Norman citizen-led group wants public input over infrastructure, utility

NORMAN, Okla. - Norman city officials voters may have a bond issue regarding infrastructure before them as early as this upcoming spring.

Shawn O'Leary, director of Norman Public Works, said Norman is one of only two cities in Oklahoma without a storm-water utility fee system. The northern parts of the city where Little River passes through is a flood-prone area.

O'Leary said they've been trying to address the issue of flooding for the past decade, with funding being a key issue.

"It’s well documented that Norman is one of the probably least funded or poorest funded cities in Oklahoma, in storm-water flood controlled projects," he said. "I think Norman is an example of a city that is struggling with basic flood control and storm-water services."

In Norman, any fee structure or increase in water rates must be approved by citizens. The most recent vote for a storm-water utility fee system was August 2016.

"It went down pretty badly. I mean, the voters rejected by a margin of 70 percent, so we got the message. They didn’t want that particular funding formula," O'Leary said.

Amanda Nairn said the process felt "rushed" and did not include public input. Since then, a citizen-led committee has been added to the conversation.

Nairn serves as co-chair of Norman's storm-water citizen committee, which includes 16 members. The goal is to find a funding solution to address both flooding and water quality.

"The current numbers that I’ve seen and we’ve discussed for quite some time is about $120 million worth of projects. Now, we understand and totally acknowledge that we cannot do that all at once," she said. "I think everyone acknowledges there’s a problem but then the questions become how do you fix it? What are you spending the money on? How will that help me? How will that help my business?"

Nairn told News 4 the last thing they want to do is rush their process. The group is listening to the public and what citizens are willing to pay for before presenting proposals to city officials.

"We have got long term serious infrastructure problems that we need to repair and then continue to maintain in the proper way but haven’t had funding in all of these years that Norman has existed. We haven’t had a dedicated funding source," she said.

Regarding utility fees, Nairn said there appears to be a difference in opinion between rural and urban residents.

"Typically, I’ve heard that rural residents like the flat fee and urban prefer the tiered. That’s not always the case. But, that’s usually what we’re hearing, and the urban residents are really impacted heavily by flooding," she said.

The group has been working together since May 2017.