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Council puts proposed sales tax on hold

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LAWTON, Okla._ There was fierce debate at Lawton City Hall on Tuesday night over extending two expiring sales taxes to pay for several projects, including a new police station.

The proposals will ultimately be decided by Lawton voters, but Tuesday night, the council couldn't agree on which projects should even be on the list.

The current proposal would allocate funds citywide, largely providing money, some $34 million for a new public safety facility, but also cash for Lawton Public Schools, Cameron University, as well as road projects and water and sewer line maintenance. Rosemary Bellino-Hall, who represents Ward 3, says the current plan is cutting the pie too thin.

“If you ask anyone in this community 'what is their main concern?', it is public safety," says Bellino-Hall. "The perception of this community is it's an unsafe place to live."

She voiced her concern for the 2015 CIP in front of the council, saying more of the projected $70 million needs to be directed to public safety, including increased starting salaries for patrol officers.

“We need desperately a new police station and jail; we can't cut this pie too small,” says Bellino-Hall.

Councilmen Keith Jackson and Jay Burk, who were instrumental in developing the 2015 CIP proposal, agree public safety is the biggest concern in the city.

“People don't want to move to a community they don't feel safe in," says Burk.

They also believe, however, it needs to be a capital improvement project that benefits everyone in the city.

“… A little over $12 million for Lawton Public Schools … Lawton Public Schools is a big part of our Lawton community … part of the money goes for water line projects … Cameron needs lights on their athletic fields,” says Burk.

“This is the single most important issue that we have with the City of Lawton in a long time,” says Jackson.

In the end, the council followed the urging of Mayor Fred Fitch to delay a vote on the tax proposals as they're written now. The city has scheduled a meeting for public input on the projects next Wednesday, May 21 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The council will use that information to compile the final capital improvements list that will go to the voters. They hope to schedule the election as early as August.

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