For Oklahoma City residents who complained about tall grass at city parks last summer, or who cursed local roads because a pot hole knocked their front end out of alignment, city officials want you to know that they know you’re not happy.
Directors from the city’s transportation and parking, development services and parks departments outlined their proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budgets to the OKC City Council today in the second of three budget presentations.
The council is expected to vote June 8 on the 2022 OKC budget.
At $1.6 billion, the proposed budget is 2.4 percent smaller than the current one, owing to declining balances in the city’s MAPS 3 and Better Streets, Safer City temporary sales tax funds as those programs end.
Here’s a rundown of proposals for the coming year from the departments that presented Tuesday.
Transit ridership down
Oklahoma City’s Public Transportation and Parking Department’s proposed 2022 budget is $46.5 million.
That total includes $32 million for bus services, $5.1 million for parking services and $5.1 million for the floundering streetcar system that serves downtown Oklahoma City.
It also includes $2.9 million for bus services in Norman, which contracts with OKC to provide its mass transit service.
But if public satisfaction is any indication, the department has plenty of room to improve. According to surveys, only 17 percent of respondents were satisfied with road conditions and 48 percent were happy with the flow of traffic throughout the city. Just 40 percent were satisfied with public transit.
Public transportation and parking director Jason Ferbrache said the conditions of the city’s streets are a clear concern for residents.
“Of course street conditions and services, and getting around town, as we know, are the top one and two items for our residents,” he said. “But I wanted to share that the quality of the city’s public transit system received the third (most) important satisfaction ranking, meaning that, yes, it’s one of the important city services, but satisfaction is not near as high as other city services. This allows decision makers to look at those services where perhaps additional resources could be used to improve those numbers.”
Not surprisingly, ridership fell dramatically in 2020 as the height of the COVID-19 pandemic played out. In 2019, an average of nearly 10,000 people per weekday used the city’s public transportation system. Last year, that number tumbled to about 5,900 because of reduced capacity on buses owing to social distancing measures and closed businesses.
“It goes without saying why those declines are being realized, but I would also remind council that, for the fiscal year, we had capacity restraints on our transit vehicles, so we weren’t able to provide all of the trips really that were demanded,” he said. “Some of the customers we had to pass up would simply catch the next bus, but nonetheless it limited the number of trips we were able to provide.”
Parks Department ranks grow
After budget cuts in 2021, the OKC Parks Department is poised to return to something resembling normalcy in the next fiscal year with its proposed budget of $44.4 million.
There will also be more people cutting grass across the city’s parks and trail systems this fiscal year, director Doug Kupper said.
Last year, the department cut nine jobs from its grounds maintenance department, which oversees mowing and landscaping at all city parks and along its trail system. This year, those jobs will be filled again under the proposed budget. Kupper said that will allow parks, including those in neighborhoods, to be mowed every two weeks rather than the every-three-weeks schedule implemented last year because of staffing shortages.
The Parks Department will also add four positions in its natural resources division and five in its recreational, health and wellness department, all of which were eliminated in last year’s budget.
Kupper said his department is also in the midst of 67 construction projects of all sizes throughout the city funded almost entirely by bonds. That includes the $18 million Willa Johnson Center that broke ground last year. Two new clubhouses at the Earlywine and James E. Stewart city-owned golf courses are also under construction.
Development Services to add positions
After a year of mild austerity, the Development Service Department is poised to restore some of the positions it lost last year owing to budget cuts.
The Development Service Department is responsible for animal welfare, code enforcement and construction permit and inspections. Its proposed 2022 budget is $19.6 million, a 7 percent increase from 2021.
Director Bob Tener told the City Council his department planned to add positions across all of its areas of responsibility. Animal welfare will hire two additional officers, as well as an animal welfare representative and a veterinarian’s assistant.
The department will also restore a pair of electrical inspector and a building inspector positions in order to meet increased demand. The proposed budget would also restore five code inspector positions while also adding an office assistant.
Tener said the department will also complete work on a business services center on the first floor of the the Jim Couch Municipal Office Building that will provide those seeking building permits and licensing with easier access to those services.