The Altus City Council opposed raising customer utility rates to make up for lost revenue from effective water conservation, during the public hearing of the proposed FY 2014-15 Budget, June 3. Several council members expressed their frustration with the suggestion as well as not having received the latest version before early yesterday morning which gave minimal time for members and citizens to read over the new parts of the budget.
Council directed budget advisor James Wilson to draft a version that is stripped down to the “bare bones,” as they plan to approach the budget by holding future special meetings with the City’s department supervisors to see where $3.4 million and additional capital items can be cut to avoid utility rate increases.
During the discussion, Councilman Michael Beason inquired about the percentage increase in utility rates to finance the proposed budget. Wilson confirmed that the latest update recommended a 2 percent increase for electric use, a 43.6 percent increase for water use within 3000 gallons, a 109.7 percent increase for water use over 3000 gallons, a 215.2 percent rate increase for water use outside city limits, and a 43.6 percent increase for sewer rates.
Councilman Rick Steen commented about only having received the newer material that morning. “I don’t get too upset and get angry very often but I’m just really put out right now,” Steen said. “Some of us got updates on the budget this morning. I didn’t get it. I’ve got an issue of it coming the morning of the meeting and not having time to review it… It’s just a waste of time.” Steen added, “We’ve got have a more efficient way of doing this and getting the information out. It’s just so frustrating… When you are dealing with a multi-million dollar budget you’ve just got to have that information at hand.”
Councilman Perry Shelton said, “Well, it’s almost like were punishing the people that have conserved utilities by increasing their rates. I mean that’s what were proposing. Why not cut our budget? If there’s things in there that say our options on how to we can cut our budget, I don’t see them. I’ve read this.”
Councilman Rick Henry said that the new update did not include any of the changes he asked for at the previous council meeting. “I follow this as much as anybody does and it’s confusing to me,” Henry said. “We’re going to hold a public hearing and are going to be shocked that no one in the public can stand up and ask a question about this thing… This is a crazy process that were going through.” After commenting on a drought impaired economy, Henry indicated that the proposed solution to raise rates may incite residents to leave.
Councilman Chad Osborne said that he is against any rate increase at all. “I believe, too, that we have received more revenue than ever in the history of the city. I also know that we have gone up on rates at least last three years in a row, and I’m not for a half of percent of anything increased,” Osborne said. “No increase for me. As far as I’m concerned I’m done talking about this budget in it current form. I think its a waste of time.”
Wilson said that he will provide a new version with prioritized items in the budget to reflect no rate increases. The City Council will hold a Special Meeting on Saturday, June 14, to discuss the budget further.
Following the public hearing, the Altus Municipal Authority declared the Nona Substation Transformer as surplus and authorized the sale of the transformer. Sale proceeds are to be paid against the AMA’s Debt Service Loan with the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority. The AMA recently received the $1.8 million loan to purchase a new transformer and infrastructure for the Tamarack Substation Duplex project and a rental transformer installed at Nona Substation.
The AMA authorized to renew an agreement for Economic Development Services with the Altus/Southwest Area Economic Development Corp., (EDC), with a compensation increase to $250,000 to include a new EDC Director position for FY 2014-15. The EDC serves to foster economic development, military development, tourism enhancements or any area that will prove beneficial to the community. Councilman Henry said that the applicants for the position were “outstanding,” and that he is very excited about having a new EDC Director. “I think that when everybody gets to know this guy they’re going to be very pleased with the actions that the EDC Board and Chamber [of Commerce] took.”
The AMA then authorized and renewed the Lease Agreement with Southwest Readymix for property located at 820 S. Veterans Drive of the Bar-S Industrial Park Addition.
Following the AMA meeting, the City Council meeting commenced.
The City Council approved several items including a contract for services with Southwestern Youth Services, Inc., for the Altus Juvenile Court; a revised lease agreement for “Luigi’s Pizzeria,” located at the Green’s of Altus; an addendum to the Old Landfill Lease assigning the premises to Chad Wiginton; an addendum to a contract for services for euthanasia services for Blair, Cache, Eldorado, Elmer, Olustee, and Snyder for another year at the increased price of $50 per animal; a resolution designating times and place within the City which firework may be discharged on July 4, as the Public Fireworks Display at the City Reservoir; and a renewal and addendum to a lease with Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group for the Lincoln Center, and also at the Seg Hove Center (Senior Citizen’s Center) at $1,200 monthly rent.
Council voted to table an item regarding an Ordinance on a “Motor vehicle impound fee,” approved at the previous Council meeting.
There was no new business. After comments and reports from the City Administrator, Council members, and the Mayor, the meeting adjourned.