OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — On Tuesday morning the City Council of Oklahoma City held a special meeting to prepare for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
Tuesday’s meeting, the first of three budget hearings scheduled in May, featured a budget overview, plus Police and Fire budget presentations.
Marty Peercy reports Local government
To begin Tuesday’s budget hearing, Doug Dowler, Oklahoma City’s Budget Director, presented a broad picture of the FY23 budget.
The total budget for the coming year is $1,836.1 billion. That is an 8.4% increase over FY22.
Mayor Holt, on his first full day in his second term, gave his standard disclaimer that about a half billion of that is intended to not be spent.
The proposed budget includes an increase of 123 staff positions city-wide from last year, with new positions in almost all departments, including Fire and Police.
A potentially crucial budget item for the future of the City is $2.4 million in non-departmental funds set aside for the implementation of recommendations from several task forces. Those include the Policing Task Force, the Task Force on Homelessness, and the Human Rights Commission.
Some recommendations are already being implemented in this year’s various department budgets as well, specifically in the Police Budget.
Chief Wade Gourley of the Oklahoma City Police Department presented his proposed budget to the Council on Tuesday.
The total department budget for FY23 is $259,599,558. That is an increase from the $227,731,144 in last year’s budget.
The new budget adds nearly 20 civilian and non-sworn positions across the department. Many of the new positions will be tasked with addressing low-priority calls, such as taking accident reports and assessing crime scenes when no perpetrator is present.
Gourley said that police departments nationwide are experiencing difficulty in filling police positions as more people are leaving the profession than are being hired. While recruitment is needed for more police, the empty positions need to be filled first, he explained.
Some budget items touted by the Chief were new tasers capable of deploying more than once, and expanded use of drones.
Gourley said that some recommendations of the Policing Task Force are already being implemented.
The prime example of that is that the new budget provides for a full-time Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). The department will also add a civilian chaplain position.
Another effort to address recommendations from the Task Force is to encourage more officers to voluntarily go through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. In service of that goal, the new budget includes $54,600 for incentive pay for CIT certified officers. Also, Gourley said, cadets will go through the same training in academy. While new officers won’t be certified as CIT officers, the training should better prepare them for interacting with people experiencing mental health crises.
CIT International, Inc., the organization that provides the curriculum for CIT training, recommends maintaining a CIT certification rate of 20-25%. Gourley stated that their goal is to reach a rate of 35%.
Chief Richard Kelley of the Oklahoma City Fire Department presented their proposed FY23 budget as well on Tuesday.
This year’s proposed budget totals $182,401,454 with 1,061. That is an increase of over $11 million, and adds 22 positions department-wide.
Changes in personnel costs make up nearly $5.9 million of that increase. Also, fuel costs increases are being budgeted for with an approximate $400,000.
This budget adds 18 uniformed firefighters.
One investment the Chief touted in the new budget is an infusion of $200,000 in the department’s wellness program. Healthy firefighters are necessary for the public good.
Firefighters receive an annual physical, and every five years each firefighter gets a chest X-ray. Every few years, additionally, each firefighter gets an abdominal ultrasound and a blood screening for heavy metals.
Other considerations in Kelley’s budget are renovations for dormitory sleeping quarters, especially as women are increasingly a part of the Fire Department.
Kelley said that only Station 1 has a fireman’s pole, disappointing at least one reporter covering the budget meeting.
The Fire Department is also hiring a full-time LPC. Kelley explained that the LPC will be helpful for acute needs and building resiliency, but that the department also has a peer support program, so that firefighters who have been on the job can offer support to their fellows who are experiencing stress from the often very traumatizing job.
The Department is trying to change its culture regarding mental health, and to reduce the stigma of seeking help. One way they do this is by incorporating families into the training process for recruits, especially as families frequently experience secondary trauma alongside the firefighter in their life.
Residents of Oklahoma City wishing to comment on the various budgets for FY23 can do so in various ways.
The new budget will be available for viewing on the City’s website at https://www.okc.gov/departments/finance/financial-and-budget-reports/budget-and-tax-reports/budget-book-breakdown
On that page, residents can also enter comments. Comments may also be texted to the Action Center at 405-252-1053 or emailed to [email protected].
Public comment is allowed at the public hearings as well. The next public budget hearing will be on May 17 and the final will be on May 31. The Council is expected to vote to adopt the budget on June 7 in open session.
Last Updated May 3, 2022, 1:15 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor