The City Council will look at a series of agenda items Tuesday that could set a new Capital Improvements Program into place next year.
Council members have been listening to discussions since August on new projects that could be funded if city voters agree to replace the 2015 Sales Tax Extension and the 2016 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) with a new CIP. If approved, that new CIP would complete projects in the 2015 and 2016 programs, as well as new work that ranges from water and sewer line upgrades to an indoor youth sports complex.
While the council is tasked with creating the ballot proposition that will be submitted to the Comanche County Election Board for a Feb. 11, 2020, election, only Lawton voters can change the CIP. Without that approval, the two existing programs remain in effect until their Dec. 31, 2025, expiration.
The new CIP would go into effect April 1, 2020, and expire Dec. 31, 2034, according to the items in Tuesday’s agenda.
Mayor Stan Booker, a leading proponent of the proposal, said only the length of the CIP would change. The two existing sales taxes attached to the CIP — 0.875 for the 2015 Sales Tax Extension and 1.25 percent for the 2016 CIP — would remain the same, although combined into one 2.125 percent tax. Although, if voters approve the ballot proposition Feb. 11, the ballot specifies that one-half percent of the tax would be “indefinite,” meaning it would not expire when the remainder of the tax expires in December 2034.
The agenda items before the council follow the steps needed to bring the election to city voters, to include the ballot resolution, an ordinance setting the new program, and resolutions specifying what the council will do.
To meet the state-imposed timelines for a Feb. 11 election, the council must have its ballot resolution to the election board by Dec. 12. Missing that deadline means the election could not take place Feb. 11 (also the date for school board primary elections).
Booker has called components of the plan, including funding dedicated to economic development, “a game changer,” in terms of helping Lawton become more attractive to industry and better able to attract the jobs that will bring and keep residents. Linked to an on-going discussion about creating a Tax Increment Financing District project plan to cover west Lawton industrial sites, as well as the Airport Industrial Park in south Lawton, is a crucial move for economic development, Booker has said.
Among the key components of the plan is the promise that projects that haven’t yet begun or are not finished in the 2015 Sales Tax Extension (which is funding construction of the public safety facility and pay raises/incentives for city police and firefighters) and the 2016 CIP (which includes a variety of infrastructure work, along with funding dedicated to IT upgrades and infrastructure to support industrial development).
One of the resolutions that the council will consider Tuesday specifies “it is the intent of the Council to complete the projects being funded and to be funded by the existing seven-eighths of one percent tax and the one and one-quarter tax upon their replacement with the new excise tax of two and one-eight percent....”
That resolution also specifies allocations for projects are based on an annual revenue estimate of $23.5 million throughout the tax’s life. Booker and City Manager Michael Cleghorn have said that project is “conservative,” and some city officials say revenues could be higher.
The resolution covers that, specifying that should revenues exceed $23.5 million annually, those funds would be considered excess and be “allocated by the council upon the receipt of input from citizens....” If revenues fall short, allocations will be reduced “as deemed appropriate by the Council,” with a goal of funding as many projects/expenditures as possible.
Additional capital improvements would be allocated in nine broad categories, according to the ordinance:
• Water and sewer system improvements. This category includes the one-half percent “indefinite” tax, to be designated for those improvements, funding for police and fire personnel, capital equipment costs and a $250,000 annual allocation to the city’s emergency fund. It also would include $17 million to build a water treatment facility for well water, should the city need that alternate water source.
• Improvements to streets ($18 million) and construction of new or repairs to existing sidewalks ($5 million). This category also includes $10 million for street maintenance.
• Improvements to city buildings/facilities, to include $2 million for the Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport terminal renovation project, $4.5 million for renovations planned at McMahon Auditorium, and $6 million to complete renovations at Lawton City Hall.
• Parks and recreation facilities, to include $8 million for development and implementation of a parks and recreation master plan, which would include work at Elmer Thomas Park, existing ballfields and a new youth sports complex. This category also includes $250,000 for Arts and Humanities programs.
• Youth programs, $6 million for programs and projects to develop life and career enhancing skills for youth to avoid involvement with crime.
• Industrial development, to include $29 million for infrastructure and to support projects that further industrial development.
• Information technology upgrades, to include $12 million for hardware and software upgrades, and replacement and protection of the city’s IT system.
• Beautification efforts, to include $8 million for work such as developing and implementing an eight-year bulk trash program, caring for rights of way, and abatement of tall grass/weeds. Another $3.75 million would be dedicated to eradicating dilapidated structures.
• An annual allocation of $250,000 to the city’s emergency fund.
Those projects are not listed in the ballot proposition, which simply asks voters to agree to an ordinance which replaces two existing CIPS with a new CIP, from a time between April 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2034. It is the ordinance that specifies the project categories.