Lawton City Council debates 2.2% utility bill increase with budget

Lawton City Council debates 2.2% utility bill increase with budget

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - A 2.2 percent increase in the water rates was the prime topic of debate at a budget workshop for the City of Lawton on Tuesday. Council members went back and forth about the rate increase with council members trying to hash out other ways to fund the budget, while others explained why the hike is needed.

The City Manager said it will add about $736,000 to the budget. About $676,000 of that will go toward 'City At Large' accounts for unexpected maintenance, or increase in fuel costs. The increase is built in to the budget from the Consumer Price Index.

Most of the council did not want to raise rates, but some saw no other way to balance the city's $90 million budget.

"Citizens just don't want their water bill increased," Lawton City Councilwoman V. Gay McGahee said.

McGahee sat through Tuesday's session with that thought in mind. She said she met with citizens Monday night who shared their concerns with that proposal.

"I have had citizens say, 'I'm okay with the water bill being raised because I understand about inflation.' And then there are those who just can't afford to pay anymore," McGahee said. "And then of course there are those who don't want it raised based on principle. 'Why do you keep raising our water bill?'"

During the meeting, Councilman Dwight Tanner asked that the city come up with another budget proposal that does not include the 2.2 percent utility rate increase.

City Manager Jerry Ihler said if they go that route, they will have to go back to the drawing board.

"We would have to make an additional $100,000 in cuts to be able to have a balanced budget.," Ihler said. "And we are required to have a balanced budget."

And Ihler said the money in the "City At Large" accounts that many council members were calling a 'cushion' in the budget, would have to go, too.

Ihler said they have already cut seven full-time and four part-time positions. All but two were vacant, and those employees have been moved to other departments.

"It's important to me and the staff that nobody lose a job," Ihler said.

But to still keep costs low, raises for city employees were not included in this proposal.

McGahee said because of those cuts, she says she knows they have to make a big decision before the budget deadline on June 30th.

"We're just considering what has to be done," McGahee said. "And I would love to be able to say, 'We have another option. There is other money available. There is another revenue source, and we don't have to touch the water bill.'"

At the next city council meeting next Tuesday, there will be time set aside for the public to share their opinions directly to the council.  If the members reject the budget, they still have a few weeks to work out one that's acceptable.  It must be approved by the end of this fiscal year, June 30th.

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