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Lawton City Council Discusses Deficit Plan

LAWTON Okla_ For the second time in three days, the Lawton City Council met to tackle the problem of an $8M deficit in next year's budget.

All members agree cuts have to be made, and utility bills will have to go up, but they are disagreeing on who and what has to take the hit.  After two hours of discussion, the council was only able to come to one conclusion: they need more time. 

Taking into account Wednesday's meeting, City Manager Bryan Long brought three scenarios in front of the council. Each of them involved adjusting the budget in a different way.

From the looks of it, everyone from citizens, city workers, and city organizations will likely take a hit financially in the next fiscal year. Now, it's just a matter of how much.

Each idea on how to make cuts is a piece to a puzzle that the council is desperately trying to put together. So how did the City of Lawton get into this mess?  Long said it's been the perfect storm: a drop in revenue due to water rationing and a decrease in the type of sales tax that finds its way into the general fund. He said it has nothing to do with the 2nd Street Project.

"As it exists Friday, there is funding set aside that has been loaned by a bank," Long said.

He said it is completely different from the general fund, which is lacking funds. They are funds that have to be made up. So, it's safe to say your water bill will be going up by 10%. That's a change that would remain permanently.

"The truth is the City of Lawton, over a period of years, has failed to raise its utility rates," Long said. "That's caused inconvenience for us all."

A public safety surcharge will also likely be added to your water bill.

"That is not a tax," Long said. "It's a surcharge for service being provided. It would go to offset the expenses whether it be personnel expenses, equipment, or both." 

Another good possibility is a reduction in force, as two of the three scenarios include the idea of cutting city workers; anywhere between 50 and 75 of them.

Fire and police are the only workers excluded. The RIF would also include eliminating already-vacant positions.

Remember, these are all just possibilities; a part of a mathematical formula the council "will" have to solve.

"It's a very difficult task to be able to go in to a budget like ours and figure out who can do without," Long said. "You can always make a case that nobody can."

Trash pick-up could also be reduced from twice per week to once per week. Another interesting idea is eliminating the council members' and mayor's salaries. Each council member makes $5,000. The mayor gets $15,000. That's something most of them, including Mayor Fitch, seemed okay with.

The council wants your input on the scenarios. They will have a public forum where you can voice your concerns Tuesday night at 6:00 PM. The forum will be held at City Hall.



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