The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 15, 2013

City commissioners argue over which entities get funding

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — City-funded entities like the public access TV station PEGASYS may have to fight for their annual appropriations before a June 18 budget deadline.

During a brief discussion about programs Enid City Commission funds each year, City Manager Eric Benson said the panel “habitually” funds them without justification.

“We want to know from you what those priorities ought to be,” he told the commission Wednesday.

Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser targeted PEGASYS for discussion. It operates three channels and broadcasts meetings of the school board and city commission, as well as other programs that are meant for the public interest.

“Is that something we really need to provide?” he asked.

The city budgets $185,000 each year for the operation, and the preliminary budget presented Wednesday continues that appropriation.

Vanhooser said he wants to approach the discretionary budget from a “non-emotional, business standpoint.”

“That television coverage is not worth $185,000,” Vanhooser said. “I would say that this year we issue a challenge to PEGASYS that they generate at least half of their own operating revenue by next year. Then within two years, they should become self-sufficient.”

Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell defended PEGASYS, noting its appropriation is relatively small when placed next to a nearly $44 million budget.

“That’s like half of 1 percent of our sales tax that comes in. This is, on the grand scheme of our budget, relatively small,” he said. “Public access is not there to make money. PEGASYS is, by its nature, not able to be self-sustaining and still be a public access station. That’s why it’s there.”

Vanhooser welcomed the argument and said he already had a debate prepared in case someone compared the size of the two figures — the appropriation and the budget.

“If we want to buy a million dollars or $2 million to build a couple more miles of trails, we do that $50,000 a whack. It’s not all at once,” Vanhooser said. “We will have to cut a little from a lot of areas.”

Benson said there are dozens of other organizations that never make the list of appropriations, simply because they’ve never been on the list.

“I believe that each one of these should be submitted to the same, cold, business evaluation. Why are we underwriting, basically, private enterprises here?” he said.

During further discussions on whether to fund the city pool and golf course, Mayor Bill Shewey spoke out in defense of local government subsidies.

“You could close everything in Enid and we might as well go for a 35,000 population city and be happy with it,” Shewey said. “One of the nice things that attract people to your city are some of the things you’re talking about.”

Push for parks department

During the draft budget meeting Wednesday, commissioners discussed funding for parks.

Vanhooser wants to create a separate department for the upkeep and development of the city’s green spaces.

“What we’ve been spending on parks has not satisfied the commissioners’ or citizens’ needs for keeping the parks up,” he said.

In March, Enid voters overwhelmingly opposed a $50 million, publicly funded proposal that would have included upgrades, construction of four new parks, 10 additional miles of city trails and a new parks department.

“I want the public six months from now to see a frickin’ difference. It’s got to be a change,” Vanhooser said. “I want a parks department that means something.”

Ward 1 Commissioner Ron Janzen noted the parks have been kept up fairly well. Ward 5’s Tammy Wilson, however, interjected.

“Everything I heard was, ‘They can’t even keep the ones mowed they have now,’” she said.

Janzen questioned that assessment, and Wilson shot back.

“Our parks are sh--ty. That’s the bottom line,” Wilson said. “You can ask the 77 percent of people that voted that down. That’s why they voted (it) down is because we didn’t take care of what we had before. I think now we’re making it clear we want to do that and we can’t just put some shiny equipment in and call it good.”

The public’s criticism was of restrooms and playgrounds, Janzen replied.

“If somebody told me we’re not mowing the parks, I’d say tell me what park and I’ll mow it,” he said.

Public Works Director Jim McClain, whose department now is responsible for the parks system, said they were doing “minimum maintenance” and didn’t have the departmental structures in place to thoroughly manage parks.

“Because we can’t ignore everything else,” McClain said.