OK: City ponders public transit with potential sales tax

July 18, 2019
This 1/8 percent sales tax would be a continuation of a county sales tax already in place, but it would be a Norman-centric tax.

Jul. 17--The Norman City Council leaned toward using the 1/8 percent sales tax for public transit only at a study session Tuesday night. 

This 1/8 percent sales tax would come from Cleveland County's 1/4 percent sales tax that is slated to end around March of 2020, said Cleveland County Sheriff Todd Gibson. However, the council has to put forth an initiative ballot first and then Norman residents will vote on whether or not to keep the sales tax going.

Public Works Director Shawn O'Leary said this would not raise resident's sales tax, because residents are currently paying this tax. Rather, this would be a continuation of a county sales tax already in place, but it would be a Norman-centric tax.

"Now by the same token, we have to be candid about that. That is to say if the council chooses to not to put this on the ballot -- or if voters choose not to approve it-- their sales tax will go down by one-quarter percent," O'Leary said.

In July, the City of Norman began to take over the University of Oklahoma's bus system, Cleveland Area Rapid Transit (CART) -- but the associated costs are more than anticipated, O'Leary said in a presentation Tuesday.

The city's share of the transit system cost will be $2.45 million per year. The anticipated revenue from the 1/8 percent sales tax citywide, if voters pass it, will be $2.5 million per year.

"I am committed to fully funding public transportation, because if we don't, it will break us," Mayor Breea Clark said Tuesday.

During the meeting, the council discussed opening up a public poll about whether or not the 1/8 percent sales tax should be used on just the public transit issue. O'Leary said Tuesday that Annahlyse Meyer, chief communications manager for the City of Norman, is ready to go live with the poll when Clark is.

Gibson said the county is looking to reduce the quarter-cent sales tax down to 1/8 and continue it, and the city is looking to add a new city sales tax of 1/8 from that quarter-cent as well.

Clark said the county's 1/8 percent sales tax goal would be more of a renewal, but the city is considering is more of a reallocation of that original county quarter-sales tax.

The current sales tax has been used for maintenance, operations and salaries of the Cleveland County jail, which is what Gibson said the county wants to continue with their proposed 1/8 reduction. The reason the quarter-cent sales tax is ending early is because the county is paying the jail bond about 10 years sooner than expected.

The vote for 1/8 reduction on the county side, Gibson said, would be in November, but the quarter-cent will stay in effect until the bonds are paid off in March.

Clark said the city will take its 1/8 percent sales tax proposal to the November election ballot.

Meyer said the first reading of the ballot proposal will be Aug. 26, with the second reading would be Sept. 9. She said it's not on the agenda yet, but that's when they would need to take place in order to have a vote in November.

Clark said this will be a continued discussion until the development of the language, and council members are set to discuss it heavily on July 26 during their retreat.

"The upside to a shorter timeline is it makes us stay focused, it helps us keep it simple, because it's got to be easy to understand," Clark said.

--Roll call: Ward 7 council member Stephen Tyler Holman and Ward 8 council member Alex Scott were absent from Tuesday's meeting.


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