By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The latest version of Enid’s city budget is becoming clearer after officials cast several votes Friday to support parks and trails, while also lowering contributions to Booker T. Washington Community Center and public-access television upgrades.
Enid City Commission is planning to take a final vote on the fiscal year 2014 budget on June 18, but the budget meeting allowed commissioners to define a starting point on what and where to spend.
It only took about two minutes for commissioners to double what the Parks Board had recommended for the Enid Trails System to $2 million. The evolution of the idea started with City Manager Eric Benson proposing just $1 million, and using the city’s rainy day fund to pay for it.
“For seven years, I’ve argued for the lifting of the brick that lays over our rainy day fund,” he said. “We have a $6 million fund in there; I fully believe you can support a million-dollar investment in trails from that.”
Going into Friday’s meeting, city staff had penciled in $600,000 for trails improvement. Ward 1 Commissioner Ron Janzen, however, called for an additional million to bring the budgeted amount to $1.6 million.
Following that line of proposals, Benson recommended pushing the figure even higher.
“If you allow spending authority of up to $2 million, we might be able to extend more, dollar for dollar, than 1.6 (million),” he said. “What about a spending cap of $2 million, and we bring you back options not to exceed that?”
The commission obliged, and voted 5-1 in favor. Ward 5 Commissioner Tammy Wilson was not present for the vote; she had left the commission chamber a few minutes into the meeting.
During discussion on funding the trail system, Janzen commented members of the public might take umbrage to the significant spending increase.
“We’re going to catch flak for this because there’s a lot of people who think we’re not spending it on streets, too,” he said.
Benson, however, countered the city’s roads and streets have been funded on a higher level.
“In the last eight years, we’ve spent $48 million on streets. We’re spending $3.4 million this year on streets,” he said. “And in at least one major episode here in this town, they voted down $36 million in streets. You’re going to get flak for just showing up.”
Janzen made his motion on the insistence staff try to start “acquiring the property to take the trail downtown.”
The move to fund the trail system was not entirely surprising, as the Parks Board asked the commission last month to consider a funding increase. Chairman Matt Davis told the board’s members in April it is apparent, despite the electoral defeat of a $50 million parks proposal, there is public demand for improvement to the city’s parks.
The commission also voted to include another $750,000 in the budget to pay for park playground equipment.
None of the votes Friday were final, but allowed the commission to move forward on its budget work one line at a time. Several meetings already have been scheduled before a final June 18 vote to approve the budget.
The commission will meet to discuss funding again during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
Commissioners also voted to move forward with a budget that reflects their view that sales tax revenues will increase another 5 percent in the next year.
The vote was not without opposition, though, as Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser criticized them for “gambling” with the city budget. Fiscal year 2013 saw revenues increase by 11 percent, and the city’s fiscal staff estimate that the rise will continue.
“We’re already up 11 percent on this budget compared to the year before, so our baseline number is 17 percent over two years ago?” he said. “That is gambling that we are going to guarantee the same revenue we had this last year, and another 5 percent. I’m not willing to take that gamble on the city’s budget.”
Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell continued his support for additional spending after arguing for it during another budget meeting Monday.
“Is there something about the baseline two years ago that you think is somehow the norm? I feel like we are still going through some amount of growth here,” he said. “And with this additional investment of Koch, our sales tax revenue in the next 24 months isn’t exactly going to drop.”
Koch Nitrogen announced this week it would be spending $1 billion in Enid to ramp up its fertilizer production by a million tons per year.
Vanhooser called for a vote to maintain next year’s budget at the current revenue levels, but only gained support from one other commissioner, Ward 4’s Rodney Timm.
One portion of the budget received substantial discussion and action Friday. Under the Local Programs section — which includes funding for quasi- and non-governmental entities — commissioners whittled the budget down by more than $129,000.
None of the votes were unanimous, but each received support from at least four commissioners.
Funding for scholarships through Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse was cut from $45,000 to $25,000.
“This is not a core service issue,” Benson told the commission.
Ezzell said $10,000 of that appropriation funds traveling exhibits that come to the center.
Booker T. Washington Community Center, which offers after-school and summer programs for at-risk youth was cut by $5,000. If the draft budget holds, the center will receive $15,000 this year. Benson said this is the center’s only funding source.
Commissioners voted to eliminate line-item funding for Enid Joint Recreation Triad, but discussed bringing the sports program into the revamped Parks and Recreation Department, expected to be created with the FY2014 budget. They also canceled $50,000 requested for Autry Technology Center’s proposed fire training tower. Benson said ad valorem, or property tax, revenue would bring the CareerTech institution a windfall.
“I’m told that the ad valorem increase in just the wind farm is $100 million, of which they’ll get $36 million,” he said.
The commission approved the requested funding for PEGASYS, Enid’s public-access television station, and also voted to fund the station’s relocation as mandated by its contract with the city. The channel must move from its current location in the Kress Building to make way for a planned hotel. The city, however, may not fund $67,000 to convert PEGASYS to high definition.
The following programs were funded, or defunded, in the current draft budget.
• Main Street Enid: $75,000.
• Booker T. Washington Community Center: $15,000.
• Enid Metro Area Human Services Commission: $7,000.
• Youth and Family Services: $5,000.
• RSVP: $1,200.
• Fourth of July fireworks: $15,000.
• Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse: $25,000.
• PEGASYS operations: $185,000.
• PEGASYS relocation: $240,000.
• PEGASYS HD conversion: $0.
• EJRT: $0.
• Autry Tech Center (fire training tower): $0.