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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City Council of Oklahoma City met virtually Tuesday morning for the last in a series of budget hearings for the new fiscal budget year starting July 1. Most proposals were for somewhere between 2% to 3% over the current fiscal year.

The directors of Public Works, Utilities, and Airports each offered a presentation of the proposed budgets for their departments. 

A first in hearing public comments on the budget was featured at the meeting. Budget Director Doug Dowler gave the Council a summary of the 20-day written public comment period involving over 80 written comments.

Public Works

Eric Wenger, Director of Public Works, delivered a detailed description of the duties of the department and their proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22).

The Streets division is the largest within Public Works with 236 proposed positions for the coming year. Oklahoma City has 3,592 miles of streets, a distance equal to going to Anchorage and back. The budget line item for streets, traffic, and drainage for FY22 is $26,095,050 and includes the addition of 8 positions.

The overall operating budget proposed by Public Works is $53,754,797, an increase of 2.6% with an added 18 positions, department-wide. 

Wenger said that the department anticipates 100 miles of street improvement and the repair of 50,000 potholes in the coming year. He also said that the last year has shown an increase of 25%-35% in pricing of bids returned to the City. Material costs have gone up significantly.

Utilities

Chris Browning, Director of Utilities, presented his department’s budget proposal for FY22 at Tuesday’s meeting, as well. The proposed budget comes in at $724,000,000, an increase of 1.9%.

Some of the new costs in the proposal include adding several positions at Oklahoma City’s water facilities in south east Oklahoma. These pumping facilities get water from the Atoka pipeline that brings water to our reservoirs. 

The cost of sending maintenance professionals from Oklahoma City to these sites is prohibitive. Browning would like to hire staff from the area so they are able to keep a more watchful eye on the facilities’ performance.

A second, larger Atoka pipeline is being constructed. Other capital projects include the expansion of the North Canadian treatment plant. The plant will be able to process several million more gallons per day after expansion. 

Browning said the department will also be investing in the replacement of a lot of neighborhood lines.

Brown was excited about automatic meter readers being added to the system in the coming year. 

Currently workers in the field have to manually read each individual meter and enter a multi-digit number into their handheld device. Over the course of a day, a worker may read 400 meters, creating a lot of room for error. The new device will automatically read and transmit usage to the department, aiding not only in efficiency, but also resulting in more accurate billing.

Airports

Mark Kranenburg, Director of Airports, presented the final budget proposal of the hearing.

The projected operating costs for the department are $46,659,000.

In the coming years, Oklahoma City’s three airports will each be undergoing capital projects. 

Will Rogers will be starting a multi-year, $28 million runway reconstruction, and the expanded terminal project should be finished and opened this year. 

Wiley Post Airport will have a runway rehabilitation project that will cost $2 million. 

The Clarence E. Page Airport will see a reconstruction of the fixed-base operator apron at a cost of $1.5 million.

Kranenburg said that Will Rogers has undergone many safety enhancements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that not only is it safe to travel, it’s more safe than it was before.

New direct flight services have been announced. This year flights will be available directly to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, San Antonio, and LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Kranenburg, who has worked in his position for over fifteen years, is retiring in September.

Written comment summary

Doug Dowler, the Budget Director, was called on by City Manager Craig Freeman to give a summary of comments offered by the public. 

This year, for the first time, the City offered a twenty day platform for members of the public to provide written comments on the overall budget and individual department budget proposals. Comments could be emailed, texted, mailed, or provided through the City’s website.

Dowler said that 84 comments were received from 74 individuals. While he did not go over the content of the comments, he said that they would be sent in their entirety to the Council members and would be available on the City’s website. UPDATE: You can find these written comments now on the City’s website HERE.

Budget vote schedule

The Council is anticipated to accept the budget proposals and to vote on the budget at the end of June. The new budget will need to be in place by the first day of July in order to follow the statute.

The Council will meet next on Tuesday, June 8 at 8:30 a.m. That meeting will see the Council’s return to in-person meetings.

Last Updated June 1, 2021, 3:27 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor