Communicating with Spanish-speaking Oklahoma City residents, more efficient response efforts by firefighters and paramedics and the importance of public transportation were issues that took center stage Tuesday at the first of four city council meetings devoted to next fiscal year's budget.
The regular weekly city council meeting was replaced Tuesday by budget presentations from the fire chief, police chief and the leader of the city's transportation and parking operations.
Other city department presentations will follow in the coming weeks, with the city council set to vote June 12 on the budget, which will take effect July 1 when fiscal year 2013
City staff has proposed a $952 million total budget for next year, up from $919 million this year, with the new spending funded by post-recession economic growth in Oklahoma City. Public safety spending is more than half of the city's proposed operations budget, and the council dove into that and transit on Tuesday.
City departments form goals each year based in part on past and projected performance, responses from resident surveys and direction from the council. The budget meetings are a chance for the departments and council to talk about new goals and changes in particular.
Population growth isn't evenly spread in Oklahoma City, and the strain on infrastructure, especially at the sprawling fringes, is a challenge across city departments.
The changing demographics within those growth areas also present unique challenges to
Police Chief Bill Citty said the department's goal is to get more bilingual officers in the door, and continue and expand Spanish-language training for current officers to better communicate with the surging Hispanic population in Oklahoma City.
Councilmen Pete White and Ed Shadid urged Citty to continue efforts to connect with city residents who are here illegally to
Community outreach to other minority residents was also a theme of the meeting, with Councilman Skip Kelly and others singling out the Police Athletic League involving schoolchildren as an example to be built upon.
“We've got probably 1,500 to 1,800 inner-city Hispanic kids in our PAL soccer program,” Citty said. “We see a lot of love out there on that soccer field between law enforcement and between that Hispanic community.”
Efforts will be made in recruiting to have at least half of academy class members be minorities so the department will better reflect the overall ethnic makeup of the city, Citty said. Now, about 85 percent of officers are white.
The fire department's budget is second only to police among city departments in the size of its slice of the operations budget. A key and ongoing cost-savings effort to combine aspects of the fire dispatch and the Emergency Medical Services Authority paramedic dispatch was a topic of interest Tuesday.
Firefighters, who are also paramedics, are dispatched on many medical calls along with EMSA paramedics, and the fuel and maintenance costs on ultimately unnecessary runs can pile up.
Emergency medical services costs make up more than half the department's budget.
With parts of the dispatch process streamlined and combined, firefighters and their trucks could stay parked on some calls. But the merger has been troublesome, Fire Chief Keith Bryant told the council.
The problem is technical snags involving the third-party vendor who is helping fire officials and EMSA merge the systems, Bryant said. The cost savings should come quickly when the process is finished.
The city pays for about half of the budget of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, or COTPA, which operates public parking and transit in Oklahoma City. Money from the federal government, parking and bus fares makes up most of the rest.
Ridership is up slightly on Metro Transit buses, which are expected to carry 19 passengers per route per hour, up one from 2011, COTPA Director Rick Cain said.
The riders largely depend on the buses for transportation, officials have said, and that was echoed by several city residents and representatives of public and private groups who spoke to the council Tuesday. Low-
Street conditions and public transportation are often cited in resident surveys as areas where the city should do better. But as long-term transportation blueprints take shape in MAPS 3 projects and other efforts, Shadid and other councilmen urged careful planning by officials and transit users alike.
If the city moves from a hub-and-spoke bus system to a grid, an idea that's often discussed, service at the edge of the city could suffer, Shadid said.
“There's going to be pain,” Shadid said. “But that is, I think, ultimately where we're headed. There seems to be consensus.”
By the numbers
Oklahoma City budget
• $952 million: Total proposed Oklahoma City budget for fiscal year 2013.
• $183 million: Police department budget, the biggest of any city department.
• $5 million: Approximate value of assets forfeited by criminals funneled into police budget.
• $771,000: Cost to add 12 new patrol officers.
• $124 million: Fire department budget.
• $12 million: Cost for fighting fires in 2013.
• $69 million: Fire department cost for paramedic services.
• $15 million: City's portion, roughly half, of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) budget.
• $255,000: Estimated increased COTPA fuel costs for 2013.
• $15,000: Maintenance cost for new parking meters downtown.