Utility rate increase flushed

By Traci Chapman
Published on June 5, 2008

A proposed water and wastewater fee increase was shutoff Tuesday when City Council members chose to ignore the request in the 2008-2009 budget.

Ward 1 Councilman Jay Adams said the Council “refused” to consider the 3.5 percent increase, which city staff said they proposed to cut financial losses. The estimated $16.9 million budget was approved unanimously.

City Manager David Cockrell said the increase is needed to make utilities “self-sufficient” during budget sessions last month. Council refused to consider the idea, with some members expressing concerns about how residents might react to a proposed increase.

The problem facing the city is two-fold, Finance Director Brenda Wright said. First, expenses have outpaced revenues for several years, causing a drain on the city because those departments are not self-sustaining.

Second, Wright said the city is unable to find money to make major improvements to its water and drainage systems.

The city’s financial woes in this department are compounded by increases in fees from Severn Trent, IESI and Oklahoma City, Wright said. Severn Trent runs the city’s wastewater treatment plant; IESI provides sanitation services to the city; and Mustang purchases water from Oklahoma City during high-use periods.

“Our fees from various sources — Severn Trent for their services, Oklahoma City for the purchase of water when we need it and IESI’s sanitation fees — are all increasing,” she said. “We must do something to at least meet those increases, and we also need to find a way to fund improvements to our systems.”

Severn Trent’s base fees have increased 48.6 percent since fiscal year 2003, Wright said, and IESI’s charges to the city since the beginning of its contract have risen by 13.7 percent. Oklahoma City’s treatment fees — a service needed during “high impact” periods, such as during last year’s flooding rains, jump 3.6 percent each October, she said.

The increase, had it been considered by Council members, would have been the first in about four years, Wright said. The bottom line for residents would be a base rate increase of 50 cents per month for water and a 24-cent monthly increase on the minimum bill for wastewater treatment, she said.

Although the budget was approved by Council Tuesday, it was not an “easy” process. Staff laid out its proposals over three budget sessions lasting about 12 hours, and Council further deliberated spending allocations for more than four hours Tuesday.

A contested item was a cost of living adjustment for city employees. Resident Coweta Morrell and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 163 President Dennis Craig addressed the board specifically on staff’s decision to recommend a 4-percent merit raise — but no COLA increase — in this year’s budget session.

FOP officials submitted a demand for arbitration in May concerning its contract negotiations with the city. Craig said the FOP’s bargaining team was “unhappy” with the city’s reluctance to provide a COLA increase, and its proposal to increase dependent insurance costs. Negotiations between the city and FOP are ongoing, Cockrell said.

After several hours of debate, Council members voted to implement the 4-percent merit raise proposed by city staff and rebuffed the COLA increase. When questioned about merit versus COLA increases, Adams urged using the merit raise system.

“First, the merit pay increase (4 percent) is more than the COLA 2.3 percent increase we’ve discussed,” he said. “Secondly, what’s wrong with performance-based increases?”

Another area debated extensively by Council was the value and scope of economic development efforts and two items included in the budget pertaining to those efforts.

One line item was $21,000 to be paid to participate in the Canadian County Economic Development Partnership. The other item was a “regular” annual $10,000 allocation to Mustang Chamber of Commerce. Both budget items came under scrutiny by Mayor Jeff Landrith in budget sessions. Ultimately, Council members elected in a 5-2 split vote not to participate in the county-wide development partnership. Members did direct staff to “hold” those funds aside for “local economic development” allocation at a later date.

Cockrell supported the city’s participation in CCEP — a coalition of private business and cities throughout the county aimed at attracting industrial business to Canadian County. Landrith said he did not — except for business located within Mustang city limits.

“I don’t like the economic development of Canadian County. No matter what you say, I’m still going to say ‘no,’” he said.

Landrith and Ward 2 Councilwoman Kathleen Moon also questioned the city’s “support” of the Mustang Chamber of Commerce. Council did not eliminate the $10,000 allocated in the city’s budget to the chamber, but Landrith and Moon said they reserved the right to revisit the item after examining the contract between the city and chamber.

“I have a hard time with the chamber. I wish they were more on their own from a funding perspective,” Landrith said. “I think about who shows up to volunteer, and it is more those folks from outside of Mustang. I don’t like the idea that this is not a true Mustang chamber.”
“It’s not our chamber,” Moon said. “I don’t know why we’re giving them money and giving them free rent. I’m not happy with that.”

Cockrell said the city “gets more than it gives” with the chamber, which “really helps promote the city and brings businesses and tax dollars in.”

The budget approved by Council included total projected revenues of about $16.9 million, an increase of almost $2.3 million over last year. Wright said sales tax revenue is expected to increase by almost $1.5 million, a 22.5-percent increase over 2008 sales tax collections.

A factor in the expected sales tax increase is Lowes Home Improvement, although Wright said other businesses coming to area, such as Family Video and Applebees, would combine for the total.

While revenues are up, Cockrell said expenses are also climbing. Major factors this year, he said, are increasing fuel prices, a July minimum wage hike, higher postage rates and increased contract costs.
The following are highlights from the approved budget:

Mayor and City Council
The total proposed budget for the mayor/council department was $190,200. Expenditures include several “professional” fees, including the city attorney’s fees of $78,000, city engineer costs of $40,000 and a salary of $9,200 for the municipal judge.

