Frequently Asked Questions


General

What is a general obligation bond?

A general obligation bond, or GO bond, is a common financing tool local and state governments use to fund certain infrastructure projects - usually large capital improvements like roads, bridges, flood control, parks, and public buildings.

In Oklahoma, the property tax received by the City of Norman, also known as ad valorem tax, is used to pay the interest and principal on GO bonds.  GO bonds must be approved by a vote of the people.

 

When is the election?

April 2nd, 2019, is the election date.
Citizens must be registered to vote in the City of Norman in order to be eligible to vote in the April 2, 2019 bond and utility election.
Important Election Dates:

  • March 8: Last day to register to vote

  • March 27: Last day to apply for an absentee ballot

  • March 28 – 29: In-person early voting

  • April 2: Election Day

Residents can download voter registration forms or find their polling place at clevelandcountyelectionboard.com.

Where do I vote?

You will vote in the precinct assigned to you by the Cleveland County Election Board.  To locate your precinct, view sample ballots, update your registration or complete an absentee ballot, you can contact the Cleveland County Election Board, http://www.clevelandcountyelectionboard.com/.

Will I approve the entire infrastructure improvement package with a single vote?

There will be three separate propositions you will need to approve.  Each proposition will require you to vote either for or against the proposition.

  • Proposition 1 - Transportation Bond Projects

  • Proposition 2 - Stormwater Bond Projects

  • Proposition 3 - Stormwater Utility Fee

How do I know the City will spend the money wisely and as promised?

Since the very beginning of this process, fiscal responsibility and transparency have been top priorities. The City will provide ongoing updates on budget performance and project progress for all three propositions through the website and during Council meetings. Additionally, the establishment of a Citizen Oversight Committee has been recommended by the Stormwater Citizen Committee to oversee both the stormwater bond program and the stormwater utility. Because the stormwater utility fee would be supported by a dedicated Enterprise Fund, revenue generated by the utility fee or specifically budgeted to the Stormwater Division from the General Fund cannot be spent on anything else other than for stormwater-related expenses.

 

What is the General Fund?

The General Fund is part of the City's budget that pays for day-to-day operations. For example, the General Fund includes public safety operations, parks maintenance and general day-to-day maintenance of our streets and stormwater systems. 

 

What is the payment timeline for the bonds?

A bond is a low-risk loan that is paid back by raising property taxes for residential and commercial properties. The bond period for both transportation and stormwater is for 20 years and is adjusted for inflation.

 

If the 2019 bond packages are approved in April, when will the projects be completed?

It is anticipated that work on all projects in the transportation and stormwater bond packages will take approximately 10 years to complete.

 

How do I know bond projects are actually being completed from prior bond programs?

Click here for an up-to-date list of current 2012 Transportation Bond projects and the status of each project.

 

What if there is money left over after the recommended infrastructure bond projects are completed?

The State Constitution allows for any excess funds to be spent on other projects with the same purpose as the original project, i.e. excess funds from a stormwater infrastructure project may be spent on another stormwater infrastructure project.


Transportation Bond

Will this proposition raise my taxes?

No.  This general obligation bond will replace the previous Transportation Bond that has been paid.

 

Why do we need to pay for these with a bond?

The size of the City's capital budget does not allow us to take on a program of this magnitude. A general obligation bond, or GO bond, is a common financing tool local and state governments use to fund certain infrastructure projects - usually large capital improvements like roads, bridges, flood control, parks, and public buildings.

 

Do the bond projects include costs for inflation?

Yes. City staff engineers have carefully estimated the cost of each project based upon the best available information and a contingency has been included in each cost estimate to address inflation, design issues and other unforeseen project costs.

 

How were the projects selected?

The 19 projects put forward in Proposition 3 were selected with City Council input and from the City's 2014 Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP). The CTP was developed in collaboration with a 45 member citizen's committee and now serves as Norman's long-term vision for a range of transportation options.

Projects in the proposed transportation bond that are to be fully funded by the City were selected based on highest priority, readiness to go and projects where federal funding would be difficult to secure. Federally-funded projects were selected based on specific recommendations made in the CTP.


Stormwater Bond

Why do we need a bond to fund stormwater infrastructure projects?

In the City’s 2009 Storm Water Master Plan over 60 projects were identified as critical to addressing flooding and water pollution issues in Norman. In the new proposal from the Stormwater Citizen Committee, a bond of $60 million was proposed as a reasonable option to fund 33 of these projects while still keeping the cost low to Norman property owners. The projects proposed for the general obligation bond will address infrastructure improvements with the aim of reducing flooding in Norman.

How were the projects selected?

The 33 projects are a subset of the projects identified in the 2009 Storm Water Master Plan.  Criteria for selection included project priority ranking (the highest priority projects were selected in each Ward), location (the goal was to have at least one project per Ward. At least three in each Ward were identified), and project cost (the total cost of all of the projects could not exceed $60 million).

 

Will this proposition raise my taxes?

