Lawton city officials began the arduous task Monday of preparing a budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins July 1.
Part of the problem in crafting the coming year’s budget is that no one knows exactly how much revenue the city will have next year. The city will receive sales tax collections from March next week, before the coronavirus pandemic really hit. Sales tax collections for April won’t be released until June 10. The city budget has to be approved before the end of June, so that doesn’t give city administrators much time to work with hard numbers.
Given the early numbers, the city manager is projecting the city will have $10 million less to spend next year.That means the City Council, which has the final say on the budget, will have some hard decisions to make. The city manager made a few of those Monday.
Among the recommendations are furloughing every city employee once a month for the next 12 months. Each furlough day will save the city about $100,000. And that’s just counting furloughing general employees.
The city must negotiate with police and fire unions to gain their cooperation. If every police officer and firefighter takes 12 furlough days, the city will save another $100,000 per day. The total savings over 12 months for general employees, police officers and firefighters would be about $2 million.
We sincerely hope the respective unions agree to the furloughs. We all need to work together during these unusual times.
Another recommendation from the city manager is to go to once-a-week residential garbage pickup. Doing so will save the city $400,000 a year. This idea has been discussed before, and briefly implemented before being rescinded. Now may be the time to do so.
We realize that Lawton residents have been spoiled with twice-a-week garbage pickup. But in reality, how many people completely fill their containers twice a week with household trash? The exception may be those with large households, or during fall and spring when more yard waste is generated.
We can support the city converting to once-a-week garbage pickup if the city can make some arrangement to pick up excessive yard waste during the fall and spring. Perhaps during April and May and again in October and November, the city can designate one day each week for yard waste. This will help those residents who do their own yard work remove the waste in a timely manner.
The downside to changing the trash schedule is that six solid waste positions will be eliminated. Our sincere hope is that those positions will be cut through attrition.
The council meets again Thursday morning to continue budget discussions.
Monday’s discussion was held via Facebook, which was not ideal. There were some problems with the sound and not all council members were not identified by picture or name when they were talking.
We hope, if the city persists in using this format, that the bugs are worked out before Thursday. The citizens of Lawton deserve to know what recommendations are being discussed and who is speaking without having to guess. Better yet, go back to in-person council meetings with the appropriate social distancing measures in place.