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Citizens will get to keep trash pickup service twice a week

Lawton residents will get to keep their twice-a-week trash collection, but it will cost them $1 more per month.

Members of the City Council accepted that compromise Thursday prior to a public hearing set to let residents voice their opinions on the budget that will guide the fiscal year that begins July 1. Thursday's special session had been set primarily for that public hearing, but the agenda also allowed the council to take action on any recommendations that City Manager Jerry Ihler might make or input from citizens.

That's how the council came to have a newly adjusted budget that restores twice-a-week trash collection for residents, but at a slightly higher cost on monthly utility bills. Council members voted 6-3 on an initial request from Mayor Fred Fitch to set the newly revised budget in place for the purpose of discussions only. At meeting's end, after 21 residents had offered comments, the council split 4-4 on a proposal from Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner to continue a "line item" review of the budget, which would have continued a series of workshops so the council could meet with department heads to review their budgets.

It was the second time the council split 4-4 over the budget and, as he did previously, Fitch broke the tie Thursday by voting with those who wanted to end the review process and set the budget into place. But, council action Thursday doesn't mean the budget is done. The council still has one more step: approving the budget resolution that is the formal adoption of the 2018-2019 budget and a step that must be taken seven days before the end of the fiscal year (June 30).

Council members scored points with members of the audience with Ihler's latest proposal and most residents who spoke in favor of keeping twice-a-week trash collection said they didn't mind the additional expense.

Council members had initially voted 5-4 to move to once-a-week trash collection as a way to save $450,000 in next year's budget. But, the plan drew opposition from council members and the public, and Ihler's new proposal restored that service and made budget adjustments to compensate for that cost, including a $1 charge on the refuse fee now included on city utility bills.That $1 (estimated to generate $336,000 per year) would be in addition to the 2.7 percent increase that already will be applied to water, sewer and refuse fees, a proposal that will mean $2.67 more per month for what the city says is its average utility customer, or someone who uses 5,000 gallons of water a month.

Additional changes in the budget include a $100,000 increase in the fuel budget (Ihler said the cost of fuel has increased by 23 cents a gallon in the last six weeks), moving the purchase of a compact truck for the lakes division to the rolling stock fund rather than taking it from the General Fund, and trimming the amount of polycarts the city will buy next year to 1,000.

Services kept

Those changes are in addition to decisions already made, including full restoration of funding for the Senior Center for Creative Living and Mobile Meals, keeping Lawton Public Library's west branch open and restoring $25,000 for books and materials, restoring a mosquito fogging program and playoffs for youth sports, paying two code enforcement officers in neighborhood services through Community Development Block Grants, and recovering $155,000 in sales tax from the Lawton Marketplace retail development.

The proposal that drew the most discussion centered on two ambulances owned by Lawton Fire Department. Ihler's proposal had included a plan to sell the vehicles and split the expected $115,000 between the rolling stock fund and General Fund (which was to receive $41,000). Council members ultimately voted 5-4 to accept a recommendation from Ward 1 Councilman Robert Morford to table plans on the ambulances and take what had been an expected $41,000 savings for the General Fund out of the projected year-end balance.

That decision brings the year-end balance (what the city expects to have in its budget on June 30, 2019) to $54,562, for a General Fund that is almost $90 million.

The Lawton Constitution

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