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Norman City Council discusses allocation of over $3 million made available through CARES Act funding

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A screenshot of the Norman City Council meeting on Nov. 17, 2020.

The Norman City Council discussed the capital budget for FYE 2021 to 2022 and possible allocations of the $3.075 million available in CARES Act funding during a Tuesday, in-person special session. 

City of Norman Finance Director Anthony Fransisco defined capital improvements as projects supporting municipal government services, including land use, transportation, parks, water, stormwater and similar services. He said although the improvement plan is tentative in the adopted budget year, it is beneficial to make long-term, five-year capital plans. 

Capital projects receive funding from sources including enterprise revenues, voter-approved general obligation fund proceeds, 70 percent of capital sales taxes, 50 percent of Norman FORWARD and public safety sales taxes, UNP TIF revenues and other grants. Fransisco said recent capital funding looks different due to general obligation bond revenues and a dependency on the 70 percent of capital sales taxes. 

Fransisco said Norman has no funds available for new projects in the next three fiscal year ends. The estimated fund availability for FYE 2021 is about $2.3 million in the negative, FYE 2022 is about $2.1 million in the negative and FYE 2023 is about $241,645 in the negative.

“There will need to be some council action taken as we go forward in this budget year and as we look to adopt the next fiscal year’s budget to close the gap,” Fransisco said. “We will have some suggestions on ways that we might do that, but just know that at this point there is no money for new projects.”

Norman City Manager Darrel Pyle said although no additional revenues have been passed at the federal level, the city is working to get infrastructure projects shovel-ready so they can receive matching funds. He said the work Norman has done to get projects ready should give the city an advantage in receiving federal funding when it becomes available. 

Fransisco said there is a long list of recurring programs in the capital fund for the next fiscal year that can be reduced to cover the $2 million gap. He said the council’s priorities will determine what gets cut and recommended the council not use CARES Act funding as a one-time cash flow for ongoing expenses. 

Pyle said a significant dent in the city budget has taken shape in the Storm Debris Removal Project, which will cost an estimated $7.7 million to complete. 

Fransisco said the project is ongoing, and he is hopeful the city will receive federal matching funds to reimburse 75 to 80 percent of the costs. He said the remaining out-of-pocket costs are estimated to be about $1.7 million. 

Norman Fire Chief Travis King said although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is busy managing hurricane damage on the southern coastline and fire damage in California, they recognize the widespread ice storm damage in Oklahoma. He said not to expect a quick turnaround on a decision as the process is “slow and painful.” 

To be eligible for FEMA cost recovery, Pyle said extensive documentation will be required from the city. 

Pyle said the federal government requests each of the 40 vehicles set aside for storm debris removal have one person riding in them for the next 60 to 90 days. The city must also provide pictures of every area affected by the ice storm and provide its respective longitude and latitude. 

“The only way to be eligible for reimbursement is to jump in with both feet,” Pyle said. “Had we sat on the sidelines, we wouldn’t have cost estimates or anything to share … We are in very good hands.” 

Norman Mayor Breea Clark said the community has an extensive laundry list of financial needs, and it is the charge of the city council to determine where the remaining $3.075 million of CARES Act funds will go. She said supporting small, local businesses with micro-grants would be a good place to start.

“I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with our county commissioners on saving small businesses and supporting them through this difficult time in our community,” Clark said. “I support beefing up the micro-grants, (because) I think people need something to get by right now.” 

Ward 7 Council member Stephen Holman said his biggest concern lies with small, local businesses who have been affected by COVID-19 and paid several thousands of dollars to replace inventory following power outages. 

“This community has spent nearly 20 years investing in places like downtown, revitalization and building up this atmosphere that attracts these local businesses,” Holman said. “The most messages I’ve received from people is we need to help with rent and utilities — that seems to be the biggest burden, and we need to address that.” 

Pyle said a micro-grant of $10,000 should be considered to allow the 300 plus small businesses in Norman receive assistance. 

Ward 1 Council member Kate Bierman showed support for the idea of Ward 5 Council member Michael Nash, who was absent due to COVID-19 exposure, to offer “discounts” to businesses who implement Norman’s masking policy to encourage citywide enforcement.  

“We’ve had a lot of community members that are frustrated,” Ward 3 Council member Alison Petrone said. “They don’t feel like the mask ordinance is being enforced.” 

Petrone also said she recently spoke with a community member who said the Norman Police Department should create a temporary position that responds to mask enforcement calls and surveys masking in public establishments.

Ultimately, Fransisco said the allocated departmental budgets, one percent emergency reserve account, departmental allocations and rainy day fund could provide additional funding. He said the rainy day fund of about $2.5 million can only be accessed if the city declares an emergency and recovers it within three years. 

Fransisco said he recommends the council hold off on appropriating CARES Act money until it is certain Norman will receive federal funding. He said he would rather see councilmembers take the time necessary to make the most effective choices for the community. 

Toward the end of the meeting, Clark called for Norman citizens to contact state legislatures as the council is now required to meet in-person following the expiration of the Open Meetings Act Nov. 15. She said the state must call a special session to extend the emergency order that allows them to meet on Zoom so the entire council can safely represent their wards. 

“It's not just about staff or elected officials,” Clark said. “It's about the thousands of Norman residents who deserve to be represented in these meetings. We're having crucial conversations that save businesses, save families and essentially save lives in our community. So if you have not already reached out to your state legislators, I urge you to do so tonight.”

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