Yes.  Because federal and state funding for stormwater infrastructure improvements is not currently available, the City needs to identify other sources of funding to make the necessary improvements to our stormwater system.  GO bonds are a common financing tool used by local and state governments to fund infrastructure projects for flood control and water quality improvement. The city's levy for debt service on this bond is 5 mils and is based on a property's market value.  Estimated increases are provided below and continue to increase as market value increases.

  • $3.40 per month ($100,000 market value)

  • $5.25 per month ($150,000 market value)

  • $7.11 per month ($200,000 market value)

  • $10.82 per month ($300,000 market value)


Stormwater Utility

What is a stormwater utility fee?

A stormwater utility fee is an Enterprise Fund dedicated only for stormwater services such as the installation, operation and maintenance of infrastructure. Other utilities in Norman are Enterprise Funds, meaning that managing the utilities and their operations is paid by fees from rate payers and not from taxes. Examples include sanitation, water and wastewater utilities. Over 20 other Oklahoma cities have stormwater utility fees, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond and Stillwater. If approved the stormwater fee would show up on residents’ utility bills.

 

The Cities of Moore, Tuttle, Newcastle, Blanchard and Noble do not pay any stormwater utility fees. Why do we need a stormwater utility fee?

As the third largest city in Oklahoma, Norman has always been proactive and concerned about the environment. When it comes to stormwater, though, we are behind the curve, and Norman is the only large city in Oklahoma without a stormwater utility. The Committee worked hard to keep the proposed fees as low as possible given the needs. Visit www.normanstormwater.com to see a comparison of rates to other cities similar to Norman.

How is this different from the 2016 Stormwater Utility Fee proposal?

In August 2016, a stormwater utility fee based on the amount of impervious surface failed. This fee was complicated, had no cap, and was not the right plan for Norman. In an effort to find the right plan for Norman, the Stormwater Citizen Committee was formed. It consisted of sixteen volunteer members representing every Ward from various professional backgrounds. They proposed a $3, $6 or $9 a month fee for residential properties based on first-floor living area and a $12, $45, $80 or $160 a month fee for non-residential properties based on total parcel size. In January 2019, City Council voted unanimously to move this utility fee proposal forward for an April 2, 2019 election. A 30% credit for low income residents and a 30% agricultural credit were also approved. This means that, unlike the 2016 Stormwater Utility Fee proposal, no homeowner will pay more than $9 per month for a residential property.

 

I have some farmland with only a barn on it.  Will I be charged a fee?

No.  Parcels with only barns, sheds, or other outbuildings that are not dwelling units are classified as undeveloped parcels.  Undeveloped parcels will not be charged a stormwater utility fee.

 

Are there any credits?

Yes.  There are two credits available to residential customers.  One is a 30% low income credit, and the other is a 30% agricultural credit.  Only one credit can apply to a single parcel, i.e. you can't receive both a low income credit and an agricultural credit.

In order to receive the low income credit, you must qualify as low income as defined by Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937, as amended by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.  If you are already receiving a discounted rate for water, sewer, and trash services, this credit will be applied automatically.  If you do not currently receive a low income credit for other services, you will need to submit a Low Income Credit Application form.  An Annual Income Certification form will need to be submitted once a year to continue to receive this credit.

The agricultural credit is only available for residential customers with parcels zoned A-1 or A-2.  This credit will be applied automatically.

 

What will the utility fee pay for?

Flooding and water pollution are city-wide problems. All eight Wards would see benefits from the proposed bond and utility fee with the aim of significantly reducing flooding and water pollution across Norman. The utility fee would help address day-to-day maintenance and water quality improvements in Lake Thunderbird.

Additional benefits residents will see from the utility fee include:

  • Additional staff, including two additional Infrastructure Maintenance crews and a Capital Projects Engineer, to more efficiently manage infrastructure repair and replacement projects and apply for and manage any available grants;

  • A Neighborhood Assistance Program to help with maintenance activities needed for privately-owned stormwater infrastructure (i.e. detention ponds, channels, etc.)

  • Regular use of city equipment to clean storm drains and other infrastructure;

  • A program to install stormwater treatment systems within the Lake Thunderbird Watershed to improve water quality by removing dirt and nutrients from stormwater runoff; and

  • Annual Stream Blitzes to remove debris from City-owned/accessible channels.

 

Are any properties exempt from paying the fee?

No.  Any developed parcel will be required to pay the fee.

 

How are stormwater maintenance and operations activities currently funded?

The City spends approximately $3 million/year from the General Fund for stormwater operations and maintenance. Since Norman does not have a stormwater utility, these activities are paid from the General Fund. As the cost of providing stormwater services increases, without a stormwater utility, other city services that are also funded from the General Fund could receive fewer funds in order to meet the stormwater needs.

 

How much is needed to fund the stormwater utility?

The Stormwater Citizen Committee believes that a program with an annual budget of approximately $7.4 million is needed for stormwater operations and maintenance. The stormwater utility rate structure put forward in Proposition 3 would help to raise approximately $4.2 million of the needed funds. The approximately $3 million from the General Fund will also be needed to fully fund the need and keep utility fees low overall.

 

I think the City made an error when it determined my stormwater utility fee.  Will I be able to appeal?

