By Cody Johnson
The McClain County elections are soon upon us and with them come brave responsibility for all those partaking in the democracy that is the United States. For the last several years, three different people have been making decisions for each position upon which they were appointed but now is the time for change, if that is what the public wants.
Newcastle is placed uniquely within McClain County. Newcastle has three different districts running through it; district I, district II and district III (see map for reference.) This means that three different elected positions have say as to what happens within this community.
For district I, Benny McGowen has been serving the last elected term. For district II, Wilson Lyles has been serving the last elected term. For district III, Charles "Shorty" Foster has been serving the last elected term.
This year every previous district commissioner is re-running for office but also has an incumbent running against them.
In district I, Benny McGowen, current county commissioner, is running against Ronny Ray. In district II, Wilson Lyles is running county commissioner. In district III, Charles "Shorty" Foster, current county commissioner is running against Allan Thompson.
This year there are also two judges running for district 21 appointment. Jeff virgin is running against Steve Stice. District 21 serves Cleveland, McClain and Garvin counties and both candidates have experience with district 21.
"Special District Judge Virgin served as an Assistant District Attorney for the 21st District, which includes Cleveland, McClain, and Garvin Counties. As Assistant District Attorney, Virgin prosecuted numerous jury and non-jury trials, including criminal and civil cases. District Attorney Greg Mashburn selected Jeff Virgin to become managing Assistant District Attorney in McClain County where he tried criminal, juvenile and mental health cases. Virgin also oversaw McClain County Drug Court and Community Sentencing matters," according to jeffvirginforjudge.com
"In 2010 the District Judges for the 21st Judicial District appointed Stice Special District Judge for Cleveland County. Stice is assigned one of the largest criminal, felony and misdemeanor, civil, and juvenile dockets in the district. Stice uses his business experience in the administration of the courthouse. He has implemented policies to make court dockets run more efficiently. He works closely with Sheriff Joe Lester to help manage and control Cleveland County’s jail population," according to sticeforjudge.com
I would like to remind everybody how important it is that everyone becomes informed and educated on each candidate’s stance before voting.
By Cody Johnson
Some general maintenance consisting of clearing trees and filling in a significantly large hole is underway near the I-44 Bridge.
Dirt-work vehicles can be seen on the south side of the I-44 Bridge as land is being leveled. When the bridge was destroyed by last year's tornado, talk of a viewing platform and historic area began to spread to preserve what is left of the first federally funded highway project in the nation.
"It is all still part of the ODOT right of way. We pushed really hard for them to save one of them (the spans), but ultimately we don’t have any real plans," said city planner Ian Crittenden. "The people who are adjacent to that (the plan for a public viewing platform and historic area) are concerned about the river."
Currently all of the land along the river is private property and there are no public areas by the bridge.
"All the people who live along the river and have property that extends to the middle of it are not really excited about having people running four-wheelers up and down the river banks," Crittenden said. "They don't really like the idea of people hanging out down there."
The area down by the river has been known in the past as a place where people tend to go to consume alcohol or drugs, because they typically cannot be seen, Crittenden said. More traffic, he believes, would actually decrease those activities.
"If a community group came together and was 'gung-ho' about doing it, we would definitely talk to them and see how on board City Council is about it," Crittenden said. "Right now the city does not have any plans."
By Cody Johnson
The City of Newcastle is in its final stages of annexing more land into city limits.
The land in question is located south of Highway 9 and west of Western. It adjoins existing city limits on the west, (see map for reference.)
The land is currently being developed into a subdivision with vacant lots selling from $80,000 up to $250,000 while homes built on the lots are expected to range upwards from $300,000.
The future residents and current developers approached the City of Newcastle over a year ago wishing to annex into Newcastle city limits. Right now the land is county land.
At any point in the discussion, the City Council could have voted no and walked away from the discussions but the Council really feels like this is a smart decision financially for both parties involved, said City Manager Nick Nazar.
"This is not something we were going after, we were approached by the landowners about their desire to be in Newcastle city limits," said Mayor Karl Nail.
This potential annexation brought up many discussions that needed to take place both with the future residents of this area and with the town of Goldsby before a decision could be made by the City Council.
"I want to be very clear on this. The current residents of Newcastle will not see any increase in their bills because of this addition. The cost is being taken on only by the residents of this new area through their impact fees," Nazar said. "That was one of our conditions from the start when these residents approached us."
