OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City Council of Oklahoma City met Tuesday to hear budget proposals for the coming fiscal year from three departments in the first of a short series of budget hearings.
The Council heard budget proposals from the Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD), Oklahoma City Municipal Courts, and the Oklahoma City Police Department (OKCPD). The meeting was attended by all City Council members and the Mayor, City Manager, and City Clerk.
The meeting began with the only voting item of the meeting, which was resolution setting public hearing dates for budget presentations and public comment for May 18 and June 1. The Council is expected to adopt the budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22 at their meeting on June 8.
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Budget Director Doug Dowler kicked off the presentations with a broad overview of the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
The total budget for the City for the coming year will be $1,648,600,000. While that budget is a slight decrease from last year, 2.4% lower, the General Fund budget is up by $32 million, which is an increase of 6.8%.
The new budget will “unfreeze” a number of positions that were kept empty last year out of concern for reduced revenues due to the pandemic. This year’s budget will also add 109 staff positions.
It will also include $300,000 for a mental health response component from the Police Department, though specifics were not well discussed. It also provides $1 million for other areas of concern including homelessness, community policing, and human rights. How those funds will be spent is still a matter of discussion and negotiation.
The budget also restores many services that have been cut off during the pandemic due to budget shorting. Those include such things as more frequent mowing of parks, restoring the Spokies program, and other city services.
Chief Richard Kelley gave a presentation on the proposed budget for the Fire Department.
This year’s proposed budget includes 999 uniformed positions and 40 civilian positions. 21 of those positions were frozen in last year’s budget, but will be used this year to staff Oklahoma City’s newest fire house, Station #38. The station house, in far southwest Oklahoma City, will be completed in early 2022 and staff will be prepared to take residence on Day 1.
The new budget includes two new positions. First is Business Intelligence Analyst. A business intelligence analyst uses data that an organization already collects to build a more cohesive view of how the organization can perform most efficiently and best pursue the outcomes the organization wants to meet.
The other position is a digital media producer. During the hearing, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice said that she hopes this additional staff won’t mean the departure of other staff. Nice said that the social media presence of the Fire Department is very good.
Kelley said that a focus of the department, especially with urban sprawl affecting the services provided by the Department, is to insure that services arrive within 7 minutes for 70% of calls. In the preceding year, that average has been closer to 60%. Kelley said that might owe to a higher call rate during the two disastrous weather events Oklahoma City faced in the last year. Kelley is optimistic that the average will be better next year.
LaShawn Thompson, Court Administrator of the Municipal Courts, also gave a budget presentation on Tuesday.
Thompson said that their proposed budget included 62 positions, including four municipal judges who are appointed by the City Council. The Court’s proposed budget is $8.7 million.
The Court wishes to add one court officer this year, who will be a part of the Court’s outreach program. That position will participate in helping defendants have all their paperwork in order and are otherwise ready to go before a judge in Rule 8 hearings, where a defendant is likely to be found “not able to pay.” A defendant found “indigent” may have fines and fees waived by the court.
Last year 7,214 cases were ultimately termed indigent.
Chief Wade Gourley of the Oklahoma City Police Department gave the longest presentation of the day, replete with photos and videos that all make the department look successful.
Gourley presented his budget as $227,731,144, an increase from last year.
Gourley went on to give a presentation that, including questions and comments from Council, lasted for an hour and a half. During that time, Gourley talked about developments in the Department over the last couple of years, including the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team (VCAT) and School Resource Officers (SROs).
Gourley was confident that the department is doing well at protecting the community and preventing crime. However, Gourley claimed, violent crime is on the rise nationwide, including in Oklahoma City.
Gourley’s proposed budget restores 34 positions. Some positions, Gourley explained, would be filled by civilians in order to free up police officers to do police work.
The Police, too, wish to hire a Business Intelligence Analyst.
At one point in his presentation, the Chief said about data management and crime scene investigation that, “we’re police, we shouldn’t be doing that work.”
Gourley referenced a study conducted years ago concluding that the police department should be adding upwards of 30 new officers a year, which would bring the current number of police officers in Oklahoma City to around 1500 from the current approximately 1100 officers.
Gourley was asked by new Council member Barbara Young of Ward 3 what City Councilors can do to help with recruitment. Gourley said that members of the Department are the best recruiters because they can tell people how it feels to do a job where they make a difference.
The meeting concluded with public comment. During that time 10 residents spoke. Of those 10, only one gave comment in support of the local police.
Patti Koch, president of the Windsor Forest Neighborhood Association, talked about how great the police are in her neighborhood. She said that they attend neighborhood meetings and offer great feedback and insight.
The remainder of callers had a different perspective.
Callers implored the Council and the Police Department to channel resources toward programs that keep the community safe, such as mental health resources and violence interruption. Callers said that the police take up resources without delivering good outcomes.
During her comments, Holland said that Gourley is not willing to speak with the community. She referred to him as a “self-serving liar” before her audio was disconnected by the City Clerk.
Local rapper and activist Jabee called into the meeting and referenced Koch’s call. He speculated that her police experience differed from his because in her neighborhood the police probably look like her. Jabee said that the officers in his community aren’t from there and don’t look like him. He continued to say that the police are in his community to control people.
Budget Director Dowler said that Council will hear presentations on May 18 and on June 1 for many other city departments beyond those presented Tuesday.
The Council’s resolution created a 20 day comment period. Residents may access the FY22 Budget Book at okc.gov/budget where residents can leave feedback about the budget proposals.
The next meeting of the City Council is May 11 at 8:30 a.m.
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Last Updated May 4, 2021, 3:32 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor