Lawton approves $75 million budget

LAWTON, OK-- The city has its budget, but just barely. The majority of council members okayed the $75 million budget; a $4 million dollar increase over last year's.

In all, the city is looking at spending $120 million this year. That includes all money set aside previously for capital improvements. The budget also includes money for six new police officers and three fire captains.

But the city is left with only $334,000 on its carry over; a number which council members all agreed was far too low. But when they discussed possible solutions, it came down to either increasing water rates, or breaking the contract with the firefighters' union. Council Member Bob Shanklin wanted to suspend pay raises for city employees for six months as a solution. It was an idea that many council members agreed would solve the dilemma, but the final vote showed they either didn't think it was fair, or it just wasn't time.

But by honoring the fire union's contract for pay raises this year -- the city is budgeted to the max, without a safety net for emergencies.

"Everybody wants everything that we've got right now, but we want to get it for the same price that we had last year and that's just not going to happen," said Council Member Randy Warren.

Council Member Jeff Patton pointed out that the city cannot keep operating with expenditures rising by seven percent, with the revenue only coming in at four percent. He said with that shortfall of three percent, something's gotta give.

"At some point you have to do something, but I think timing is everything," Patton said.

So their options came down to either taking money from the taxpayers, or the city employees.

"We have good employees in the city of Lawton, and we owe them those raises whether we like it or not," said Council Member Keith Jackson.

But next year that may not be the case.

"When that contract comes back up it's going to be awful hard for any of us sitting up here to approve any kind of substantial pay raise for them on this next contract, and I think they need to understand that," said Council Member Bill Shoemate.

Next year it may be time to give the taxpayers a break.

"But the constituents out there talked to me, and your the ones here supposed to represent them," said Council Member James Hannah. "They also put you there and you there and you there and you there and so forth. But before we go on with that budget think about what they want also, the ones who put us here."

Shanklin's motion to delay approval failed to pass after there was no second to his motion. So, the budget was passed five to three, with Shanklin, Haywood and Hannah voting against it.