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City Council Takes Suggestions on Budget Issue

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LAWTON, Okla_What's the best way to fill an $8.5 million dollar budget shortfall? That was the question at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Around 100 people came to City Hall to make sure their concerns were heard. Most are upset over the idea of an increase in the utility bill. But many on the council insist the budget cannot be balanced on spending cuts alone.

 "Stop Spending!"

That was the cry of one citizen who showed up to speak.

One after one they lined up at the podium with suggestions. City employees fighting for their jobs:

"I just don't understand why you would not want to cut funding for the museums but you would cut 50, 75 employees."

Others with a list of suggestions:

"Close the landfill one day a week, perhaps Wednesday, use that day for maintenance. Charge a fee for non Lawton residents such as contractors or out of state businesses."

Others wanted city salaries reduced by ten percent, several were in favor of limiting trash pick up, but most everyone was against any type of tax hike or surcharge.

But Councilman Jay Burk said whether we like it or not there's really only two ways for the city to get more money -- add that surcharge to the utility bill or...

"Increase the sales tax. Those are really only our two forms of revenue. And so if you increase the sales tax that will ease the pain on the utility bill for the 35,000 customers, " said Burk.

He said he's heard countless suggestions, all of them make a good case which adds to the difficulty of the job.

He said as much as he doesn't like it, he favors the surcharge over city lay-offs because he thinks it would only come back to haunt us.

"In my mind, in my heart that hurts our economy even more. Because those are 50 or 75 families that no longer have a job. That no longer have an income, " Burk said.

He said to make this work, everyone needs to take another long hard look at what they really need.

"There has to be a mix.  We need to go from department to department and say I need you to find another 5 or 10 percent I need you to cut, " said Burk.

But there's no way around it. A decision must be made. It won't be universally popular, but as one speaker pointed out...

"Life has tough choices. That's why you were elected."

Now there's still been question as to how and why the deficit got so bad. Burk says the council was provided with monthly revenue reports, but he insists they never led them to believe they'd be this short. He maintains the budget problem is not the fault of the council, but the result of a perfect storm between the loss of revenue from water conservation and a decrease in sales tax revenue.

The City Council will continue budget discussions again Wednesday in another workshop. It'll be at 1:30 at City Hall.

By law, they must have the budget finalized ten days before the next fiscal year, which puts their deadline on June 20th.

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