New revisions to Lawton’s mask ordinance, to include clarification of penalties for not wearing them while in public places, will top the agenda when the City Council meets today for what is expected to be the final meeting of 2020.
The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of Lawton City Hall, Southwest 9th and C.
The revised ordinance was directed by the City Council last week, after members backed away from immediate penalties and fines up to $750 for residents who won’t wear masks while inside indoor public places, and businesses/owners/managers who won’t enforce that mandate against customers as a means to control the spread of COVID-19. That initial amended ordinance — directed by the council last month — set a series of risk phases, and the greater the risk (meaning, the more widespread the virus), the stronger the penalty. Proposals also would have required businesses, commercial entities or other buildings/structures open to the public to refuse service to those who would not wear masks, and to notify city police of those who refuse to comply.
Council members said last week they were reluctant to force businesses to deny service to customers and to call city police. Several said they believe the majority of Lawtonians are following the mask mandate and city provisions that require businesses to post signs requiring masks to be worn by customers inside public places (the mask mandate does not apply while outside).
But, there was something about last week’s proposal that the council did like: defined risk phrases that Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren described as an “end date” in terms of when the community could drop its mask mandate.
Those revisions set four risk phases (green, yellow, orange and red), which correspond to the number of COVID-19 cases in the city, Green, defined as “the new normal,” is less than 1.43 positive cases per 100,000 population; red, high risk, is more than 14.29 positive cases per 100,000 population and 40 percent or more of staffed acute care beds in hospitals have COVID-19 patients. Under a color-coded mapping system created by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Comanche County and every other county in Oklahoma is in the orange (moderate risk), defined as 14.29 cases or more per 100,000 population.
Warren said defined risk categories give Lawton an exit strategy for its mandate. Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski said that, based on the state’s system, Lawton could remove its mask mandate when it had remained at the green phase for two consecutive weeks.
The amended ordinance also adopts what the council wanted for fines: a system giving city police the option of verbal and written warnings before imposing citations that could result in fines of up to $100, for residents who don’t wear masks and businesses that don’t enforce them. The ordinance still gives the city the option to pursue other legal remedies “to obtain compliance.”
And, it amends requirements on the list of exemptions from the mask mandate to allow a state certified therapist to provide the documentation of a medical condition, requiring such persons to wear a face shield (the existing ordinance says should consider); and specifies persons in bars are exempted only if they are actively drinking a beverage.
In other business, the council will consider a covenant agreement with the Lawton Economic Development Authority that would designate an “in lieu of” property tax payment for Central Mall. The City of Lawton is finalizing the details of a plan to purchase the mall for $14.6 million by month’s end, and part of that discussion has been the potential loss of ad valorem that Central Mall generates as a private commercial business because the city (a governmental entity) would not pay that tax.
However, the city can designate an in lieu of payment equal to the ad valorem paid on the property (which city officials have not cited) and that is important because the property is located within one of the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts and helps cover infrastructure funded for that area. City officials said leases to retail entities within the mall now include a pro rata share of that annual tax bill, which would continue under a plan already implemented by the FISTA Development Trust Authority to hire a manager to keep those existing retail businesses operating.
In other business, the council will consider amending this year’s budget to reflect COVID-19-related federal funding allocated to housing programs. In a related item, the council will hold a public hearing to amend the action plan that sets expenditures of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding.
At issue is $529,445 in CARES Act funding allocated to Lawton in the CDBG program. The city already has allocated some CDBG funding to programs to help residents cover utility and rental bills, programs being handled by the Lawton Housing Authority under existing programs for low-income residents. This amendment would add a mortgage assistance program for residents affected by the pandemic. The funding allocation will be split among the three programs; the city’s housing and community development staff would decide the percentages, based on the needs of each program). The city budget is being amended to include these funds.
In other business, the council will consider:
• Meeting in executive session on two items, including an update on a Notice of Violation posted against the City of Lawton by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality for treatment standard violations that occurred at the city’s wastewater plant between July 2017 and August 2019. City officials have said severe flooding in 2015 and 2017 damaged equipment in the plant, and they have begun the process to analyze upgrades needed to modernize the existing plant and/or build a new one.
• Awarding a construction contract to MTZ Construction Inc. for the next phase of residential street projects under the 2019 Ad Valorem Streets Program. The firm bid $1,932,807 to rebuild/repair Carroll Drive from Northwest 14th Street to Mobley; Southwest 26th Street from West Gore Boulevard to Cornell; Cornell from Southwest 26th to Southwest 27th streets; and Northwest 36th Street, from 10 NW 36th to 40 NW 36th.