The OKC City Council approved its Fiscal Year 2022 budget today, but it didn’t come without some objections over policy ideas, funding for mental health and general transparency of the budget process.
After about two hours of discussion, the $1.65 billion budget passed by a 7-2 margin. That dollar figure represents a 2.4 percent reduction over the current fiscal year’s budget. The new budget approved by the council will take effect July 1.
Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon and Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice voted against approving the budget after asking several questions about specific programs.
City budget director Doug Dowler said the budget cut is a result of spending from two city programs.
“That’s due primarily to decreases in MAPS 3 and Better Streets Safer City as they spend down their remaining balances,” Dowler told the council.
Dowler said the city’s general fund revenues jumped by 6.8 percent over last year.
“We are ending up better this year than expected, which gives a strong base to grow on from next year,” Dowler said.
Hamon: Mental health allocation not enough
In the wake of the December police shooting death of Bennie Edwards, there have been increased calls for investment for enhanced training for police officers to deal with those with mental illness. A Black man who experienced homelessness and psychosis, Edwards was shot and killed by by OKC Sgt. Clifford Holman, who was not certified in crisis intervention training.
The FY 2022 budget includes $300,000 for a mental health response component in the Oklahoma City Police Department, and $1 million to fund future City Council-approved recommendations from task forces and working groups on community policing, human rights and homelessness.
“Three hundred thousand dollars is not a commitment to public safety for an alternate, at this point we don’t even know what, crisis response for mental illness,” Hamon said.
She noted that the city spent more than three times that amount to defend its controversial panhandling ordinance, which she said criminalizes poverty. In her remarks, Hamon advocated for more robust and creative mental health crisis resources.
“We again had a moment that we had the opportunity to meet with vision, imagination, creativity and not on ideas that are just grown out of thin air. They are ideas that have been proven in other cities and other communities,” Hamon said. “And just because those places aren’t exactly like Oklahoma City doesn’t mean we couldn’t say that could probably work here if it can work in Denver or Eugene or places in Kentucky that are doing the same things right now. Some of you might not have heard the phrase, ‘The safest communities aren’t the ones with the most police officers, they’re the ones with the most resources.'”
Partnership, budget detail draws scrutiny
The city and Kiva U.S. entered a partnership in November. Kiva is an online crowdfunding platform that aims to improve access to funding for small businesses. It does not charge fees to lenders and has crowdfunded more than $29 million in lending since 2011, according to its website.
Nice said she was unfamiliar with the program, wasn’t clear who benefited from it and wondered why it wasn’t in the FY 2022 budget. She also took the time to criticize some of the detail in the budget documents provided to city councilors.
Nice also questioned two community development positions in the city finance department, adding it was unclear how they would benefit the community.
City Manager Crain Freeman said funding for the Kiva program was included in the Economic Development Trust budget, which he said is how he recommended the city continued to fund the program.
Freeman said the two development positions already exist and are being moved back from the city manager’s office into the OKC finance department.
Still, Nice took exception with the vagueness of some of the elements of the budget and what she called a lack of accountability to the council for the Kiva program. She said she knows of only one person who has benefited from the program.
“As we continue to look at this budget and the things that have taken place, and the things we’re going to have to go through, there should also be some clear itemization of every single thing that we’re looking at because this is just a generalization,” Nice said. “This gives us nothing concrete that we probably need to understand. Just like I had to ask a question about a community enhancement program that I’m still confused about, by the way. And we rely on partnerships from outside entities instead of holding ourselves accountable with programs like the Kiva program.”