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Public can give input on city’s budget proposal

The City Council indicated last week it was done with line-item reviews of the 2018-2019 city budget, after accepting a plan that allowed some proposed expenditure reductions to be restored because of savings realized by going to once-a-week residential trash collection.

Council members actually split 4-4 over the proposal that abruptly ended what had been planned as a series of budget workshops scheduled through the end of May, with Mayor Fred Fitch breaking the tie to accept a proposal from Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk. After the meeting, Burk said the next step in the process would be a public hearing, where residents are given the opportunity to comment and ask questions.

While those budget public hearings typically are held during regular council meetings, city officials announced Friday that a special meeting/public hearing on the budget was scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium of Lawton City Hall, Southwest 9th and C. In past years, the public hearing has been the last step before council members formally vote on the resolution that sets a budget into place.

While some council members are ready to end the review process, others have been critical of proposals made to balance a document that will go into effect July 1, including the plan to cut twice-a-week residential trash collections to once a week and a 2.7 percent increase in utility rates (calculated to match the change in the Consumer Price Index in the last 12 months and providing an additional $866,612). Both of those proposals remain in the budget, as do plans to reduce the general employee staff by 11 positions (seven positions are vacant; people in the other four will be transferred to other positions) while keeping 21 police and fire positions that were added in Fiscal Year 2017 courtesy of funding from the 2015 Sales Tax Extension.

Administrators also will delay hiring seven now-vacant positions, including the finance director, until later in the fiscal year and City Manager Jerry Ihler said he expects delays in filling other vacancies that occur during the new fiscal year, to continue savings.

In addition, employees will keep their merit (step) increases, or pay raises based on merit and length of employment. Lawton Public Library will receive $25,000 from the City of Lawton for books and materials, funding that had been cut all together until the city restored some after being reminded that state funding ($45,000 for next year) could be cut if the city reduces its funding.

And, city funding for operations at the Museum of the Great Plains will be $50,000 less than the current year and $75,000 less than was allocated in Fiscal 2017.

Ihler said the funding proposals reflect the city's harsh economic reality: its two largest funding sources are either stagnant (sales tax) or significantly less (revenue generated by water sales) and that's why expenditures are being affected.

The original preliminary budget submitted by Ihler and his department heads reflected months of work for an $89,109,893 operating budget that is $2.14 million less than the $91.3 million budget adopted for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, 2017. While funding for personnel costs is $1.87 million more than those in the budget adopted for this year, the other three major spending categories  capital outlay, materials and supplies, and other services and charges  are less than what was adopted for this current fiscal year and more reflective of what city administrators said will be the reality when the fiscal year ends June 30 as department heads continue to cut expenditures to balance less revenue.

City administrators expect the same type of budget battle this year, and the preliminary budget submitted for council consideration in late April had projected a carryover of $89,000 and cut from a number of areas to reach the balanced state mandate by the Oklahoma Constitution for governmental entities. But, some of the proposals drew immediate fire from council members and residents, in areas ranging from a reduction in funding for Mobile Meals and the Senior Center for Creative Living, to a one-day furlough for all city employees.

The Lawton Constitution

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