Talks with Goldsby led to an agreement between both towns signed last February that Newcastle will not annex land east of Western nor south of 290th St., and Goldsby will not annex any land west of Western nor north of 290th St. Any land already annexed will remain in their current city limits.
"This is a real serious dividing line between us and Goldsby," he said.
Goldsby does not have a desire to provide services to this area in question. Newcastle currently sells water to areas along Highway 9 that are in Goldsby city limits, because Goldsby cannot service those areas right now however that is expected to change in the near future.
“Right now Goldsby is developing their own well field and adding some new development to their plant,” Nazar said. “They do not plan on buying [water] from Newcastle long term.”
Goldsby does not have a police force; they hire the sheriff’s deputies on their off-duty time to patrol their city, and they have a volunteer fire department.
"Newcastle basically has the capacity to sell twenty times the water that we currently do now," Nazar said. "The water is basically something we have access to huge amount of. We are able to provide substantial amounts of water to a lot of customers, because we made the investment we did connecting to Oklahoma City. We have a well system of our own to supplement that and keep our water cost low."
“We already have a lot of property south of Highway 9 and this new land butts right up to it, he said.
According to Nail, the land already in city limits that is adjoining to this new annexation does not have fire hydrants for the City to use in an emergency, The new annexation will have hydrants that can be used during emergencies in the surrounding areas.
The Newcastle Fire Station off of Highway 9 is already established and is not receiving its full potential of work, so the City of Newcastle has room to take on more subdivisions in the area, he said.
The developers will pay the majority of the cost to install the waterline, however the City is going to upsize the waterline from 8" to 12" and take on a temporary cost so there is more room for growth around this area. The cost will be offset when the future developers pay the "Impact Fee" to build in the area and the City will be fully reimbursed.
Both Nazar and Nail have expressed the potential for Highway 9 to develop more businesses around the already existing ones.
Some residents of Newcastle have expressed concern over the allocation of sales tax coming from this area due to the zip code not being a Newcastle zip code.
Sales tax in Oklahoma is distributed to the site of delivery, not of purchase. Therefore when these homes are built, if they are in Newcastle City limits the sales tax will go to Newcastle as long as the developers tell the suppliers it is within Newcastle city limits.
The City recently started conducting audits on businesses within Newcastle city limits that have a Norman zip code to determine how much potential sales tax has been misallocated to Norman in the past. Nazar and Nail both say the loss has been minimal in the past, and now that it has been brought to the attention of the City, it should not be a problem in the future as long as they stay on top of the issue.
Nail said that by annexing this land there is an estimated potential of $600,000 in sales tax dollars that the City will benefit from.
A local developer, Daniel Remington, has started the process of changing the zip code to fully cure the issue, however it is a lengthy process and might take a couple years.
By Darla Welchel
City Manager Nick Nazar announced to The Pacer that the City of Newcastle is considering building a new waterline to service the Manor Lake Hills subdivision.
The addition, located south of Hwy. 9 on Western Ave. will contain homes in the $79-250 thousand range. Currently the subdivision is not in Newcastle city limits.
"They contacted us wanting to be connected to Newcastle water," said Nazar. "We have access to OKC waterline, and we could really use the new customers. We have an understanding with the developer that we won't provide water if they don't annex into Newcastle."
Nazar said the City is currently working with the city attorney to make sure that the additional water lines will not raise water bills for Newcastle customers. The plan is for the developer, the Erhardt Group, to provide the financial resources for this endeavor.
Nazar said the benefit for including Manor Lakes Hills into Newcastle is to allow them use of water and provide more fixed customers.
"We now have the capacity of bringing Oklahoma City water down; we originally talked to Goldsby, Blanchard and Tuttle about purchasing water from Newcastle, but currently we are only providing water to Goldsby and Tuttle."
Tuttle only uses Newcastle water when their capacity is low and Goldsby is only under contract for one more year. All three towns are looking into or have built their own water plants.
"The more customers we have, the more spread out we can make the cost of the original waterline," Nazar said. "We have to make sure whatever we do is beneficial and cost effective."
Another benefit of annexing that area surrounding the subdivision is for potential future commercial business, Nazar said. The City is anticipating the developer to begin bringing paperwork in for annexation in right away.
One way of deferring the cost of the waterline construction is by raising the Impact Fees. This fee currently is set at $1,000 for each home built with an additional $335 Tap Fee, he said.
"We are working on a way to charge them enough to cover cost, so it doesn't cost Newcastle resident any more," Nazar said. "In the long-term, we hope it will keep our [OKC water purchase] costs down."
