Parks and recreation projects featured in the 2020 Capital Improvements Program will pair nicely with work intended to address blight and the general appearance of the community.
Those activities, which also will include control of tall grass and weeds in public areas, and elimination of blighted structures, are about improving Lawton’s “curb appeal,” said City Manager Michael Cleghorn.
Parks and Recreation Director Jack Hanna said it’s an argument long cited by former councilwoman and long-time beautification advocate Rosemary Bellino-Hall, who stresses the link between economic development and beautification. Hanna said data supports Bellino-Hall: population studies show that communities which focused on beautification saw a 10 percent growth between 1990 and 2010.
The down side: Lawton hasn’t spent a lot of money in this area in recent years.
“There were a lot of lean years,” Hanna said of the city budget, explaining that equipment to maintain parks and recreation activities “are not cheap.”
For example, a mower intended for large-scale work such as mowing city parks costs $15,000 to $20,000 and will last three growing seasons, Cleghorn said.
Beautification also means addressing deteriorating structures that mar neighborhoods, arterials and points in between.
“It’s part of the beautification effort because it eliminates blight,” Neighborhood Services Supervisor Will Hines said about the city’s D&D (dilapidated and demolition) program.
Hines said D&D actually addresses multiple issues. There is the blight and beautification argument, but deteriorating structures also present a dangerous lure for youth and the homeless while providing hiding places for criminal activities, said Hines, a retired Lawton police officer. Cleghorn said such structures also can harbor animals.
“That prompts us to tear them down,” Hines said. “We want to clean them up.”
The 2020 CIP would allocate $3.75 million toward the D&D program, significantly more than the $150,000 included in the 2015 Sales Tax Extension.
Cleghorn said that will allow the city to continue expanding its D&D program, a goal set by the City Council. He said city staff is committed to bringing structures from the D&D list to each council meeting, which would allow the city to address at least 120 dilapidated structures each year. At that rate, it would take city staff about five years to address the dilapidated structures already identified.
Hines said once those identified structures are dealt with, the city can focus on maintaining the community.
There is another benefit of the program: the city isn’t necessarily out the cost of demolition (an average of $2,500 to $3,000 for houses; $25,000 for commercial structures).
“People pay us back,” Hines said, explaining that while the city does the initial work of removing the structure, the property owner is given the option of reimbursing that cost or the city will place a lien on the property. “We front the money.”
Deputy City Manager Bart Hadley said funding in the new CIP will allow the City of Lawton to address more structures, paying for a new staff person to oversee the process and hiring contractors to get more work done. Once the city gets caught up, city staff can go back to responding to problems as they happen.
“It keeps the city clean,” Hadley said.
Keeping a clean city also is the goal of enhancing the city’s bulk cleanup program. It was a long-time goal of former Councilman Dwight Tanner, who said a budget-saving decision to cut what once was four-times-a-year bulk pickup at residences — a service only available to city utility customers — has increased the amount of debris dumped in the city.
That work is part of an $8 million designation to address bulk debris — think old mattresses and broken appliances — and increase mowing in easements and rights of way. Cleghorn said a large part of that cost, an estimated $4 million to $4.5 million, will be equipment and personnel, adding that the city staff also will look at amendments to bulk debris regulations.