MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 28, 2013

Councilors ranking projects they prefer

Five mandatory for next fiscal year despite tight budget

— Muskogee city councilors have begun narrowing their wish list of projects while peering through the lens of a flat budget.

They also will look at the possibility of raising utility rates for residential and commercial users, the elimination of free dump days and other revenue enhancers.

City Manager Greg Buckley pointed out five projects that must be pursued or completed during the fiscal year that begins July 1. Some of those — the three major street projects, for example — have dedicated funding.

Others, including the state-mandated sanitary sewer evaluation study and employee reclassification efforts, could cut into the availability of funds for projects on the wish lists of administrators and elected officials. Buckley said he is planning a flat budget for fiscal year 2014 for the fifth consecutive year but held out hope that sales tax revenue could increase.

The projects that city councilors will evaluate and prioritize this week include the city’s demolition program and the implementation of recommendations in the first three phases of the Love-Hatbox Sports Complex study.

Other projects identified during the April 5 council retreat that will be part of the consideration include infrastructural needs such as water distribution lines, streetscapes and the addition of restrooms along the city’s trails system. Restructuring departments and staffing additions also will play into the mix.

Ward I Councilor Lee Ann Langston sees infrastructural improvements, efforts to address deteriorating houses and unkempt properties and increased compensation for city workers as some of her top issues. She also cited a need to improve the city’s website and move forward with the development of Love-Hatbox Sports Complex.

“We have the beginnings of a world-class destination that I think can be even better than it is now,” Langston said while encouraging residents to provide input (stepspres@suddenlink.net) about their priorities. “I envision Hatbox as a ‘family friendly’ venue, with downtown and the Civic Center being a mecca for larger, more sophisticated entertainment, which would also encourage downtown fine dining and evening entertainment, along with hotels, grocery stores and pharmacies.”

Councilors, who requested more information about the estimated costs of the proposed projects and rankings submitted by department heads, have been asked to submit their priorities.

“It may not be a high priority for us, but it might be to department heads,” Ward IV Councilor Wayne Johnson said, requesting a tally of city administrators’ priorities. “We may not know that because we don’t see it.”

During the ranking process, councilors will have 1,000 points to assign to different projects. Once their priorities are submitted, the sheets will be tallied and projects will be ranked according to the total assigned points.

Councilors likely will take the matter up again when they meet May 7 during the next Finance and Public Works committee meetings.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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