Okla. BRAC bill once left unfunded, now back in play

Elgin_Oklahoma's legislative leaders are putting their money where their mouths are, and it's good news for the state's military communities.  More than a year ago, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a bill to assist cities such as Lawton and Elgin prepare for a population influx brought by Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).  Since that time, Oklahoma's finances took a turn for the worse, and the BRAC bill was never funded.  However, now, a new agreement by House and Senate leaders has been reached, and it means money should be on the way.

Last year's bill says that the State of Oklahoma will pay the five-year, $5 million, limited interest on bonds passed in communities affected by BRAC, but lately some community leaders were wondering if they would see any of it.  Construction on Elgin's new high school is nearing completion, and one wing will be ready for students in only a few weeks - voters approved a $94.5 million bond to pay for it.

Elgin Superintendent Tom Crimmins says that he was one of the first in line after the BRAC bill passed to ask the state to pay the interest on the bond - the money never came.  "It was kind of shocking to us," he said.  "We did not understand why they would pass the bill and then not appropriate any money to put in the bill to actually fund the project."  The answer likely was related to the state's lack of funds as revenues dipped lower than projected over the past year.

However, southwest Oklahoma's legislative delegation went to work, and on Wednesday announced an agreement by their leaders.  "They're willing to move forward with it and make the thing happen for a supplemental early in the session in February," said Sen. Don Barrington (R), of Lawton.

Now that the supplemental is moving forward, it means that $165,000 will be available for Elgin Schools to cover six months of its bond interest.  "By end of session this next year we should have the funding in place that would take care of the continuance of the interest on those bonds," said Crimmins.  And, with the continuance on the bonds, additional money can be used for new infrastructure improvements at Elgin Schools.  "We can do some extra things and some add-ons that we hadn't planned on doing," said Crimmins.  "A lot of concrete work, sidewalk work, things like that, that will go along with building the new high school.  This is another big hurdle we've jumped over today, and we're really excited about it."

The legislative agreement also calls for $700,000 to be paid to the City of Lawton for interest on the sales tax bond package passed by voters last October.  Lawmakers are set to create a supplemental appropriation for the funding at the beginning of the 2009 legislative session in February.  Count on 7News to let you know when that happens.