Yes.  If you feel that your property was classified incorrectly, the responsible party was incorrectly determined, or the first floor living area or parcel size was incorrectly calculated, you may complete the Stormwater Utility Administrative Appeals form and submit it along with supporting documentation to the Stormwater Division by email to pwstormwater@normanok.gov or by mail at P.O. Box 370, Norman, OK, 73070.

Stormwater Division staff will review the appeal documentation and determine if an adjustment should be made.  If it is determined that you should be paying a lower fee, any overage paid will be credited back to your utility account.  Any fee increases will begin with the next billing cycle after the determination has been made.  A letter with the results of the appeal will be sent to the applicant.  Please allow up to 90 days for review and follow-up.

 

If the fee is approved, when will I see it on my utility bill?

You will see an additional line item labeled "Stormwater Utility Fee" beginning in August 2019 should the fee be approved.

 

How will the new stormwater proposal provide relief to the General Fund?

If residents support the utility fee, it would create a dedicated revenue source to address stormwater issues and reduce the need for larger contributions from the General Fund in the future.

 

Is the stormwater utility fee actually a rain tax? 

Rainwater is not stormwater. Whereas rainwater falls directly from the sky, stormwater runs off hard surfaces after rainfall and snowmelt. A stormwater fee is for services provided to transport runoff away from homes and businesses and to reduce the amount of pollution carried into our waterways.

 

Is the City paying the stormwater utility fee for all of its properties?

Under the stormwater utility rate structure put forward in Proposition 3, all city, county, state and federal entities would pay their fair share of the fee. Government properties would not qualify for any discounts or credits. Visit www.visionfornorman.com to get more information on the rate structure.

 

Is the University of Oklahoma paying the fee for all of its properties in Norman?

The University has its own municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit and therefore has the infrastructure in place to manage their own stormwater. The City will negotiate a stormwater utility fee with the University as was done for both water and wastewater utility fees.

 

The City increased water rates in recent years. Can’t the City’s water treatment plant clean the water in Lake Thunderbird?

Our main source of drinking water, Lake Thunderbird, is in danger of exceeding state and federal water quality standards for pollution. The water quality in Lake Thunderbird is poor because of sediment from construction sites, agricultural practices and streambank erosion, as well as nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and pet waste. All neighborhoods contribute to the pollution in our waterways including both Lake Thunderbird and the Canadian River watersheds. Currently, the water treatment plant operates to meet federal drinking water standards. However, if we do nothing to curb the stormwater pollution entering the lake, treating our drinking water would ultimately be more expensive than the proactive solution we’re proposing.

 

Developers have already built stormwater detention basins in new subdivisions.  Why should these homeowners pay more?

Neighborhood efforts to control stormwater are certainly beneficial and contribute towards a more effective city-wide stormwater system. The proposed stormwater improvements would be an additional support to alleviate flooding and water pollution in our neighborhoods and throughout Norman. The stormwater proposal also includes a $1.25 million Neighborhood Assistance Program for repairs or upgrades to privately-owned stormwater facilities, detention basins, dams and structures.  The goal of this program is to help neighborhoods with privately-owned stormwater infrastructure, such as detention ponds, channels, flumes, and others, with needed maintenance and repair. If you are interested in applying for assistance or have additional questions on the program, you will be able to complete the Neighborhood Assistance Program Application form along with supporting documentation to or send questions to the Stormwater Division by email to pwstormwater@normanok.gov or by mail at P.O. Box 370, Norman, OK, 73070.

 

I've heard a lot about potential fines from ODEQ and EPA.  How likely is it that this will occur?

While the DEQ would be well within their rights to take action against the City as a permittee of more than 10 years without a fully funded or implemented stormwater program, the greater threat is the potential impacts to public safety, economic growth and quality of life in our city if we, as a community, continue not to prioritize our aging infrastructure.

We are and should continue to be a community that makes positive changes in our city not because of the threat of impending fines but because it is the right thing to do for our future progress. It would be irresponsible to continue to put this off.

Over the past two years, the City has worked with a dedicated citizen’s committee, seeking public input in the form of open houses, public surveys, and focus groups, to develop practical and fiscally responsible solutions to these city-wide problems. The result was a Vision For Norman, comprised of two bonds and a utility, that will address these problems to protect our roads, our water, and our future.

You can learn more about Lake Thunderbird's status as an impaired watershed on the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality website at bit.ly/2UHVCXc.

 

Is the City doing anything to make sure that past mistakes aren't made in the future?

Yes.  The City is currently working on low impact development and green stormwater infrastructure incentives in the Community Planning and Transportation Committee.  Our current drainage standards are also under review to identify areas of potential improvements and needed updates to the Engineering Design Criteria.  Council has recently directed City staff to review and suggest modifications to our parking requirements for commercial and residential properties in an effort to reduce the amount of impervious surface required.   In addition to all of these areas, the Stormwater Division continues to implement pollution reduction activities identified in the Stormwater Management Plan, such as street, creek, and park clean-up events, educational activities at local festivals like Earth Day, and many others.