Monthly utility bills and camping fees at City of Lawton lakes will increase in July, after action Tuesday by the City Council.
Council members had only minimal discussion on the fee proposals, after making the decisions at earlier meetings about the aspects of next year’s city budget.
The increases calculated on monthly utility rates are part of the budget process for the 2021-2022 budget that will go into effect July 1. As approved by the Lawton Water Authority and confirmed by the City Council, the monthly charges for water, sewer and refuse service will increase 1.5 percent, an amount equivalent to the annual change in the Consumer Price Index.
The new rates will go into effect July 1, meaning customer utility bills charged on and after that date will reflect the higher fees.
That increase also includes 50 cents more for the “rolling stock” fee, now a $6.50 monthly charge whose revenue is restricted to “wheeled” vehicles. Qualified vehicles can range from riding lawnmowers and bulldozers to police vehicles and fire apparatus. The common denominator: an annual review has targeted them for replacement due to age or maintenance issues.
The problem: the $2.5 million generated annually doesn’t meet the annual demands of priority replacement and city administrators need more money to lessen the gap between vehicles needing replacement and available money. The new $7 fee will add only $168,000 this year, with some council members indicating they will look at the fee again next budget year.
Coupled with the 1.5 percent increase for water, sewer and refuse rates, the average city billing (using 5,000 gallons a month) will increase $1.50 per month while base level customers (using 2,000 gallons) will pay $1.25 more. City officials have said the Enterprise Fund (revenue from water, sewer and refuse) will generate $604,500 more than revenues in the existing fiscal year, to include the utility rate increase.
Residents who camp at city lakes also will be paying more for their sites, beginning July 8.
Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Temple said the new camping fees are part of an overall plan to improve recreational activities at city lakes, being implemented in multiple phases to ease the transition while giving city staff time to make adjustments.
In this instance, camping increases will put Lawton’s rates “more in line” with fees charged in state parks while also giving the city additional revenue for lakes improvements. That argument was the strongest for council members who support the idea.
“Jeff has a really good vision to upgrade our lakes,” said Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh, adding Lawton facilities are run down, something “modest increases” will help resolve.
Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said he has heard only two complaints about the plan and both can be resolved with a simple directive: the fees will be dedicated to the lake where they were collected. Warren said facilities at Lakes Lawtonka and Ellsworth need work.
“This is just the first bite,” he said, explaining while a future Capital Improvements Program could provide funds for lakes, the city’s only option now is its operating budget (and grants).
Temple said the camping fees are being implemented in July because that revenue stream is needed now. He and the city’s recreation-related boards also have outlined a plan to implement a $10 per car entrance fee for the Lake Lawtonka Recreation Area, but that plan won’t be implemented before late Fall.
That proposal comes with other upgrades already in motion: a wifi system for the Lawtonka day use/camping area and two kiosks that will take payments for day users and campers, eliminating the need for city staff. The kiosks will be installed after the summer season has ended, Temple said, meaning the only change to be seen this summer is higher camping fees.
Those fees, implemented for both lakes, will be $25 for preferred sites, $20 for non-preferred sites and $10 for primitive (tent) camping. Additional changes include a $15 camping fee for those who are age 65 and older, disabled or participating in a youth organization; $5 for day use picnicking; $35 for group picnicking reservation; and $250 for dry stalls.
Temple said discussion on the second part of the proposal — the $10 park entrance fee — will be brought back to the council for discussion “soon.”