Some proposals in this year’s City of Lawton budget need careful consideration before the council signs off on them. And we think some need to be rejected.
The budget includes a 1.5 percent increase in utility rates based on the annual change in the Consumer Price Index and an additional 50 cents per month on the rolling stock fee. That increase, which is assessed on your monthly City of Lawton utility bill, would bring the rolling stock fee to $7 per month. The rolling stock fee is used to replace and maintain equipment which has wheels, such as trash trucks, police cars and fire trucks. City administrators say the city is at least $1.1 million short of the $3.6 million of identified equipment.
Raising the rolling stock fee 50 cents per month would generate $168,000 next year.
The city needs to keep up maintenance on its equipment, but we question the timing of the increase of the rolling stock and the utility rate increase.
Lawton has not been as hard hit as some other cities in the nation by the coronavirus, but even here families are still struggling financially to recover from last year. Many are still without jobs or may have lost the breadwinner in their family due to COVID-19.
Now is simply not the time to raise utility rates. Especially in light of the city’s projection that revenues are coming in better than projected and that expenditures are projected to be $3.25 million less than last year. The city “found” some money last year by combing through existing funds and was able to use that for capital outlay expenditures.
City Manager Michael Cleghorn said the city expects to receive federal stimulus money and is waiting to see what those requirements might be. The city expects to know those requirements next week. The council should wait to see what aid might come in the form of federal funds before committing to a hike in the rolling stock fee.
Another recommendation that needs further study is the mayor’s proposal to create a new position for an efficiency monitor. This person would create a plan to make city operations more efficient, meaning fewer personnel positions in the future. Theoretically, the savings realized by having fewer personnel would be put into future salaries of employees.
We are all for the city operating more efficiently, but the price tag of this position could be $100,000. That’s a large chunk of change. We counsel the council to put this proposal on the back burner this year. Let’s wait to see how Lawton’s economy is faring next year before we make such a large expenditure. Or, perhaps hire that person and let them find the money they want to add to ratepayers monthly charges.
The City Council has another budget workshop scheduled for Thursday. We hope the councilmembers take their time and assess the impact their actions will have on the pocketbooks of their fellow Lawtonians before enacting the utility rate increase and the rolling stock increase and approving the efficiency monitor position.