Piecing together a city budget worth millions of dollars demands months worth of conversations and a wealth of fine-tuning.
Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols first met with city councilors last December to formally discuss this year’s budget, a plan that totals more than $17 million – including over $11 million budgeted in the city’s general fund.
“We have meetings with department heads, they give us a stack of papers cumulatively about 4 inches thick, and that’s after endless emails and informal conversations,” said Nichols. “Everybody asks for the moon. We started at about $1.3 million over on requests versus revenue, and we have to make some cuts somewhere, so we try to make it fair. I don’t feel like we ignored any immediate needs, but when we have to cut $1.3 million [from the requests], we have to make judgments on what can wait and what can’t.”
Among all the changes compared to previous years, the city’s street department probably saw the biggest change, with about a 90 percent increase in available funding for capital improvement projects paid out of the general fund.
This year’s budget lists in line-item form the improvement projects city officials hope to see completed in 2012 and 2013. Nichols said listing the projects individually will help leaders keep track of where the funds are being spent.
The project estimated to be the most costly is along North Cedar, north of the State Highway 51 bypass, which has $155,000 earmarked for improvements. The east and west ends of Redbud Lane are set for projects totaling about $80,000.
“The streets are going to be a priority, and I hope this budget reflects that,” said Nichols.
The city is also budgeting for Tahlequah Police Department to acquire six new vehicles every year, a process started during the last budget year. Previously, TPD was buying four new vehicles every year, but Nichols said purchasing six per year, with a fleet of about 30, will result in vehicles having about a five-year life before they are rotated out of the day-to-day lineup.
TPD plans to purchase three cars and three sport-utility vehicles for around $150,000. Nichols said the SUVs will be used for detectives.
City councilors approved giving Tahlequah Fire Department $25,000 this year, instead of a requested $100,000, to be used toward purchase of a new tanker truck. TPD already had approximately $25,000 to eventually be used on the large purchase.
“Even with $100,000, it wasn’t going to get them there, they weren’t going to be able to buy it,” said Nichols. “Maybe they can save up, and within three or four years they can purchase the tanker.”
This year’s budget also addresses a federal mandate for emergency response agencies to switch to narrow-band radios by next January. City officials had been hoping for a $170,000 grant that would have paid for the expensive changes, but the grant fell through.
Now, city officials will be finding various ways to fund the change. Nichols said some departments have recently purchased new radios capable of working under the new mandates.
“And for instance, instead of buying every single officer a radio this year, we can buy half - they can rotate out per shift, and then next year, we’ll buy the other half,” said Nichols. “So they’re covered.”
City officials set aside about $75,000 for fiber installations and an iPhone application development. Nichols said the app development will require about 10 percent of that budget, and the application will help city officials interact with the public. Leaders originally thought the projects would cost around $125,000.
“We thought we were going to have to have third parties do all of our fiber work, but now we’ve developed a collaborative sort of project with the [Northeastern Oklahoma Public Facilities Authority] and Tahlequah Public Works Authority,” said Nichols. “TPWA can hang the fiber for us, and the gas authority buys the connectors for the poles. Well, pretty soon, things get a lot cheaper.”
Approximately $16,500 has been set aside for placing security cameras as the city skate park. The request was originally $50,000, and would have included installation of cameras at not only the skate park, but also at the Armory Municipal Center.
Nichols said the difference in the original request and the final budget was simply a matter of the need to trim the requests.
The city of Tahlequah expects tax revenue to place $6 million into the general fund, $136,000 into the street and alley fund, $93,000 into hotel and motel fund, and $1.4 million into the restricted sales and use tax fund this budget year. Licenses and permits could bring in around $104,700, and fines and forfeitures could bring in $463,000 this budget year.
The city’s total expected payroll for the year is more than $3.5 million, including $1.2 million for the police department, nearly $585,000 for managerial, $464,000 for the fire department, $463,000 for the street department, and $361,000 for parks and recreation.
Other budgeted expenses in the budget include two motor pool vehicles for managerial use, $32,000; narrow-band radios, $48,783; equipment for police vehicles, $30,500; a traffic signal for Southridge and U.S. Highway 62 south, $50,000; parks and golf course improvements, $50,000; and land purchases, $100,000. The city also has an operating reserve of $500,000 to use for other projects that may surface throughout the year.
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