The Edmond Sun

March 28, 2013

Candidates share views on private, public partnerships

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Mayoral candidate Richard Prawdzienski said the City of Edmond should stop providing exercise venues for residents when citizens can pay fees at a gym. The free market economy will provide what Edmond needs, he said.

“We don’t need the city to create a gym and a swimming pool,” Prawdzienski said at a recent candidates forum before the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce.

A citywide general election for mayor and Ward 4 City Council is set for April 2. Incumbent Mayor Charles Lamb is vying against Richard Prawdzienski in the mayoral election. Ward 4 City Councilman Nick Massey is on the ballot with candidate Shilpa Abbitt.

Prawdzienski has been adamant in his opposition to public, private partnerships. He spoke against the collaborative effort of the City of Edmond, YMCA and Edmond Public Schools in funding the YMCA Recreation and Aquatics Center being built at Mitch Park.

“I would like the city to be smaller, and every individual to be responsible for their own life, rather than me being the big daddy and saying, ‘I will give you what I think is best for you,’” Prawdzienski said.

Prawdzienski was answering a question by moderator Brian Bush, who asked what city government can do to put Edmond on the most solid, financial footing, when considering how city governments are funded.

Lamb said the city’s record of doing five-year financial planning ensures that the city will not begin a project that it won’t finish.

“That served us well through 2008-09 with the ability to delay or slow down, and manage our expenditures to our revenues,” Lamb said. Sales tax is volatile, but forces the City Council to watch its pennies, he added.

Edmond Electric has provided nearly $6 million of yearly revenue to the city’s general fund, Lamb said.

“We know where we are spending our money and how to manage our expenditures against the revenues we do collect,” Lamb said.

Oklahoma is the only state in the U.S. to require its municipal governments to use sales tax as a general fund revenue source, Massey said. So it is fundamentally important for Edmond to grow its economic base, Massey said.

“The worst thing you can be in Oklahoma is a bedroom community because then you’ve got all the expenses and no way to pay for them,” Massey said. “I am trying very hard to bring more business to Edmond.”

Public, private partnerships result in dollars well spent for the community, he said. The YMCA Recreation and Aquatics Center, OSBI lab, UCO Jazz Lab are successful partnerships, he said. Plans for a hotel and conference center to locate at the northwest corner of Interstate 35 and Covell will bring about $33 million in sales tax revenue, he said.

“At the same time we manage our funds very conservatively,” he said. “We maintain at least a 10 percent reserve for Rainy Day Fund, which is now 12 percent. We’ll probably get it up to around 15 percent.”

Abbitt said she is thankful that the state constitution does not provide for additional money to Edmond from the state.

“Like any government, the more money you give them, the more they’re going to spend,” Abbitt said.

The City of Edmond should focus only on basic needs, much like a family budget separating needs from wants, Abbitt said.

“As far as I’m concerned, the city’s needs are water, electricity, infrastructure, waste management, police and fire, and basic needs of residents,” Abbitt said. “Everything else is a want.”

Cities in California are going bankrupt by building things to attract sales tax revenue, she said.

“We’re doing similar things when we’re leasing land to a Hilton. This is a multi-million dollar corporation. I don’t think the city of Edmond and the taxpayers of Edmond need to bear that cost to lease land for a dollar a year for a company like the Hilton.”

The Covell 35 Development Group plans to build a Hilton Garden Inn and a 20,000-square-foot conference center.

In October, the Edmond City Council approved the negotiated agreements 5-0 for developing the hotel and conference center. A unanimous agreement by the council also was reached concerning the development of Summit Sports Complex to be located on the northeast corner of the interchange.

The City Council previously had approved the $2.2 million purchase of 7.13 acres of undeveloped land at the hotel site.

A need for a hotel and conference center has been identified by the council to generate tourism, sales tax and improve quality of life for residents.

Safeguards are in place to protect the city’s land investment, attorney Leslie Batchelor said in October. It is a legal requirement that the public not give anything away to private investment. The hotel costs are solely the responsibility of the developer, according to the agreement.

In April the city released details of the memorandum of understanding in regard to the $2.2 million investment in which the city will charge $1 a year in leasing the property. The business partners would have a 15-year buy-back option to purchase the land.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 2 for the election. The mayoral term is for two years while the council positions are elected for four-year terms.