By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Editor’s note: This is the second article covering Enid City Commission candidates’ views on some of the major issues facing the city in the next four-year term. Each of the candidates were asked the same slate of questions.
The election for the Ward 4 seat on the Enid City Commission will be decided Feb. 12 between Loyd Kaufman and Rodney Timm.
Timm is a farmer/rancher, operates a commercial trucking business and works for Lippard Auctioneers. Kaufman is a former Ward 4 commissioner. He was defeated for re-election by current commissioner Drew Ritchie. Ritchie is not seeking re-election.
Enid News & Eagle will host a forum featuring candidates in all three wards up for election at 6 p.m. Monday in commission chambers, 401 W. Garriott.
City water issues
High demand and a record-breaking drought combined to exceed the city’s water delivery capacity last summer, ushering in city water conservation measures and watering restrictions through September.
According to figures provided by the city last summer, residential use amounts to 30.4 percent of the city’s water. Commercial usage is 65.6 percent. The city of Enid has announced plans to increase municipal water supply by one million gallons per day in 2013, and an additional two million gallons per day in 2014, by expanding city water rights and infrastructure.
Question: Are the city’s plans to expand the water supply sufficient to meet Enid’s growing demand? What would be your plan to increase water supply for the city?
Kaufman said the city’s water issues could be addressed by finding ways to reuse gray water.
“I think our water supply right now is sufficient, if they would reuse the city water,” Kaufman said. “We generate 12 (million) to 13 million gallons of water per day out of the sewer plant. In California, they’ve been reusing their waste water for years, and I think we need to do that.”
Kaufman also said the city’s water issues could be addressed by residents voluntarily cutting back on their usage, particularly for landscape watering.
“Too many people just let their water run over on the west side,” Kaufman said. “I think we have enough water right now for another couple of years, but we need to use it better.”
As a long-term solution, Kaufman suggested constructing a reservoir and water-purification plant on the Cimarron River near Cleo Springs, in Major County.
“They’re very expensive, but I think there’s enough water flowing out of that Cimarron River ... it could furnish water for Major County, Garfield County and some of the surrounding counties if they all would go together to cover the cost,” he said.
Timm said the city’s water issues are driven more by drought than any other factor, and people will have to begin to change the way they look at water resources.
“I think having this water is a luxury we’ve always had,” Timm said. “It’s a luxury to just expect that water will be there when you turn on the tap. Everyone’s just used to walking up to a hydrant and turning it on. It’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed everywhere.”
Timm said he’s in favor of “drilling more wells, or doing whatever it takes to get this water situation under control before it’s too late.”
He said building a city lake or reservoir during a drought probably would not be a good investment.
“Counting on lakes and things like that right now is probably a bad option,” Timm said. “The way lakes work, you have to have rain.”
Question: Should attracting new industry and supplying current commercial users be a priority for the city’s water resources?
“We need to look at attracting industry that doesn’t use so much water,” Kaufman said. “The new canola plant will use 500,000 gallons per day. For 50 jobs, 500,000 gallons a day, I don’t think that was a good deal.”
“I would think that would be a big concern,” Timm said, regarding using water resources to attract new industry.
“We would sure have to work out how much water they’re going to use before we brought anything in. I don’t want to turn down industry, but we do need to make sure the citizens have water also.”
Enid Renaissance Project
In 2010, Enid voters rejected by a vote of 4,023-3,892 a $20 million bond issue for the Gateway Enid project. The city had committed to add an additional $20 million to the project.
The city opted in 2011 to go ahead with renovation of Convention Hall and construction of the new Enid Event Center, with the “brick-and-mortar” expenses to be covered by the city’s $20 million share of the original Gateway plan.
Convention Hall was reopened to the public in November after completion of a more than $7 million renovation contract. Enid Event Center is nearing completion, with a contract and change orders that now have topped $18 million.
Question: What are your thoughts on the renovation of Convention Hall and construction of Enid Event Center? Is Enid Renaissance Project a good investment for the city of Enid and its residents?
Kaufman said he was against the Gateway Enid project, and he disagrees with the way the Enid Renaissance Project has been built in its place.
“I have had so many people call me in the last two years, asking why they’re putting in this project when we voted it down,” Kaufman said.
“It may turn out to be a good deal in the long run, or it may not. Time will tell on that. I was against it.”
Kaufman said he’s also opposed to the current city contract with Global Spectrum to manage the Renaissance properties.
“It doesn’t matter to them if that thing succeeds or not,” Kaufman said, referring to Global Spectrum. “They’re going to get their management contract either way, and that money’s going to go out of town.”
Timm said it’s too soon to tell whether Renaissance will be a good investment for Enid.
“I don’t know if Enid can bring in that much more business to support that investment,” he said.
He said the city should not have gone forward with Renaissance after the Gateway bond was rejected by the voters.
“I, like everyone else, was thinking it wasn’t approved by the vote,” Timm said. “When that failed, they used other avenues to build it.
“I was against the way it was done. Basically, the city of Enid voted not to put it there, not knowing they were voting on it as the way it would be paid.”
Timm said the money used for Renaissance could have been better used elsewhere.
“That money could have been used for other things, like the water systems we’re going to need now,” he said. “It looked like a bully system to get around what the citizens wanted.”
Question: Looking back on the transition from Gateway Enid to Enid Renaissance Project, what should we learn from that process?
“I think they did a very bad thing there, because they lost touch with a lot of the people when they built that thing down there,” Kaufman said.
“The main thing is, I think the city needs to listen to the people. People in Enid just don’t get out and vote and tell the commission what they want very often, but on that project, the people pretty clearly voted it down.”
