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Debate over taxpayer spending heats up

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News- City of Lawton News- City of Lawton

LAWTON, Okla._ The city council has pinpointed a proposal for how to best use the money that will be generated from a new capital improvement project.

More than 300 hundred city residents packed into City Hall for a public forum Wednesday night. City leaders discussed with those in attendance the 2015 C.I.P. would only scratch the surface in terms of the hundreds of millions of dollars in needed work citywide.

The city council still has to vote on a final proposal, but they made progress Wednesday night. Now, the debate is heating up on how to best appropriate all those funds.

At the meeting, there were three proposals up for discussion. Two of the proposals would be funded solely by sales taxes. The third, recommended by the city manager and supported by the mayor, proposed a property tax hike in combination of the sales tax dollars. That idea was quickly opposed by many in the audience.

“If any piece of this C.I.P. is funded by a property tax increase, I will vote against it."

Last week, the council unveiled their initial plan which would extend two current sales taxes for another eight years. It would bring in $70 million to be spent in large part for a new police station, the Lawton Public Schools, as well as water and sewer line maintenance. Both city leaders and the public, however, urged for city workers, including police officers to receive a bump in pay.

“What my husband does do is go to work every night not knowing if he's going to come back home to us. If that's not worth $14,000 more, I don't know what is."

With that, the council revised the initial proposal to extend a pair of sales taxes for 11 years, instead of eight years. The main goal of the change is to recruit and retain a better police force, which is currently 20-plus officers short staffed.

Concerns remain among the split council with Rosemary Bellino-Hall voicing her opinion that she feels the 2015 C.I.P is being rushed through to city voters.

“We need to settle our city budget,” says Bellino-Hall. That’s what we need to have our heads around. Give us a little more time to put this thing together."

Despite her concerns, it does not appear the city is slowing down. The council plans to discuss this proposal at next Tuesday’s meeting. Time is also not on their side. The council must come to an agreement by June 11 if they want to put this proposal before city voters in an August election. If they miss that deadline, the next available election date is in November.

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