Nov. 13--Norman will now have the necessary money to fully cover its public transit system after voters approved a one-eighth percent sales tax Tuesday.
"Once again Norman voters have overwhelmingly shown their willingness to support their neighbors by investing in public transit, but this investment is also an investment in our future," Mayor Breea Clark said. "Great cities provide great transportation, especially as Norman gears up for regional transit and moves forward on our commitment to sustainability."
Unofficial vote tallies show 9,473 Norman voters turned out to vote for the one-eighth percent sales tax with 6,666 (70%) casting ballots in favor of the proposition while 2,807 (30%) voted against the sales tax. Slightly more than 13% of all eligible voters in Norman voted in Tuesday's election.
Amanda Harrison, 39, voted yes on the city's sales tax for public transit and Cleveland County's one-eighth cent sales tax proposition for public safety. She has lived in Norman for eight years and has never used public transit.
However, Harrison wanted to support public transit through the sales tax initiative because its an important service and she has two sons almost in high school who might use the system.
"Not everybody has a car, so I think it's important for people to be able to get where they need to be," Harrison said.
Chris Cihlar, 69, voted against both propositions because he said it's a never ending tax and he wants it to end. Cihlar has lived in Norman off and on since 1960, and said he benefits from public transit because it's so close to his home and he is low-income.
"The way I see it is that this is going to make up the $2 million, they [the city] don't have any incentive to find money elsewhere. We have a never ending penny back now," Cihlar said.
Hailee Altaffer, 22, voted yes on the city and county tax because she said allocating funds to community improvements and services is important. Public transit is important to her, because she said it improves the environment, and for some people public transit is their only option.
During the council's meeting Tuesday, Ward 1 Councilmember Kate Bierman announced the passage of the sales tax. Bierman asked Clark if they could sing, and Clark said she would vote no. However, Sereta Wilson, Ward 5 council member, broke out into, "The Wheels on the Bus," and the rest of the council joined in.
The citywide one-eighth percent sales tax will generate an estimated $2.5 million, which makes up the difference for the city's newly acquired transit system that is short $2.2 million. Now, the system's major sources of funding will be an annual $2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, a $1.1 million contribution from the city's general fund and the $2.5 million from the sales tax.
The sales tax comes at a time when a Cleveland County one-quarter cent sales tax will expire in March 2020. That tax was used to build the county jail in 2012. The county paid off its jail debt 10 years early.
Norman inherited the bus system from the University of Oklahoma, who operated the bus system for 30 years, after the university dropped the service in July.
The university sent Norman officials a letter in August 2018 stating it needed more money to address cost overages. Negotiations between the council, city staff and the university failed and OU transferred the system to the city.
The council unanimously approved contracts with Embark, a public trust of Oklahoma City and the provider of public transit services for Oklahoma City and Central Oklahoma, and OU July 30.
As part of the agreement with Norman, OU continued to operate the bus system's fixed routes in July and the paratransit routes in September. Meanwhile, Embark took over fixed routes in August and paratransit on Oct. 1.
The university ended Saturday bus routes before the transfer of service, and now operates and collects fees for student routes only. The city inherited the rest of the university's fleet, and received maintenance training.
Clark has said that over time the city council will consider adding routes, stops and overall enhancement of the public transit system.
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