Timm said the Renaissance project has created friction between the city and the people, and demonstrates a failure in public relations.
“If the people say they don’t want something, then you shouldn’t go against that,” Timm said. “That’s why you’re there — to represent your wards.
“I don’t see how you could go around how the city voted. That puts so much more friction between your citizens and your city commission and city manager. I would like to overcome that friction between the city and the people.”
Timm said the city needs to do a better job at public relations in order to improve its standing with the people.
“I think PR is so important here,” he said. “I’m not saying the city commissioners and the city manager don’t have good ideas, but it’s the way they go about it. A lot of people come up to me and are really mad, and maybe they just don’t understand how or why the city’s going about things.”
Enid residents will vote March 5 on a pair of proposals that would generate $50 million in revenue to upgrade the city’s parks system.
The parks plan is split into two ballot questions: one to raise $20 million by increasing the city sales tax rate by one-half cent for five years, and one to pay for $30 million in general obligation bonds by extending an existing 7 mill ad valorem tax.
The largest development in the bond plan would be a new park at 30th and Randolph, which would include “softball fields, soccer fields, football fields, outdoor basketball courts, playgrounds, a skate park, picnic shelters, restrooms and concession facilities” at a cost of $13.4 million.
Another $6.8 million in bond funds would be split between improvement projects at all of the city’s neighborhood parks.
The sales tax funds would cover expenses not paid for in the bonds, including replacement of Champlin Pool, portions of the city’s trail plan, and construction of two new neighborhood parks.
Question: Should the parks plan be a priority for the city right now, and why?
Kaufman said he’s in favor of the parks plan, but he wants to see more specifics on how the $50 million will be spent.
He said he supports the parks plan, because Enid’s children need more safe places to get off the streets.
Kaufman said he would rather see the $50 million plan spread out over time, and paid for with existing tax revenue instead of taking out bonds.
“The $50 million they’re going to spend on the parks plan is a good deal, but if they spend $50 million and use bonds, they’re going to have to pay back $75-$80 million,” he said. “I think we have enough tax money coming in to pay for the parks issue if they would just let it out a little bit at a time.”
Kaufman said he plans to vote for the parks plan, but he wants more transparency in the process.
“I will vote for it, but I want it clarified and I want all the money applied to the parks,” Kaufman said.
Timm said he’s in favor of upgrading Enid’s existing parks, but he’s opposed to building the new park at 30th and Randolph, and he’s opposed to the $50 million plan.
“I’m not in favor of raising taxes for the new park east of Enid,” Timm said. “I would take the other half that is for upgrading the parks that are in existence.
“I think most people in this town, if they had to raise taxes for the water issue, they’d be more for that than raising taxes for parks.”
Timm said the city should not build a water park, planned for the new east side park, when a local business owner already is operating Splash Zone.
“I don’t think the city of Enid should be in the business of owning a water park when you have a local business owner here who’s already invested in owning one in the city,” Timm said.
Tax Increment Finance districts
Enid City Commission recently approved two TIF districts to attract new investment to the city.
A TIF district creates incentive for new development by allowing a portion of the ad valorem tax revenue created by building new business to be returned to the developing company to defray start-up investment.
One TIF would create $4.6 million in incentives for Vector Properties to purchase and “de-mall” Oakwood Mall, a $35 million project. The other TIF would create $15 million in incentives and $12 million in public infrastructure improvements to bring a $200 million canola processing plant to Enid.
Question: Are these TIF incentives an appropriate means of attracting new investment to the city, or should private industry fund its own development?
Kaufman said he is opposed to both the Oakwood Mall and canola plant TIFs.
“I think the mall deal is downright stupid,” Kaufman said. “There’s going to be a lot of people who quit going to the mall if they break it up. People go to the mall for one reason — so they can go to one place and go to 20 different stores without having to drive somewhere else.”
Kaufman said the canola plant TIF is a better deal, but still not worth the cost of the city’s investment.
“It’s going to bring in $3.5 million in salaries, but it’s also going to bring in a lot of truck traffic to Enid, and that’s going to increase the wear and tear on our infrastructure. In the long run, I don’t think it’s going to be a good deal.”
Kaufman said he’s in favor of using TIFs, if they bring in enough new jobs to offset the city’s investment.
“It can be a good deal if we can get 1,500 jobs like we did with Advance(Pierre Foods),” he said. “If we only get 50 jobs, no. If it will generate 500 jobs, I say go ahead and help them. If it’s going to generate anything less than 500 jobs, I would vote against it.”
Timm said there’s a “fine line” between good and bad investments with TIF districts.
“I know you don’t get businesses to come to Enid or any other town by sitting on your hands,” Timm said. “But, I also don’t know if you give them money when you’re going to have to sit on it for 25-30 years before you get anything back.
“I know we have to compete to bring people here, but you can’t just give them everything and not get anything back either.”
Timm said he is opposed to the mall TIF.
Question: What is the biggest issue facing your ward in the next term?
Kaufman said infrastructure improvements need to be a priority in Ward 4.
“The roads need to be brought up out here,” Kaufman said. “The roads are not maintained out here in this area because a lot of poor people live in this area. They’re not keeping up the infrastructure like they should, and the sewer lines are all outdated.”
Timm said road maintenance and improvements needs to be a priority in the next term.
“The oil boom has really brought a lot of things to this town, but it’s also tearing the roads to pieces,” Timm said. “The industrial park is a great deal for Enid, but we need to improve the roads at least out to the county and make all the city roads passable. It seems like we wait until we have to have repairs instead of taking care of things prior.”