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Senior Citizens Center Discussion Continues - April 8, 2018

Last week was an interesting and challenging one. We heard from our consultants that worked on our ADA re-evaluation with an appointed committee of consumers. The city needed an assessment of the things we have accomplished since the original Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and our first plan was written. We now know what work we have to do. Our staff has worked hard with minimal funding to find money to improve our sidewalk system, put in curb cuts, do push button controls on signal lights and make our buildings and parks more accessible.Staff makes every effort to find matching money from state and federal sources. Some of the highlights of the consultant presentation were the need for more staff training and the need to appoint a special citizens oversight committee to monitor our progress. Chair Chris Nanny commented to me, “We are blessed to live in Norman, a truly caring and progressive community that can tackle the big challenges together. We can do it.” My sentiments exactly.

The rest of the week seemed consumed with the Senior Citizen Center funding issues and the part that University North Park TIF might play in finding a solution to one of our most pressing problems: funding and building a state-of-the-art senior center, which our community desperately needs. A few weeks ago, several council members used a mechanism known as the Rule of Three to get the consideration of this issue on the next council agenda. The agenda item was presented to the whole council and, after lengthy discussion, we voted unanimously to move the recommendation forward.  The recommendation was to relocate $8.75 million allocated in the UNP TIF, originally set aside for the cultural center, to be used for a senior center. The center would be placed on two acres on North Base. The council is not able to act on this by themselves. The UNP TIF is a partnership with the other taxing jurisdictions in our community.  The project agreement signed by all parties required the TIF Oversight Committee, an ongoing citizens committee, to review any major changes in the agreement and report on the appropriateness of any changes. The agreement also requires that the TIF Statutory Committee (made up of the taxing jurisdictions) review the appropriateness of changes and recommend whether the money could be reallocated. 

Both groups met last week, and both groups agreed that — based on the language of the agreement — it was clear the cultural center money could not be used for the senior center. The intent for that allocation was that the money be used on a facility in proximity to the hotel and convention center and that it would generate income for the taxing jurisdictions. Interestingly, both committees had members who suggested they would, however, be comfortable with new TIF money being used for a senior center and that they were fine with it being in the project area. If the cultural center money is not appropriated for such a facility, then the most likely solution would be to add a project to the present agreement by amending it. That could provide funding for the senior center and could be added to the present TIF.  I was grateful to our partners in the TIF: NPS, MNTC, the county, the libraries and the health department, and our at-large members for their sensitivity to our seniors’ needs. The room was full of seniors who are understandably excited about a possible solution to their problem.

Friday, I was able to attend a luncheon to kick off C-SPAN’S Norman weekend presentation. The C-SPAN crew was in Norman several weeks ago filming a feature on our community as part of their Cities Tour. We saw a short preview of the video, featuring me, Andy Rieger, authors, writers and historians. The video tells a story of our history, culture and values. It highlights some really wonderful things about our community, and I hope it is watched by people across the United States. The series airs this weekend on C-SPAN 2 and 3 and can be viewed after airing on c-span.org/citiestour.