(STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA / Jan. 11, 2018) – The annual budget process for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 is under way at the City of Stillwater. Over the next few weeks, city staff will discuss needs and priorities, and City Council will hold its annual strategic budget planning session on Jan. 29 where they provide staff guidance and direction for the budget.
City Manager Norman McNickle said, “The annual budget is one of the most important things we do every year, so it’s critical that residents provide feedback. What city projects and services do you want your tax dollars to fund?
“Setting a budget always involves some difficult choices,” McNickle explained. “In FY15-16, the City had to reduce its projected budget by $5.1 million due to sales tax shortfalls. In FY16-17, these shortfalls continued, resulting in an additional reduction of $8 million. The City wasn’t able to fund any capital improvement projects like streets.”
Any transportation improvements were funded through the dedicated half-penny sales tax fund.
“We have a new reality, and we need to look at new, long-term solutions for funding sources,” he added.
Oklahoma is the only state where municipalities rely primarily on sales tax collections to fund city government operations. Sales tax revenue makes up most of the General Fund, which pays for the City’s day-to-day operations like police, fire and streets.
“We need the Oklahoma legislature to make sure cities receive their share of use tax. We need to look at general obligation bonds, revenue bonds and private bank notes. Some of these require voter approval, but we can no longer rely primarily on sales tax to fund everything the community needs,” McNickle said.
He also pointed out that the City is a public power community, which means the Stillwater Utilities Authority may transfer funds to the General Fund. Many cities like Stillwater established utilities to help pay for community core services like police and fire protection, parks, libraries and streets.
“We are fortunate that our city founders had the foresight to create this funding options,” he said.
As for this year’s budget, the city manager wants residents to be engaged and understand the decisions staff and City Council has to make.
In the 2017 Citizen Satisfaction Survey, 45.7 percent of Stillwater residents said they didn’t understand how the City used its tax dollars. McNickle said that number is too high.
To involve residents in the budget discussion, the City will hold a series of social media live events where people can submit budget questions, add information to the online Budget Information Center, and staff and city councilors will visit local civic organizations or holding office hours to discuss the budget with residents.
The City of Stillwater follows the Oklahoma Municipal Budget Act regarding budget deadlines and the public hearing processes. City Council will hold a public hearing in April with a second hearing only if necessary. In May, Council will consider the presentation of a resolution to approve the annual budget.
For more information about the City of Stillwater budget, visit the Budget Information Center at http://stillwater.org/budget.
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