One of the Council’s most important responsibilities is to adopt the annual city budget. The next year’s budget is approved each year in June, and many of our meetings in the spring focus on the budget.
While it is an important job of the council to approve and monitor, it is the city manager who is charged with preparing the budget and overseeing our daily operations and expenditures. He is assisted by our finance director. I have a growing respect for the capable, hard work of our staff and the budget process reflects that.
The size of last year’s budget was $288,371,097. This year, the total proposed budget is $223,786,232. The significant decrease is due to some very large public infrastructure projects such as water plant improvements and Norman Forward projects that were budgeted in 2017. The Westwood Water Park, the central library and the east side library have all been funded.
The primary sources for the city budget include sales tax, franchise fees and utility fees. We also apply for, and often receive, state and federal matching funds for major infrastructure improvements. One common misconception is that we receive significant funding from property taxes. What we do get is less than 3 percent of our general fund and is earmarked for legal settlements and voter-approved bonds for major capital improvement projects.
Of our 8.75 percent sales tax rate in Norman, 4.5 percent is designated for the state of Oklahoma, and 0.25 percent goes to the Cleveland County Jail. The remaining 4 percent is distributed within the city of Norman with 2.3 percent for the General Fund, 0.7 percent for capital improvements, 0.5 percent for public safety and 0.5 percent for Norman Forward.
Since 56 percent of our general fund is reliant on sales tax, we are highly vulnerable to downturns in the economy. In the last 10 years, we have had two.
Although we are in the second year of a substantial downturn and are confronted by continued costly federal and state mandates, we cut more than a million dollars from our fiscal ‘16-’17 budget, and we are finishing the year with no furloughs, no cuts in services, a positive fund balance and minimally required reserves. By law, our budget must be balanced.
We have a remarkably lean staff, 864 employees, for a city our size. We have fewer employees per capita than any of our benchmark cities besides Lawrence, Kansas. The majority of positions added in the last few years have been in public safety. We have been able to do this because of public support for the Public Safety Sales Tax, which was made permanent in 2014.
We have recently added eight school resource officers in a program that is collaboration between Norman Public Schools and the city. I think we give our residents a good return on their tax investment.
The budget process goes on…