southridge.”
  • Sean Rieger, representing the project applicants, said developers will remove several buildings that are in the Bishop Creek flood plain, create more open space and leave a smaller footprint than Bishop’s Landing.
  • “We are revitalizing a property. This is a significant improvement than what is there,” he said.
  • The apartment complex will have open space on the east side that will look like park land, he said.
  • The complex will feature a parking garage that also will double as a tornado shelter and will offer a bike-sharing program. Developers also want to build “green,” making the property eco-friendly.
  • Rieger contends the development will “clean up” the flood plain.
  • However, geologist Marion Hutchison said filling in the flood plain will cause major flooding on Brooks Street and is not proper floodplain management.
  • Southridge resident Ann Harris said people in central Norman “have been telling you for years we don’t want high density in our neighborhoods. This will just chip away the quality of life in our neighborhood.”
  • Councilman Stephen Holman said he favored the project because younger residents want to live in an urban environment, where there is walkability.
  • “It improves traffic congestion, because they don’t have to drive as much,” he said.
  • Councilman Jerry Lang said he’s not a fan of high density but believes people have a choice as to where they live.
  • “That’s why I live in Hall Park, away from high density,” he said. Lang said he also believed property owners had a right to decide what they wanted to do with their property.
  • “It isn’t up to the council to decide who is a winner or loser in a free market,” he said.

They don’t care about the land or the citizens. Greed rules. It’s a vulture culture.

So at 7:00am CT this morning I walked into the nearby church used for the place where I go to vote, and I voted NO – to be against the proposition.

I’ll check news on TV tonight to find out the result, and might then or tomorrow update this posting to report thee result. 

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