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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — On Tuesday morning the City Council of Oklahoma City held their second special meeting of the month for budget hearings.

Presenting budgets at Tuesday’s meeting were the Parks and Recreation Department, Development Services, Planning, and Public Transit and Parking.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Parks

Parks and Recreation Director Melinda McMillan-Miller presented the proposed budget for her department first. McMillan-Miller broke the budget into five categories, largely based on the Council’s established priorities.

First was “recreation, health, and wellness.” Under this category are public pools and similar facilities, as well as seasonal sports and educational opportunities, and special events.

The proposed budget for this category is $5,751,676. While that is a downward revision from last year’s budget, it maintains 34 staff members.

The second category includes natural resources, Martin Nature Park, Will Rogers Gardens, and other sites to “promote healthy living.”

The budget for this category is $3,622,470, an increase of $132,478. This budget adds two positions, a program coordinator for Will Rogers Gardens and an irrigation technician.

The next category was to “provide well-maintained parks and facilities,” or, “Grounds Management.” This category covers playground inspections, trail maintenance and cleaning, mowing parks and medians and rights of way, and other physical maintenance of our public lands.

aquatic center
The Will Rogers Aquatic Center in Will Rogers Park, City of Oklahoma City (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Oklahoma City residents may recall that during the budget cutbacks in recent years, mowing has been reduced at some public parks. This year’s budget addresses that by adding a budget to contract mowing and traffic sightline clearing services for outlying parts of the 620+ square miles of this city.

Parks should remain on a two week schedule throughout the coming fiscal year.

FY23 budget for this category is $10,801,865, an increase of $603,519. This budgets for 99 positions, including a new irrigation technician, plus the funding to outsource some mowing as mentioned above.

Another category is “public/private partnerships.” This includes the not-wholly-transparent trusts that operate the Myriad Gardens, Scissortail Park, Civic Center, and Riversport, as well as community partnerships with groups and businesses.

The budget for this line item is $9,746,620, a substantial increase of $1,824,518. McMillan-Miller attributed this to bringing “Lower Scissortail” online in the coming year. This budget supports no job positions.

The final category is Administration. The budget for the category of management and staffing the administration of the department is $6,032,089, up $424,059 from the previous year. It adds a Management Specialist position.

Total budget is $59,191,407, and supports 186 jobs.

Development Services

The Development Services Department was the second proposed budget presentation. This department, while not flashy or attention grabbing, plays a pivotal role in the operations of daily life in Oklahoma City. The department includes animal welfare, construction permitting and inspection, and development applications.

Major budget changes for the coming fiscal year include adding several positions, yet the budget request is for $21,196,406, which is a slight decrease of .59%, owing to moving the zoning and subdivision part of the department under the umbrella of the Planning Department.

The largest increase in the Development budget is for animal welfare. That budget is $5,248,027 an increase of over 5%.

Animal welfare will add a full time veterinarian and a vet tech, in addition to expanding services. The division saves 16,000 animals a year, and the shelter has a live release rate of 86%.

The Department also brings the brigade of code inspectors to appropriate staffing numbers, as well as paying for technology to make inspections easier and faster to complete, easing the process of building and renovating buildings across the city.

Planning

Geoff Butler, Director of Planning, was third in line to present his department’s proposed budget.

The Planning budget includes money from the City’s general fund, but also a grant management fund and a special purpose fund.

The total of the proposed budget is $61,990,296.

Of course, one increase in the budget is due to absorbing the Development Services division of zoning and subdivision. That is seven full-time positions and a line item of $860,794.

Key changes to staffing budget is the addition of several positions in the Department. A Senior Planner will be added to secure federal infrastructure grants, and a Senior Planner for analysis, program management, and research.

This also adds a grant-funded Assistant Planner to assist with the City’s Homelessness Services Program.

Transit & Parking

Jason Ferbrache, Director of EMBARK and the Central Oklahoma Transit and Parking Authority (COTPA), was the final presenter on Tuesday’s docket.

Public transit and parking propose a 16% increase in total budget, from $46,579,849 to $54,224,289, a 16% increase.

It is significant to note that the part of the budget made up from General Fund dollars increases under this budget by 48%. While that increase seems quite large, it is important to note that the previous year’s budget was significantly subsidized by federal CARES funds.

Major budget changes for the coming year, apart from replacing CARES funding, include costs for the coming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, which amounts to an increase of $2 million for this year. Ferbrache said that the increase includes hiring BRT bus operators before the end of the coming fiscal year in order to have them trained and certified ahead of the opening of the system in the Autumn of 2023.

Another added cost for the year will be streetcar maintenance and parts, as the streetcars are no longer under warranty.

Fuel cost increases are also represented in this budget.

Some discussion arose on the topic of increasing and expanding enforcement of parking in the downtown area.

Plans from COTPA include increasing paid parking in the downtown, midtown, and Bricktown areas, and extending enforcement through the evening and on weekends.

One resident signed up to speak on the Transit proposal.

Edward Morris told the Council that he had concerns about hourly employees who work in the area having to pay upwards of $5,000 per year for parking. Morris also said that businesses are harmed by having customers who would have to pay to park in order to patronize them, saying that his own barber was leaving downtown to relocate to midtown in a location where the parking is, for now, not metered.

City Council will hold another budget hearing on May 31.


Last Updated May 17, 2022, 4:35 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor