BRAC-related growth causing financial headaches

Lawton_City officials kicked off its BRAC-related growth planning during an all-day Tuesday meeting.  The event featured the city's growth consulting group and some of the future funding plans.  But, the best news came by way of a large chunk of money--a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Ray Friedl, the author of the grant, says the money will go to civilian job training, existing military members and their spouses.  The recipients of the grant money will be need-based for new and expanding businesses.  "Most military members exiting in the military service who aren't gonna go out and get a high paying job, initially, will be eligible for services," Friedl says.

The goal of the grant is to get people to stay in the area during the BRAC transition.  While BRAC has a plan to accommodate the thousands of newcomers to Lawton, it needs about $40 million to pay for it.  Money talks - and Lawton needs a lot of conversation.  But, it might be a problem if the money comes from a loan.

But, before they worry about paying back a loan they haven't even taken out yet, Mayor John Purcell says that getting the money is their first concern.  "That's a challenging thing ... we're stuck with the amount of money we've got available in this community," said Purcell.

They got off to a good start this legislative session after lawmakers passed the so-called "BRAC Bill" which allowed the state to pay the interest on municipal bonds up to $25 million.  Purcell says $20 million is coming through the loan fund and the other $20 million could come from state grants.  "We've got a request in for $20 million through the opportunity fund for the state," he said.

But, it's exactly that - a request.  So, there are no guarantees, which may mean more loans.  With as many must-haves that BRAC brings, who knows where it will end.  "Everyone seems to be concerned about housing," Purcell said.  But there's infrastructure, there's water lines, there's sewer lines, there's roads, there's medical concerns."

Tuesday's meeting was just the start of planning.  An official regional plan probably won't be ready until next spring.  "That's going to give us the guidelines of where we're gonna go, the things we need, come up with any challenges we might encounter," said Purcell.

A more immediate source of money is the revenue from the 3/8 cent sales tax that leaders say is vital to Lawton's future.  Voting on the tax increase will be on October 9th and will fund street, sewer and water line improvements and additions.