City Manager
Wright said the bulk of the city manager’s department expense was $375,950 for personnel services, including salaries and benefits for Cockrell, City Clerk Trisha Winham, court clerk and human resources staffing. Other “big dollar items,” Wright said, included professional fees of $37,000 and $25,000 to fund the second phase of the global imaging system.

The bulk of the professional fees budgeted were for a web consultant, she said. That sum — $10,000 — will be used to hire a consultant to upgrade and improve the city’s Web site, which was a major goal during the city’s recent strategic planning sessions.

Mustang Public Library
Like most other city departments, the bulk of the library’s proposed budget was allocated to personnel — to the tune of $247,850.

Part of that cost was the promotion of a library clerk to a newly created circulation manager position in the fourth quarter, which will result in an $8,000 increase during the budget period. Cockrell approved the request; Landrith suggested Council look at the price tag for the position and consider reallocating those funds to “other items,” including using the money to hire an additional police officer. Ultimately, the request survived and was approved by Council.

Parks and Recreation

Justin Battles, Parks and Recreation director, said his department was “hard hit” by the federal minimum wage increase, which affects many of his staff members.
Battles said the 70-cents per hour increase, effective July 24, would push many of the department’s part-time employees’ hourly wages from $5.85 to $6.55. Total budgeted personnel costs for the department topped $597,000.

Other major expenditures included grounds maintenance totaling $42,900, electricity costs of $40,000, $11,000 for the after school program and special events costs of $7,500.

Although included in the Parks and Recreation overall budget, the softball complex and aquatics center were broken out as separate entities for expense purposes.
Of a total proposed softball complex budget of $301,074, nearly half was comprised of salaries and benefits. Other major expenses included $89,000 for concession supplies, electricity costs of $28,700 and total maintenance, equipment and repair costs of $20,500.

Total expenditures for the aquatics center ran $194,325. Personnel costs at the center totaled $148,290, up from $129,725 last fiscal year due to the minimum wage hike, Battles said.

General Government

The general government department encompassed most operational expenses, such as postage, telephones, equipment and insurance. The “big dollar” items included the $670,240 public works contract between the city and Severn Trent, and the Lowes incentive in the amount of $352,000, which will be paid on the one-year anniversary of the store’s opening if it hits certain performance standards.

Those standards include maintaining a $2 million payroll and generating gross annual sales of at least $15 million.

“It’s also a reimbursement for a big investment Lowes has made in infrastructure — like lights — that benefits the city overall,” Wright said.

Town Center

Town Center had three major expense areas — personnel costs ($44,602); cleaning expense ($50,300); and utilities ($92,000). Materials and supplies were estimated at $27,430, machinery and equipment services totaled $21,560, and $200 in education and training expenses rounded out the $236,092 department budget.


The largest departmental expense was salaries and benefits of almost $328,000. Included in the budget approved by Cockrell — but questioned by Landrith — was the addition of an accounting clerk position in the fourth quarter, resulting in a cost of about $13,000 during 2009. Wright said the request was the first for a new employee in the department in 15 years. Council cut the position to fund the salary for an additional police officer.

Community Development

Responsible for planning, building permits, code enforcement and implementation of the city’s GIS system, the bulk of the Community Development Department’s budget is personnel costs, budgeted at $498,513.

Director Richard Rolison requested a GIS technician, who would be responsible for updating and maintaining the system. The request was approved by Cockrell; Landrith suggested possibly allocating the cost of the position — estimated at about $61,000, including all benefits and “rollups” — for an additional police officer or “maybe street improvements or something else.” Council did not cut the position from the city’s budget during its May sessions but did move back hiring from the second to third quarter.

Police Department

With a total proposed budget of just over $2.19 million, Mustang Police Department has the largest “piece of the pie” of any city branch. The largest component of the department’s budget is personnel costs totaling almost $1.96 million. Chief Monte James said one officer was added during the 2008 fiscal year; although he requested additional staffing in his budget proposal, he said he and Cockrell had found some ways to “move personnel around” to avoid additional personnel costs this budget session.

Landrith, Ward 5 Councilwoman Linda Hagan and Ward 6 Councilwoman Katherine Callahan pushed for the addition of another patrol officer; that move was voted down in a 4-3 vote during budget sessions. Landrith and Hagan again pushed for a new officer Tuesday. The measure was passed, with Council voting to hire an officer in the fourth quarter.

Fire Department

Fire Chief Carl Hickman said Mustang Fire Department has “gotten a lot of benefit” from grants during 2008, and he looks forward to more of the same during fiscal year 2009. Hickman’s total $1,148,584 proposed budget is broken down into personnel expense of $969,894, materials and supplies — including $10,000 for fireworks — at a total cost of $112,500 and miscellaneous charges of $66,190.

One expenditure requested by Hickman but denied by Cockrell was a deputy fire chief with a $61,000 proposed annual salary. Current deputy chief Roy Widmann serves the department on a volunteer basis.

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