Trash pickup in Lawton

A solid waste driver empties a line of residential polycarts Monday, as he works his route in west Lawton. Funding designated to the City of Lawton through the federal CARES Act, for reimbursement of expenses related to COVID-19, is allowing city officials to address some needs put on hold, including plans to add bulk waste trucks to the city fleet for a new residential trash collection system.

The City of Lawton has amended its 2020-2021 budget, allocating $7.2 million that it expects to receive under the federal CARES Act.

The action confirmed last week by the City Council wasn’t unexpected; city administrators told the council in the spring they were submitting a “place holder” budget in lieu of a formal budget that was to be put into place before the new fiscal year began July 1. Projected drops in revenue, coupled with the uncertainty of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompted the action, with administrators also setting hiring freezes, and implementing deep cuts in capital outlay expenditures and other cost-savings measures until they could make firmer predictions on revenues and expenditures over the next 12 months.

The first radical adjustment came Tuesday when City Manager Michael Cleghorn explained a resolution that amended the existing budget to allow staff to appropriate up to $7,170,388 from the State of Oklahoma for capital outlay and other general operating expenditures. The State of Oklahoma allocated $250 million from its CARES Act allocation to municipalities and counties for COVID-19-related expenditures based on a $77 per capita funding formula, which is how Lawton qualified for $7.17 million.

Cleghorn said the funding will reimburse expenditures the City of Lawton already made, meaning it can allocate the reimbursed money as it sees fit. Specific types of expenditures had to be selected to fit reimbursement criteria, he said, noting those expenses included things such as materials and salaries for public safety employees, as well as the salaries of other city employees who spent more than 50 percent of their time dealing with COVID-19.

Once the funds are reimbursed, “the money can be spent as they want,” Cleghorn said, of qualifying municipalities and counties.

Cleghorn said his staff’s initial recommendations center on the area where they made the deepest cuts to balance this year’s budget: capital outlay. That category includes vehicles, equipment and materials, and city administrators cut this year’s expenditures by 84 percent, allowing little outside lease purchase agreement payments.

Last week’s amendment changes that, designating $1,770,385 for rolling stock (defined as “wheeled” vehicles and equipment), and vehicles and equipment for the drainage maintenance division ($85,632) and sewer rehabilitation ($768,806).

While this budget amendment focused on materials and supplies, the next analysis and adjustment will look at personnel, depending on how things are going, Cleghorn said.

“We’re not getting any more money, unless something changes on the state level, but we continue to track our COVID-19 spending,” he said, of the availability of funding that is easing restrictions for the city.

The $1.77 million proposed for rolling stock includes vehicles and wheeled equipment for the finance, community services, public works, parks and recreation, public utilities and police departments, ranging from pickup trucks to excavators. The $768,806 for sewer rehab includes loaders, trucks, a portable lift station pump, excavators and roof work on the public utilities building.

Funding also is allowing the city to address issues that were being discussed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the city budget in late winter.

Topping the list: Speed tables, or portable devices fastened to streets to create an elevated surface to slow traffic. The tables are designed to cause no harm to vehicles moving at 25 miles per hour or less, making them a successful speed control device in residential neighborhoods. The City of Lawton already has four devices and the new capital outlay list includes $22,000 for four more.

That’s not enough, said Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, explaining he’s among the council members who have multiple sites that would benefit from speed tables.

“I’m going to get one,” Burk said, adding the only issue that prompts more complaint calls than speeders in residential areas is potholes. “I know of four (sites) in my ward. I’m not sure four (new tables) is enough. Those that have them won’t give them up.”

Cleghorn said the goal is eight total portable speed tables, with an eye toward turning some of the sites now using portable tables into permanent speed tables. That tactic would be less costly, he said, explaining a permanent speed table (made of asphalt or concrete) is $4,000 to $5,000, versus $6,500 for a portable one.

CARES Act funding also prompted city staff to look at the idea of leveraging that money to beef up other areas, using the Capital Improvements Programs.

A proposed list for Lawton’s CARES Act money designates a one-time $675,000 contribution to the city’s pension fund, $1 million to the city’s emergency fund and $1.675 million for trash trucks for the residential bulk trash collection program. City administrators said the bulk trash trucks initially will be funded with CARES Act funding. But, because that equipment purchase was allocated in the 2019 CIP, the city will use those CIP funds to repay itself, designating that repayment to the pension fund and the emergency fund over a four-year period.

The bulk trash vehicles are part of the city’s plan to provide once-a-month curbside bulk collection (meaning, debris that doesn’t fit into polycarts) as the city transitions to a once-a-week residential trash program by early 2021.

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