, Muskogee, OK

May 4, 2013

Councilors, managers ID top priorities

Adjusting utility rates tops list

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Addressing utility rates and linking those to an index that would allow adjustments for inflation topped the list of priorities assembled as part of the city’s budget process.

City councilors identified the Muskogee’s demolition program and the implementation of the first three phases of the Love-Hatbox Sports Complex development plan as their top priorities. But the emphasis 15 department heads placed on utility rate adjustments floated that issue to the top of the list.

Mayor Bob Coburn said in April that sewer, trash and water rates are lagging behind the cost of providing those services. The gap, he said, may be draining resources that could be used to fix streets, provide police protection or other critical services.

Implementing the findings of an employee reclassification and compensation study and replacing deteriorating water distribution lines rounded out the top five priorities. Downtown parking, the Martin Luther King Center, downtown Christmas lights, sanitary sewer evaluation study — something that must be done pursuant to a consent order — and department restructuring made the bottom five of the list, while a dozen other projects fell in between.

City Manager Greg Buckley requested input on budget items identified earlier this year during the annual retreat. The exercise was intended to prioritize projects administrators and elected officials would like to see completed during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. To accomplish that, each of the nine City Council members and 15 department heads were given 1,000 points to assign to various budget items.

“Everything that has been identified are important, but we will spend our energies working from the top,” Buckley said. “In years past we have been able to work on other items identified — there are some that can be completed for little cost other than some staff time.”

Buckley said the budget for the next fiscal year will be based on flat revenue projections due to stagnant sales tax collections realized this year. There are areas in the budget, however, where officials may look to the City of Muskogee Foundation for help with things like the demolition program and Love-Hatbox development.

Deputy Mayor David Jones, a Ward I representative, said he agrees with most of the top five projects identified in the prioritization exercise. But there are a couple of items he believes needed to be closer to the top, one of which is the addition of an administrative assistant.

“I thought that should be a higher priority — we’ve got the city manager spread out and doing all these different things,” Jones said. “If we are going to get some stuff accomplished, he is going to need some help.”

Jones said he always has favored expanding the city’s demolition program, which has demolished 851 structures since launching its demolition program in June 1998 at a cost of almost $2.77 million. He also agrees with the high ranking for developing Love-Hatbox Sports Complex.

“We spent all that money on that study, we need to get busy out there and get some of that work started,” Jones said. “I had my own preferences obviously, But I am going to support what everybody else wants to do.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or