The OKC City Council today voted 7-2 to approve a $1.9 billion Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which includes increases for the city’s parks, police and fire departments, as well as some reductions in other areas.
The city’s overall budget grew by 1.8 percent compared to last year, which was made possible by an uptick in sales tax collections that go into the general fund. Overall, the city’s general fund collections climbed from about $570 million to $604 million. City of OKC budget director Christian York said the increase in the general fund reflects an increase in sales tax revenue.
“Zooming in on the general fund, it’s up around 5.9 percent over the current year,” York said. “That is related to the strong growth in sales tax that we’ve seen in the current year. It’s not really based on the strong sales tax we’re expecting in the next year. We’re being extremely cautious with that, and we’re looking at about a 1 percent increase in sales tax growth next year.”
Among notable changes in the OKC FY 2024 budget, the OKC Fire Department will see its budget expand from $184 million to $206 million to accommodate 50 additional positions. York said those personnel increases will include six new firefighters, four civilian quartermasters to maintain equipment and clean it after exposure to hazards, as well as 40 new positions to support a new ambulance transport program that will supplement EMSA in OKC.
EMSA has been under scrutiny in recent years over its response times. To help alleviate some of those problems, the city’s fire department plans to begin operating some ambulance services, though its public information officer declined to provide details of the project when asked by NonDoc in May, citing the early stages of the plan’s development.
OKC’s police department will also see an increase of 14 civilian positions that include a crisis intervention team coordinator and forensic investigators. Overall, the police department’s budget increased from $261 million to $268 million for Fiscal Year 2024.
Mayor David Holt, Ward 1 Councilman Bradley Carter, Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper, Ward 3 Councilwoman Barbara Peck, Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone, Ward 5 Councilman Matt Hinkle and Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher all voted for the budget.
Expressing concerns about the OKC Police Department’s budget Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon voted against the budget, as she had for the last two years. Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice also voted against the budget, citing her request for more discretionary spending in wards.
Hamon has made police accountability one of her priorities since she was first elected to office in 2019.
“As I’ve said in years past, show me your budget and you’ll show me your priorities,” Hamon told the council Tuesday. “Each year for the last few years, we’ve had initiatives to address public safety in a holistic way, things that are appropriate, preventative responses to community needs and community issues, that seem to be plodding along. The energy and resources to really move those things forward seem to kind of plod along.”
Hamon said the city’s priorities in some areas don’t make a lot of sense.
“In the police budget presentation, there was a focus on addressing fentanyl overdoses as this sort of new thing that we’re talking about from a police standpoint,” she said. “We need to be talking about it from a public health standpoint and getting to the root of the problems rather than charging people with murder as if that’s going to address any problems that relate to substance abuse. To me, our priorities are completely upside down.”
Nice also criticized the proposed budget in part because it doesn’t include things she has asked for in the past.
“I know last year I asked for this too, and it was kind of hushed as far as no more conversation about it, but (I would like to see) a fund where each ward would be able to prioritize a couple of things that are pressing to our residents, because every year there is something different that is not on the capital improvement plan, that’s not on the GO bond list, but is of the utmost importance depending on where you’re located in the community,” Nice said. “Another concern I talked about is, yes, I understand there are some good things that will be happening within the ward, but one of the things we continually have asked for over the last couple of years is how we can fund some programs a little better, and we’ve still have not been able to do that.”
Medical waste facility stirs questions
Plans to permit a medical waste transfer facility will be on hold for at least two weeks after Nice asked the council to defer the agenda item Tuesday. The facility, proposed for 3902 NE 23rd St., would be operated by Terracon Consultants, Inc. But Nice expressed concern that it would also be located next to Diggs Park in northeast OKC.
Terracon representative Cynthia Garcia told council members that the facility would only be a transfer station where sealed medical waste is transferred from one truck to another and then taken off-site. Waste would include used hypodermic needles, blood and used gauze bandages, among other items. The location would handle about 1,500 pounds of medical waste each day, which she said would not come close to filling a typical dump truck.
“These are sealed containers that are made to withstand falling off a truck,” Garcia said. “They have signage on them. The property is fenced and will be locked.”
Nice said she was unaware of the proposed permit request until it appeared on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. She told the council that hampered her ability to answer questions from concerned residents.
“There needs to be a lot more conversation before we go through this permitting process, in my opinion,” she said. “There are so many unanswered questions, and it’s very unfortunate that we are here rather than talking this over before it came up on the agenda.”
Ward 7 resident Zenephon Warrior said the idea of having a medical waste facility near a park is unappealing.
“I don’t know about you, but while the medical waste may be contained, psychologically I think a lot of people wouldn’t want to live next to a medical waste facility, and it’s deplorable to have that within a half mile of a park,” he told the council.
Ward 7 resident Theresa Taylor said the facility could be located in other areas of the city besides the northeast side.
“There are so many areas that you can put a facility such as this,” she told the council. “There are industrial areas where you can keep it away from residents. We have a school down the street. We actually go to that park, and to hear about this facility and dump trucks, that is not a good feeling.”
Holt elected to national leadership role
A year into his latest term in office and already sporting a new job as dean of the Oklahoma City University School of Law, OKC Mayor David Holt was elected to a term as president of the United States Conference of Mayors at the organization’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday. Holt will become the first vice president of the organization next year before assuming the office of president in 2025.
“I am incredibly grateful and excited for the honor of serving in these roles,” Holt said in a press release. “Mayors are the most visionary, effective, and unifying leaders in our country right now, and the opportunity to represent them is an opportunity I am very grateful to have. I thank my fellow mayors for their belief in me. This also presents an opportunity to tell Oklahoma City’s story, and it’s a reminder to Oklahoma City that we have an incredible platform as America’s 20th-largest city.”