2015 Sales Tax Extension: Where are we now?

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - It's been nearly four years since Lawton voters approved an 11 year $100.1 million sales tax extension with the public safety as the big ticket item. While funding for police and fire is 68 percent of the sales tax, the other 32 percent is spread around the city. Construction on the Public Safety Facility near Gore Boulevard and Railroad is already underway. But police and fire jobs and salaries were included in the sales tax as well. $29.5 million dollars in fact.

Last week, Lawton Police and the city agreed on pushing up the starting pay for officers to $40,913 a year. Lawton City Manager Jerry Ihler said that's a 30 percent increase since the start of the sales tax extension.

The city has $2.68 million a year to adjust pay, give bonus incentives and step increases to fire and police.

Ihler said it's helping keep officers working for Lawton.

"It's a difficult time. When you look all across the country, it's not just Lawton. Everybody is having trouble hiring officers," Ihler said.

Those officers and firefighters will soon be working in their new facility. The city estimated $37 million  for the project, but the project cost came in almost $5 million over that. Last August after City Council approved the building's contract, money was shifted from other projects to the facility.

Money leftover from three projects, $121,000 was moved. Plus, $100,000 cut from the old Police Department's demolition. $675,000 was funneled from parks and recreation projects to the facility. Money to repair Gore between 67th and 82nd and Rogers Lane on the east side of town was shifted as well. $1.8 million from both projects. And the Lawton Library, their $800,000 almost halfed.

But that doesn't bother Lawton Library Director Kristen Herr.

They are still going to use their $450,000 for much needed restrooms.

"We have restrooms from the 70s. So they're not very wheelchair friend and they're not enough of them. And we don't have any family restrooms," Herr said. "We'd love to have a restroom over in the children's area, but we know that's not going to be phase one of this project."

The library is working with an architect on the project, but no word yet on when they will get started on it.

Other items on the sales tax that have their completion dates set far in the future. Repairing West Gore Boulevard between 67th and 82nd street.
And, something close to Councilman Jay Burk's heart, widening Rogers Lane from I-44 to Village Drive.

"East Rogers Lane to me was huge. The sad part is is the state doesn't have their part of the money," Burk said.

Funding from those projects were shifted to the Public Safety Facility because the timing with Oklahoma Department of Transportation wasn't right.

"Knowing that Rogers Lane was going to take a long period of time there was a possibility of utilizing some of those funds," Ihler said. "Because we don't believe ODOT will be able to fund both projects at the same time. So you can borrow from Peter to pay Paul and so forth."

The city says that's not the case for the dozen of other projects. $200,000 has been spent for Americans with Disabilities projects like this sidewalk on Lee in front of the Department of Human Services building.

$25,000 was used on just a portion of the money spent tearing down dilapidated buildings.

"Over the last four years we've done a little over 230 structures across the city at the tune of just short of a million dollars," Anthony Griffith, Lawton Administrative Services Director.

Lawton Public Schools gets $2.5 million from the sales tax a year for five years to spend on new windows and upgraded security systems.

But for now, the focus is on public safety. Because Ihler said that was what the community supported first.

"I think by the voter approval they said yes we agree with what you're putting out there and making public safety a high priority by approving it with such a high approval rating in the voting process," Ihler said.

The Public Safety Facility is expected to be completed and police, fire and municipal courts will move in July of 2019.

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