Lawton voters overwhelmingly approved a new Capital Improvements Program Tuesday, clearing the way for a new set of projects to be funded without raising the existing sales tax rate.
The final vote pleased Mayor Stan Booker, one of the program’s most vocal proponents, who said the next step is moving forward with projects.
The issue passed by a 64.19 percent majority, or 2,787 “yes” votes and 1,555 “no” votes. In all, 4,342 residents cast ballots in the citywide election.
As approved, the proposition will end the 2015 Sales Tax Extension and the 2016 Capital Improvements Program effective March 31. The combined value of those two sales tax programs — 2.125 percent — will continue April 1 as the 2020 CIP, a program that combines unfinished projects from the 2015 and 2016 programs with new projects that range from designated funding for industrial development, to waterline and sewer line work, to an indoor youth sports complex.
Booker and other supporters have said the projects set for the new CIP are vital to moving the community forward, and Booker said at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting that the proposed projects “are very needed for our growth.”
“These are exciting times to be in Lawton-Fort Sill,” he said.
“Lawton is a community worth investing in, as demonstrated by voters today at the polls,” said City Manager Michael Cleghorn. “Our administration is pleased to move forward with the many plans and projects outlined in the 2020 CIP. Staff will work alongside the people we serve for the utmost community involvement and outreach throughout the initiatives of this program, and at the direction of Lawton City Council.”
After the meeting, Booker said the next step is a deep breath, then he will ask the city manager to press forward with request for proposals from firms interested in creating a new parks master plan. That project was set as the first step needed before the city begins spending money allocated for parks and recreation, a $20 million category that includes up to $8 million for the indoor sports complex.
Booker said he expects other projects to begin, noting that after months of crafting the new program and explaining it to voters, city officials are “ready to get the ball rolling.”
Under the terms of the new program, sales tax dedicated to the city’s CIP would remain at 2.125 percent (out of the total 9 percent that people shopping in Lawton now pay). One-half percent of that total would be designated as “indefinite,” meaning it will not expire when the remainder of the tax expires Dec. 31, 2034.
Ordinance 19-30, approved by the council in November, specifies how the funding will be spent. In addition to completing projects in the 2015 and 2016 programs, there are nine new project categories: water and sewer system improvements, including construction of a $17 million plant to treat water taken from wells; street/sidewalk improvements and maintenance; improvements to city buildings/facilities, to include Lawton City Hall, McMahon Memorial Auditorium and Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport terminal; parks and recreational facilities, to include up to $8 million for an indoor youth sports complex and $250,000 for arts and humanities programs; youth programs to stem crime; infrastructure and projects to further industrial development; information technology upgrades; and beautification improvements, to include a bulk trash pickup program and expansion of the city’s dilapidated structure removal program.
It also includes an annual allocation of $250,000 to the city’s emergency fund throughout the course of the 2020 CIP. The “indefinite” one-half percent will be dedicated to three categories: the emergency fund, water/sewer system improvements, and up to $2.684 million annually for new police and fire personnel, and equipment.