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Edmond OKs $297M budget, 18 employees to be added

EDMOND — A $297 million budget, including the hiring of 18 new employees, was unanimously approved Monday for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.

A dozen of the new jobs are for water and wastewater operations that will see an estimated $300 million in improvements over the next five years.

The new 2016-2017 fiscal year budget reflects an increase of about 18 percent over last year, largely because of expenditures for the water and wastewater capital improvement projects, said City Manager Larry Stevens.

The entire water and wastewater improvement package will be funded with $150 million in bond sales, reserve money and recent and future rate increases.

The other six new employees will be in facility maintenance, fire, administration, customer service and financial services. The city has been approved for 746 full-time positions.

No raises for civilian city employees are included in the new budget.

Police officers will receive a 3.2 percent salary increase while the firefighters will get a 3.32 percent increase as a result of their union negotiations.

Health insurance for city employees is going up 22 percent, and the increase will be split 11 percent by the city and 11 percent by the employees, said Finance Director Ross VanderHamm.

The city pays 76.5 percent of employees' total health premiums and the employees pay 23.5 percent, VanderHamm said.

The new budget does not calculate any projected growth for the upcoming year because of the current economic downtown.

Edmond not only figures a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but officials also come up with a five-year financial plan. The multiyear document gives city leaders advance notice when there might be a budget shortfall.

Council members had little to say about the budget before casting their yes votes. They held a workshop May 13 where the proposed budget was examined and suggestions on what should be included were made by the five-member elected board.

‘Quiet zones'

One new item that was included in the budget was a $250,000 expense for a study on the feasibility and expense of railroad “quiet zones.”

“The study would tell us what a ‘quiet zone' means and what is the cost,” VanderHamm said. “We know they are expensive. We just don't know how much.”

A “quiet zone” is where safety improvements are installed or crossings are closed.

Locomotive engineers then no longer have to blow their whistles as they travel through the zones.

Engineers now blow their whistles almost constantly through Edmond. Cutting out the whistles is expected to draw more residential and commercial investment.

The new budget does not include any of the money expected to be collected from the half-cent capital improvement tax approved by Edmond voters in April.

The current half-cent public safety center tax ends in April 2017, and the extended capital improvement half-cent tax will go into effect. The budget will then be adjusted.

VanderHamm estimated there may be $3 million left from the public safety center tax once all of the bills are paid. Voters agreed that any leftover money would be spent on other capital improvement projects.

Diana Baldwin

Diana Baldwin has been an Oklahoma journalist since 1976. She covered the Oklahoma City bombing and covered the downfall of Oklahoma City police forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist misidentifying evidence. She wrote the original stories about the... Read more ›