The price of OKC water is going up, and Nazar hopes the higher charges for the new addition will keep Newcastle resident’s bills the same.
"We have to do what's best for the citizens of Newcastle," he said. "We will protect our citizens first and foremost, but if we can serve others too, that's great."
By Cody Johnson
His smile was undeniable as the local man was presented a plaque of appreciation for his service to the City of Newcastle.
Ronald Salsman, 64, has worked for the City of Newcastle for 25 years as a fleet mechanic and is now entering retirement. Salsman began his work in 1989 when he answered an advertisement in the paper from the City.
Having taken some vo-tech training in school and a one-year class at Southwest Automotive in Oklahoma City, he has since compiled a lifetime's worth of mechanic knowledge through sheer experience. Salsman has worked at places ranging from the Will Roger's airport working on their ground equipment to being a mechanic at Sears, as well as working for Bridge Creek schools on their building and buses.
As a mechanic for the City of Newcastle, Salsman worked on equipment ranging from small lawn mowers to big diesel construction equipment.
"There is no specialization in 'fleet' work," he said "sometimes you just have to figure it out as you go." But that was part of the excitement for Salsman, he never knew what he would have to fix next.
A brightness shown in his eyes as he spoke of his work, he enjoyed his time with the City.
"You have to find a home. The people I worked with was home," Salsman said.
He has two children, Michael and Vitia. Both also work for the City. Michael reads water meters, as well as performing building maintenance and Vitia works as the water clerk.
"She is the one who shuts your water off when you don't pay your bill on time," he chuckled aloud.
His hands are calloused from years of work, however they will spend most of their time hunting and fishing now with his wife Jane. The couple often travels to Lake Texhoma, Lake Arbuckle, Lake Murray and Lake Ten Killer to camp out.
Salsman and his wife love to bass fish on his pontoon while they are out on the lake. He hunts mainly deer on public land due to the high price of lease land, but brags that he has a good spot that’s secretive and not crowded.
"I like to use bow season to scout more than anything," he said as he smiled. "I am only comfortable shooting [a bow] at close range, but it gets me out in the woods to see what's moving."
He loved always having his nights and weekends off while he worked for the City and admits his "life" happened on the weekend. But now a man that has given so much work to his community has time to relax and spend with his family.
"I'll probably live here till I die," Salsman said with a grin on his face.
By Cody Johnson
The City of Newcastle held its monthly City Council meeting and Public Works Authority meeting last Monday night at 6 p.m. in the Newcastle Multi-Purpose Center. This is a summary of what was approved, discussed or denied.
Ronald Salsman was presented a plaque in appreciation of 25 years of service to the city. Salsman is officially retiring from his work with the City.
A potential two-year contract for residential poly-cart, recycling, and bulk waste pick-up as well as a two-year contract for commercial solid waste disposal was tabled to be decided at a special meeting in two weeks by the council. Two members believed they needed more time to look at all the options, not just the bottom line cheapest price.
The previous contractor, Republic Services, is asking for a 19 cents increase in their contract with the promise of brand new poly-cart containers for residents. Currently the City has semi-annual bulk pick-up, however they have the option to change to monthly or quarterly bulk pick-up.
Several other companies are vying to win the City's bid including: Waste Connection, WCA, and Veterans Waste Solutions. With prices ranging from 80 cents more than Republic’s new bid to $1.35 more, the other companies bidding for the City’s waste contract have different services to offer.
Veterans Waste Solutions promises to move their corporate headquarters to Newcastle and provide weekly bulk pickup with back loading trucks.
With manual back loading trucks there is less trash that misses the truck and falls to curbside, as is the case with side loading automated trucks, Veterans Waste Solutions representative said. They are the only company bidding for the waste contract that offers back loading trucks. Mayor Karl Nail commented that they have not seen side-loading trucks as a big problem for the City in years past.
WCA promised to provide a quarterly bulk pick-up and an additional on-call bulk pick-up program for residents needing their bulk picked up in between the quarterly pick-ups. WCA was the only company to mention providing curbside recycling to the residents of Newcastle during their presentation.
Waste Connections is a national company that already services other towns similar in size to Newcastle. They promised to provide monthly bulk pick-up and quality service.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Self said City Hall's recommendation is that the City Council renews their contract with Republic.
The City Council also passed Ordinance No. 712 allowing Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc. to install and operate systems within the city of Newcastle.
