The City Council launched its budget review process Thursday, looking at a document for the new fiscal year that has more employees and a better revenue picture.

Those revenues are better, in part, because of increases proposed for city utility bills ($1 more in charges, plus a 1.5 percent overall increase), but also because revenues already are coming in better than projections made last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the better picture, City Manager Michael Cleghorn said citywide expenditures are $3.25 million less in next year’s budget than they were for the budget adopted for 2020-2021.

That means the $98,349,605 General Fund budget is 3.20 percent less than the $101,596,730 budget put into place for the 2020-2021 budget that began July 1, 2020, but the biggest reason is a 65.36 percent drop in funding allocated for capital outlay. Last year’s budget contained funding that city administrators found by combing through existing funds, but Cleghorn warned then those dollars were “one time only.”

Cleghorn said the $2.67 million allocated for next year’s capital outlay includes only funding from self funding activities and the city’s “rolling stock” charge. There are no capital outlay expenditures in the General and Enterprise funds (those most associated with everyday city activities) because administrators are waiting for the requirements on federal stimulus money that is being allocated to Lawton and other governmental entities across the country.

“We are recommending replacing capital outlay dollars,” he said, of plans for some of those stimulus dollars.

Administrators expect to know those requirements by May 11, but Cleghorn said because the emphasis is on expenditures that stimulate the economy, he is confident some money can be used to tackle the $2.3 million worth of capital outlay requests sought in the General and Enterprise Funds.

That won’t be the only increase for capital outlay.

City administrators are recommending a 50-cent increase in the $6.50 “rolling stock” fee on monthly utility bills. That revenue is restricted to equipment with wheels, which Public Works Director Larry Wolcott said can be anything from police sedans and fire trucks, to backhoes and trash trucks.

Department heads rely on a prioritized list of city equipment which sets replacement based on age and usage. But, the existing rolling stock fee can’t keep pace with required replacement equipment, meaning the city is at least $1.1 million short of the $3.6 million of identified equipment. That’s why administrators want the 50-cent increase, one of three proposed increases on city utility bills.

“The longer you keep equipment, the more apt they are to break down,” Cleghorn said, adding equipment that cannot be used adds to expenses through things such as increased overtime.

Administrators also are seeking an additional 50 cents per month for four years on sewer charges, to fund repairs at the wastewater treatment plant. The budget also includes a 1.5 percent increase in all utility rates based on the annual change in the Consumer Price Index. That increase is automatic each year, unless the council rejects it.

On the expenditure side of the ledger is a plan to add 20 new positions, following actions city administrators have been taking in recent months to restore some of the 45 positions they cut from this year’s budget. While those new positions include two new police officers, an assistant fire marshal, equipment operators and laborers, they also include four administrative assistants.

Those assistants prompted the bulk of Thursday’s discussion because two are targeted toward the city manager’s office. Specifically, they would help the city’s two deputy city managers, who now rely on the sole administrative assistant who coordinates things for everyone in the city manager’s office, as well as the mayor and city council. Deputy City Managers Richard Rogalski and Bart Hadley said they need help because the amount of work associated with their positions needs more clerical support than can be provided by one administrative assistant.

“She is swamped,” Hadley said, explaining time spent on support services means he and Rogalski have less time for essential management activities.

The proposal fits into the city’s goal of making itself more efficient, the reason Mayor Stan Booker said he is asking administrators to consider another a new position for the finance department, someone to act as the city’s efficiency monitor. While the value of that position could be $100,000, greater efficiency in operations means less personnel will be needed in the future. And, the funds saved with fewer employees can be put into the salaries of existing employees to strengthen pay, which will improve recruitment and retention, Booker said.

Personnel proposals don’t include cost of living increases, but they will include step increases, or moves to higher grade grades based on length of service and qualifications. Cleghorn said 70 positions also have been reclassified. And, employees will see more in their paychecks because of the city’s decision to move from a self-funded health insurance system to Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage. Cleghorn said cheaper premiums will mean less cost to employees; the effect on someone making $35,000 a year is 6 percent more in their paycheck.

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