Wednesday, January 14, 2015

City Discusses Budget

Sallisaw city commissioners wrestled with financial woes that could limit the city's capital improvement projects next year. City Manager Bill Baker asked the commissioners at their monthly meeting Monday to inform him of any concerns or issues they have about the city's budget before he begins work on the budget for the city's May meeting to approve the budget.

Baker pointed out that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's insistence the city pay $700,000 to move utilities along U.S. Highway 59 north from Wheeler to State Highway 101, will leave the city with no money for other projects in the 2015-16 fiscal year. ODOT is refurbishing that stretch of highway which also includes a new bridge over the Hog Creek. Baker told the commissioners that State Senator Mark Allen (R-Spiro) and State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) are working on getting funding for the city and that project. In addition, Baker said, the city's north electric substation must be re-built and the estimated cost is between $500,00 and $600,000.

Mayor Julie Ferguson said she would like to see utility rates remain the same, without losing staff. Ronnie Lowe, Ward 1 commissioner, said he would like to see the city not purchase any high-dollar equipment next year. Keith Skelton, assistant city manager, said the city should be saving money for future projects. Baker said all capital improvement projects will be on hold until the city identifies the source of the $700,000 utility relocation money. Baker explained later that the city's relocation of water and sewer lines was reimbursed, but a state law does not provide for the relocation of electric and telecommunication lines.

In other business, Dr. Kathy Harrell, Main Street representative, reported on that group's project to beautify the closed railroad crossings at Oak and Cherokee, Hickory and Cherokee, and Adams and Cherokee. Baker said the Union Pacific Railroad has offered to pay for the beatifications.

Baker told the group that the completion date for the Sallisaw Sports Complex has been set for June 9. Commissioners also approved an increase, from $5.24 to $10.44 for re-transmission costs implemented by the television stations.

Acting as the Sallisaw Economic Authority, the commissioners approved, by a vote of four to one, the sale of the old Cellofoam building, in the city's industrial park, to Sequoyah Enterprises Inc. represented by Phil Rhoades, the corporation's president, who attended the meeting. The purchase price is $950,000, which leaves the city still holding a debt of over $32,000 on the building. Ro Poindexter, Ward 2 Commissioner, was the only vote against the sale. Poindexter said she did not want the public to still owe money on the building. But the other commissioners said that, if the building was not sold, the city and the public, would have to continue payments on the building, costing even more money. Rhoades said the building will be the new home of the Sequoyah County Department of Human Services.

As a result of the building's sale, the commission turned down an offer from Aviagen Inc. to lease the building for a short time. Rickey Cates, hatchery manager, said Avaigen's Sallisaw facility is expanding and needs storage space during construction. Ferguson and the commissioners said the city would help find storage for the company.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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