The Newcastle Youth Council approached the City about buying and maintaining the recreational complex property located on State Highway 130 as well as purchasing more acreage to expand the Parks, Recreation and Beautification Board. The city council approved a motion to begin negotiations between City Manager Nick Nazar and the Newcastle Youth Council.
The City will begin to advertise for bids for a traffic study at the intersection of State Highway 37 and Country Club Road. A traffic light is not needed right now, however the study will find out how soon the traffic light will be needed due to traffic growth.
The Chamber of Commerce Director Janette Lore was given a pay increase to compensate for an increase in the cost of living. Her salary is paid for half by the Chamber and half by the City. She was granted a three percent increase on the City’s half of her salary.
Sharon Ferguson is set to retire from being the City's Treasurer by the end of the year, although she said she would stay around to help the City in her retirement. The Council approved the City to begin advertising for the position.
In the closing comments, the Council discussed reworking the budget or finding additional funds to build a new fire station. Nothing was decided except to put the issue on a future agenda.
The fate of what remains of popular Newcastle landmark South Canadian River bridge is still an undecided but “touchy subject,” Newcastle City Manager Nick Nazar said.
City officials have discussed the possibility of turning the bridge into a lookout point but some residents who live near the bridge are wary of tourist traffic, Nazar said.
“We have to be very careful, as preservation efforts take place … not to intrude on the neighboring properties,” Nazar said.
Nazar clarified that many Newcastle residents are passionate about preserving the bridge and turning it back into a landmark.
The nearby residents are only part of the issue with renovating the bridge for tourism.
Story written by Darla Welchel. Edited for and posted to the web by Ryan Croft.
Linda Farnham may be relatively new to the community, but she is not afraid to make her wishes known to the Newcastle City Council - especially when it is about something for which she has a great passion.
Farnham spoke during the Citizen’s Comments portion of Thursday evening’s special council meeting to approve the annual budget. Though her comments had nothing to do with the budget, Farnham was adamant about her “frustrations” and concern over the lack of proper recycle bins and the constant mess surrounding the current recycling location.
“I moved to Newcastle two years ago and was in shock because of the lack of recycle [options] in Newcastle,” she said during the meeting.
Farnham said that she lived in the city for a while before she even found the bins located between the police and fire departments, and that there was no kind of notice about them in the city trash and water bills.
Newcastle officials believe the city might be losing a cumulative $1 million and counting to Norman because of a ZIP code dispute with the post office.
Monday night’s city council meeting will include a vote to form a committee to change that problem, according to the meeting agenda.
The Chamber of Commerce will join City Hall members in recruiting members of the Newcastle community to join the committee, City Manager Nick Nazar said.
Certain homes on the border between Newcastle and Norman are technically Newcastle residences but maintain Norman ZIP codes.
That zip code confusion has cost Newcastle a lot of money over the years, Nazar said.
City sales tax on delivered goods in Oklahoma is determined by the ZIP code of the buyer’s house, according to Oklahoma Tax Commission’s website.
“We do a pretty good job on collecting from the businesses in that area but whenever a business, say, in Norman delivers to [the area in question], we don’t … capture those sales tax dollars,” Nazar said.
Determining exactly how much money is lost on those wayward transactions is difficult because businesses use software programs that automatically report each sale based on the ZIP code, not actual city boundaries, Nazar said.
“Using ZIP codes to determine tax rates is a mistake,” according to tax management website Avalara.com. “ZIP codes lack the accuracy sales tax compliance requires.”
The Zone Improvement Plan, or ZIP code, was established by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 1963 to make the delivery of mail faster and more efficient, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum website.
The postal service constantly changes ZIP code boundaries, making them unstable data sources, according to Avalara.com.
The area in dispute is where Norman’s 73072 ZIP code borders Newcastle’s 73065 ZIP code.
Part of the 73072 originally belonged to Norman but, over time, became Newcastle property.
The issue has been with convincing the USPS to update its zip code to match the change in property ownership, Nazar said.
Lawmakers have unveiled a plan to issue up to $40 million in bonds to pay for the construction of a new building that would house two state agencies.
House and Senate committees passed a bill on Monday that would authorize the bond issue for a new facility to house the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Mental Health and Substance and Abuse Services.
The bill still must be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by the governor before it would take effect.
Both state agencies are currently housed in aging, dilapidated buildings that have been plagued with problems including electrical and plumbing issues and mold.
Midwest City Republican state Rep. Gary Banz says both buildings are on the verge of being condemned.