City of Lawton employees will take their first furlough day today. The furlough days are necessitated by the fact that the coronavirus has shot a big hole in the City of Lawton’s budget.
Figures show the city collected $3.6 million in sales tax collections in March. That compares to just over $4 million in March of 2019. So the city experienced an almost 9 percent drop from March a year ago. The sales tax collection figures from April won’t be in for a couple more weeks, but they are sure to be down also since most businesses were closed during April.
During City of Lawton budget workshops, the city manager announced that employees will take two furlough days for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The other furlough day will be June 12. Each furlough day will save the city about $100,000, and that’s if just general employees take the furlough day. The savings is much more if police officers and firefighters also participate.
And there’s the rub. The police and fire unions have not yet agreed to take furlough days.
Under the city’s plan, all city offices and city services will be closed on furlough days. City Hall will not be open, nor will the Lawton Public Library nor the city landfill. If a furlough day falls on your trash pickup day, your trash will not be picked up.
Now we realize it is not possible for police officers and firefighters to take the entire day off. We need their services to protect us. But surely some arrangement can be made where days off can be rotated so each firefighter or police officer does their bit to help ease the city budget shortfall.
City Manager Michael Cleghorn said during budget discussions that the furlough days will be continued into the next fiscal year. Next year’s budget is a moving target due to the uncertainty of revenues. Not only are sales tax collections down, but so are water revenues. The city had waived late fees for those unable to pay their utility bills during the height of the pandemic crisis. The two main sources of revenue for the city are sales tax collections and water revenues. The city might hope to make up some ground in the budget if we have a hot, dry summer and our rural water customers buy more water, but that is far from certain.
When the city was faced with furloughing employees several years ago due to the drought and falling revenues, the fire union immediately complied.
General employees have no say about the furlough days. They don’t get to decide if they will take a furlough day or not, so why should police and fire be exempt?
We hope the respective unions will help the city out and agree to take their furlough days.