Fiscal Year 2021 budget includes some tough decisions, but also invests in a brighter future.
By Jim Thomas, City Manager
Claremore – like the rest of Oklahoma, the United States and the world – is struggling with the effects of the coronavirus. The virus has not only affected our community members’ health, but our economy as well. More than 33 million people in the United States have filed for unemployment, and of those, more than 375,000 reside in Oklahoma. It’s been said time and time again, but it rings true: These are unprecedented times.
But with so much unknown about the future, we will continue to do our best to provide for the economic challenges we all face as a community. We will come through it stronger, more resilient and with a better understanding of the struggles of our neighbors.
With that in mind, I would like to present the Fiscal Year 2021 budget to our community members.
This budget includes realistic revenue projections and expenses, addressing all municipal operations, along with enterprise funds, trusts, city debt and obligations. It’s been a difficult time for everyone, but we are confident the budget as presented will meet the necessary needs of our community. There were tough decisions to make while developing this fiscal plan, but we believe we are making the most sound, fiscally responsible recommendations for our current time.
Our submitted Fiscal Year 2021 budget is $82,435,844. The budget process began in March and involved meetings with department heads. We discussed their proposed budget requests along with their wish lists for 2021. The administration then called for meetings with the Finance Committee, composed of Mayor Bill Flanagan and Councilors Scott Savage and Susan Kirtley, to discuss both revenue projections and expenditures.
To remain a competitive employer, I strongly believe we must continue to invest in our employees, particularly in regards to salaries, retirement and health insurance. This year, I have built into this budget a minimum wage of $15 per hour for most full-time employees. We are doing a better job today at recruiting for these positions and this pay scale will allow us to offer a competitive edge. The City is fortunate that for the second consecutive year, we have no rate increase to the employer or the employee for our health insurance plan.
As with any budget, tough decisions are also part of the process. Unfortunately, we were faced with the difficult decision of a slight reduction in employment. The proposed budget requires some cuts, and savings will be realized through eliminating vacant positions, a slight reduction in force, an early retirement, and a conversion to part-time employment. These decisions were made based upon consultation with department heads; the total savings to the City is approximately $700,000.
The City is managing its debt payments well. We have Fiscal Year 2021 total debt of $52 million and annual debt payment of $5 million. We are operating within our means, and by 2030 we are currently projected to be debt free.
During tough times, we must also continue to strategically invest in our future. Investment in capital infrastructure and projects remains a vital area in the budget. We have invested more than $60 million in various projects over the past seven years, and we have dedicated several million for future improvements to the water and electric infrastructure and roads in 2021.
The City of Claremore administration continues to partner with the Rogers County Board of Commissioners to ensure joint City-County projects related to quality of life are successful. The most recent example is the Stampede Arena Co-op Trust Board, where together we have made substantial improvements. Another City-County and Public Trust partnership that will improve quality of life and benefit generations of residents is an agreement to create the Heritage Hills Interlocal Cooperative. It is similar to the Arena Co-op’s and will address the deteriorating golf course. The life of a putting green is typically 15 to 20 years and the current greens are 45 years old. This project also spurs economic growth, ensures accountability of taxpayer investment and protects property values in the City and the County. Heritage Hills is currently the home course for Rogers State University and Claremore High School, along with four other area high schools, and we believe it is a vital component to supporting our schools.
COVID-19 has placed many of us in difficult situations. Transparency is important, particularly now. At our next City Council meeting on May 18, residents are invited to provide public comment on the budget. The meeting will be conducted via video conference, and streamed on our Facebook page. To accommodate social distancing guidelines, we will set up a camera in City Council chambers for residents to participate one at a time. Any additional questions on this process can be directed to the City Clerk’s office at 918-341-1325, ext. 140.
I am confident in this plan, and I truly believe it will allow our community to thrive. Thank you for continuing to support Claremore.