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City Council to Dip into Emergency Fund for Vehicle Maintenance

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LAWTON, Okla_There are still two months left in the fiscal year, and Lawton's budget for maintaining city vehicles has run dry.

That's left city officials scratching their heads as to how they will keep everything in working order, since they need more than $300,000 to get them through June.

Tuesday night, the City Council debated two possible solutions to that financial puzzle.

The first option was to dip into the city's At-Large Activity fund. That's money set aside for projects like repairs to McMahon Ball Fields and renovations to bathrooms at Elmer Thomas Park. From that option they would get the $318,000 they need to make it until June.

The other option was to amend the Emergency Management Fund to cover city vehicle maintenance repair. That fund was never intended to cover operational needs, so if the Council chose that, it would be a significant departure from its original purpose.

"We under budgeted in this area. City staff under budgeted and Council later approved it."

That's how City Manager Bryan long said the city got into this predicament.

His suggestion to pull from the Activity Fund was met with opposition.

"I just think its a disgrace for the Council to keep putting off improvements to McMahon funded projects because we keep having shortfalls, " said Councilman Doug Wells.

"No I don't like taking it out of the Emergency Fund, but every time we need something what do we hit? Quality of life. We hit projects that deal with our kids deal, with things that our families enjoy, " echoed Councilman Jay Burk.

Both Burk and Wells were in favor of amending the Emergency Fund to cover city maintenance, but Councilman George Moses objected to that, since the Council already dipped into the fund once to pay for tree removal. He believed it would set a dangerous precedent.

"I don't consider this an emergency since we did this to ourselves. An emergency is not when you have choices, " said Moses.

But Wells argued that the state of the city's budget is an emergency itself. With the added expense of maintenance repair, Lawton will start the fiscal year nearly 2.2 million dollars in the hole.

"This is an emergency to me, and it should come from the emergency fund, " Wells said.

With that, the Council voted, and it came out 5-3 in favor of amending the Emergency Fund, but in order for an ordinance to take effect immediately, it needs a vote of 6 or more. So just before they went into Executive Session Councilman Keith Jackson motioned to re-vote on the issue, so the funds could be come available the next day. On the re-vote the decision to amend the Emergency Fund passed 6 to 2, so the transfer of funds will take place Wednesday morning.

As for how the problem will continue to be solved for the coming fiscal year?

"There's just no question we're going to have to budget the funds, " explained City Manager Bryan Long. "Does that mean another area might suffer? I don't know at this point. It's much too early for me to give a detailed analysis about what we're going to do and how we're going to correct it."

They'll begin to tackle next year's budget in May and finalize in June.

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