Lawton City budget passed, 2.2 percent water bill increase included

Lawton City budget passed, 2.2 percent water bill increase included
(Source KSWO)
(Source KSWO)

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - After a lengthy and heated debate on Tuesday night, Lawton City Council voted to approve next year's $90 million budget that includes a 2.2 percent increase in utility rates.
The vote was 5-4. Now, unlike other proposals that the council takes on, the mayor is allowed to vote along with the council, not just as a tiebreaker. He was among the five in favor, along with Bob Morford, Doug Wells, Keith Jackson, and Gay McGahee. Caleb Davis, Jay Burk, Dwight Tanner and Cherry Phillips opposed.

They didn't just look at the budget they passed at the meeting. They explored two other options in an attempt to avoid that 2.2 percent hike. One had no water bill increase, but more cuts. And the other was a 1.1 percent increase that was voted down.

It was back and forth at the Lawton City Council Meeting.

"We've been there and we've done that. We did it and we suffered. The citizens of Lawton suffered," Councilman Jay Burk said.

"The cost do to business in the city goes up, too," Councilman Doug Wells said.

City Manager Jerry Ihler presented the primary budget proposal with the 2.2 percent increase in the water bill, then presented one that Councilman Dwight Tanner asked him to prepared at last week's budget workshop.

It would have gotten rid of the water bill hike that would generate about $736,000 in revenue. But the "City At Large" accounts used for emergency maintenance and rising costs of fuel would go. And extra cuts in street maintenance, landfill hours, the library branch and wading pools would be made.

Councilman Burk, along with a few other council members said they couldn't go through with that.

"I think we are taking away the quality of life that our citizens have become used to," Burk said. "And they should demand from us. They shouldn't just get used to it. They should demand it from us."

The council opened up the floor for public comment.  Four citizens came up to speak, mostly against the water bill hike.

"Have you considered the projections about our budgets for the residents to adjust to the 2.2 raise in the water bill?" asked one citizen.

And some were against cuts made in the secondary budget proposal.

"The wading pools. Cutting services to children and citizens that they already paid for. That's just... there are cuts to be made other places," said one citizen.

Councilwoman V. Gay McGahee asked if the council could approve a budget with half the water bill increase at 1.1 percent, which would provide about $368,000 in revenue. But that was voted down 6 to 3. The meeting came full circle as the original budget was ultimately approved 5 to 4 with some upset citizens walking out shortly afterward.

While the water bill hike was the highlight of the meeting, there were a few others in the budget that made the discussion. Like 7 vacant positions that were eliminated and there was a more than $200,000 increase in the budget to fix and maintain the city's roads.