City Council: Utility rates rise as budget talks finalize

by Charles Gerian

The Blackwell City Council held a brief meeting Thursday afternoon in which Council members voted to approve the city's budget for the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year. The Council also voted to increase the city's utility rates.

To start off the meeting, the Council discussed the city's budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The Council had previously discussed the budget in a specially-scheduled workshop that was held Monday, June 17. 

The budget is required, by law, to be finalized before the end of the month. But as City Attorney Bryce Kennedy and Chief Financial Officer Frank Crawford said, the budget may be edited and adjusted at any time after its approval as long as the budget is properly balanced. After much deliberation, the budget was approved.

The Council also voted to hire Crawford & Associates, a world-class auditing firm best known for its forensic work, as the city's CFO. Crawford was awarded a $75,000 contract. The firm replaces RS Meacham CPAs and Advisors, the city's former accounting firm. Meacham was recently fired by the Council.

After approving the city budget, the Council voted to allocate $30,000 from the city's lodging tax fund to the Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum. Revenue from the lodging tax, which is collected on the rental of hotel and motel rooms within the city limits, is used to boost tourism in Blackwell.

The Council also voted to approve the city's annual Independence Day fireworks display. The show is put on in conjunction with the Blackwell Area Chamber of Commerce. It will be held Thursday, July 4, at the B Street Ball Fields. 

The Council then appointed several members of the community to serve on various municipal boards.

Rebecca Hutton was reappointed to a three-year term as the chair of the Blackwell Public Library Board, and Julia Stuever was appointed to a three-year term as the vice-chair of the board. 

Ralph Gose was reappointed to a three-year term as a trustee on the Blackwell-Tonkawa Airport Authority Board, and Doyle Steffen was re-appointed to a five-year term as a trustee on the Blackwell Hospital Trust Authority Board.

Jerome Kellum and Colton Dell were each appointed to three-year terms as trustees on the Blackwell Golf Authority Board.

Following the appointments, Clint and Denise Hindman were awarded a contract to provide mowing services to the city for $45 an hour.

The Council voted to table the awarding of bids to a roofing contractor. The contractor, Native Construction and Roofing, had submitted bids to repair the roofs of the Blackwell Youth Center, the city armory, and the Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum. Ultimately, the Council tabled the awarding of bids so that new bids may be solicited. 

The Council also approved the purchase of 15 computers for the city's fire department, police department, and administrative offices. The computers will replace older units.

The Council went on to approve amendments for the city's employee handbook. The Council voted to designate the birthdays of city employees as paid holidays. Another change will institute a “sick leave incentive pay plan” for full-time employees that use less than 32 hours of sick leave annually. Qualifying employees will receive an extra $500 minus tax.

The Council also voted to increase the city's solid waste collection, sewer, and water rates. 

The solid waste collection and disposal rate saw a 5.5 percent increase. Sewer rates were raised by 2.1 percent, and water rates were increased by 3.5 percent.