Lawton voters may be considering a proposal this fall to extend the Ad Valorem Road Improvement Program.
City Council member issued a directive Tuesday to city staff, asking them to work with the city’s bond counsel to begin crafting the documents that will lead to that election.
The original program was approved by city voters in 2017. It set a plan that keeps the city’s share of ad valorem tax revenue at a steady level, providing revenue restricted to road upgrades. The program is expected to raise $50.3 million over its 10-year life.
But, city officials have said that because of inflation, projected revenues are not going to cover the cost of projects outlined for voters in the days before the 2017 election. That issue was compounded this spring by another problem cited by city staff: deteriorating bridges over Wolf Creek on South 11th Street near the city landfill and on Cache Road near Northwest 47th Street. Deterioration forced the city to place weight restrictions on the bridges, meaning fire trucks can’t use the Cache Road bridges and sanitation trucks must drive alternate routes to the landfill because they can’t cross use the South 11th Street bridges.
Mayor Stan Booker has said the solution is asking citizens to extend the ad valorem program, providing more revenue for road and bridge work. Because city staff has a legal opinion that confirms bridges are considered roads, the Wolf Creek bridges would qualify for the ad valorem program.
“We need to act fast if we want to get this on the municipal ballot,” Booker said, about adding the ballot question to an election already scheduled for new terms for Wards 6, 7 and 8.
Booker said the idea would allow the city to find the estimated $7 million needed for repairs on Cache Road and replacements on South 11th Street “without raising taxes.” The city can borrow money needed for high-cost road projects, repaying the loan with revenues created by the ad valorem program.
City Engineer Joseph Painter said the problem is simple: there is not enough money in the program to do everything promised to citizens “due to inflation.”
There is a specific process that must be followed to call the election, to include a ballot resolution specifying what residents will vote on.
Council members said Tuesday they also need a solid estimate of what the bridge work will cost, as well as what funding will be needed to ensure completion of already-identified projects.
Painter cited another issue for council discussion: other deteriorating bridges that are reaching critical stage.
“I was going to propose more bridges,” Painter said, adding his plan is to bring a list of bridges back for council consideration, working from a bridge analysis completed by a consultant last fall.
Some council members are concerned about adding too many projects, with Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren cautioning the council doesn’t want to get “too far out in the weeds” by adding too many projects.
Council members will be making their decision quickly. Acting City Attorney Tim Wilson said the council must approve the ballot resolution by July 13 to qualify for the Sept. 12 election. That would mean receiving “firm numbers” to include in the resolution, he said.