Councilors to scrutinize funding requests

City councilors plan to scrutinize more closely funding requests as they reconcile the difference between amounts wanted and the revenue expected to be available.

Administrators said this week they will present a proposed budget based on projections for a 5% increase in revenue. Funding requests submitted by department directors, public trusts and city partners outstrip projected revenue by more than $1.6 million. 

Ward IV Councilor Tracy Hoos, during city councilors' annual spring budget retreat, said greater scrutiny is needed for all funding requests. He advocated for greater oversight of the growing number of public trusts created by the city. 

"I feel like the trusts that we are overseeing — even though there are committees — they need to come forward at least once or twice a year and let us know what their financial position is," Hoos said. "Ultimately ... we're responsible for that ..., and they're getting public money — they need to come in and tell us how they're going to use it."

Hoos expressed concern about sometimes vague information provided in the past by some of the public trusts and city partners seeking a funding boost. He said Muskogee has a lot of public trusts and "it seems like everyone is asking for more money."

Mayor Marlon Coleman, who would like to adopt "a taxpayer-centered budget" that provides "essential services" and "desired services," said those seeking more money should be ready to provide realistic figures. 

"We don't want the Mary Poppins report, we want your actuals," Coleman said. "This body has broad powers to say, 'No report, no money' — taxpayers vote for us, not for them."

Hoos said there also is a need for those who don't do so now to provide mid-year reports that provide evidence of their efforts to follow through after funding is granted. 

Ward II Councilor Alex Reynolds echoed the sentiment, saying there are some recipients of municipal funds who "don't even provide an annual report." 

Interim City Manager Jennifer Swezey said requests for increased funding include $2.9 million for capital outlay, for which $1.3 million is expected to be available. Capital outlay projects include planned expenditures for street equipment, fuel system, fire engine, thermal imaging cameras, and downtown streetscaping. 

The Muskogee Tourism Trust Authority, she said, also asked for a $155,000 increase from the $516,500 allocated during fiscal year 2022, which ends June 30. Swezey projected an increase in hotel and motel tax revenue, which is used to fund tourism-related activities, but projections for fiscal year 2023 will fall short of amounts generated during fiscal year 2017 — more than 15% short after adjusting for inflation.

Other requested funding increases were requested by the Port of Muskogee, which asked for about $70,000 more than the $409,075 allocated for fiscal year 2022. Main Street Muskogee pitched the need for a $100,000 allocation, up $46,000, and a $225,000 increase is being sought for Muskogee Civic Center, which received an allocation of $200,000 this year. 

City councilors pledged to honor a request for a $25,000 increase in funding for the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center Trust Authority. The public trust, which was held up as a model for mid-year reporting, could receive an even larger allocation after the idea was pitched during the budget retreat by Ward III Councilor Ivory Vann.

If approved during the budgeting process, the trust that oversees the MLK Center could receive up to $150,000 for operations and maintenance. 

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