Oklahoma Municipal League

Champions for Effective Local Government

Research

Oklahoma Municipal League Research Department

The OML Research Department provides annual publications on budgetary conditions, utility rates, and salaries and benefits for Oklahoma municipalities as well as national information and research websites. This site also lists special reports on municipal issues and several slide presentations.
Research on Oklahoma cities and towns enables accurate documentation and explanation of municipal problems and situations facing local government. Statistical research, specifically on Oklahoma municipalities, validates and clarifies the message presented to federal and state legislators, provides comparative data member cities/town, and helps to "make the case" for municipalities to the public.

 

Current Activity Update

The Salary and Benefits Survey, Utility Surveys and Budgetary Conditions Survey are underway.   We continue to receive calls for engineering technical assistance with our best referrals coming from DEQ staff that knows of municipalities with problems with water or wastewater.

Annual and Major Report

Oklahoma Municipal Budgetary Conditions:

This survey of current fiscal municipal health is linked to the National League of Cities studies. It compares the status of Oklahoma municipalities with communities nationwide, includes information on current "hot topics" in Oklahoma, and traces the long-term prospects of municipal government in Oklahoma. It uses information from the U.S. Census Bureau SA&I forms submitted by city auditors as well as the Budgetary Conditions Survey.

Future of Municipal Finance:

With increasing concerns for the long-term financial health of Oklahoma municipalities, in 1999-2000 OML completed the initial Oklahoma Future of Municipal Finance studies.  A 30 member task force of city managers and finance officers studied the options available to municipalities for revenues and the obstacles to a sound future municipal financial structure.  Three reports were published as a result of the study: Revenue Report, Capital Improvements Report, and Management Options Report.  The Revenue Report is available to review on line or print a copy for your use.  While some of the data is old most of the concepts are still valid.  OML is currently in the process of revisiting the results of the original study to determine the best long-term strategies for municipalities under current and future conditions.  Please contact Cheryl Dorrance, Director of Research with any questions or comments. To view or download a copy of the OML Task Force on The Future of Municipal Finance: Municipal Review Report for free please click on the link below.

OML Task Force on The Future of Municipal Finance: Municipal Revenue Report (.doc)

Click Here To Purchase the following and other OML Publications

Cities Mean Business, a municipal finance PowerPoint, July, 2010
(.ppt)


Municipal Finance Policy (revised, July 2010, adopted January, 2009):

The OML Municipal Finance Policy was adopted to establish a basis for proactive action to secure a sound financial structure for Oklahoma towns and cities.  A Future of Municipal Finance Working Group met during fall, 2008 to review the two previous finance research reports and determine both long and short term finance goals for municipalities. Oklahoma municipalities are overly dependent on sales tax and do not have balanced revenue mix.  Oklahoma is the only state that does not have access to property tax for general government operations.  The resulting policy document was recommended by the Working Group, reviewed by the OML Legislative Committee, adopted by the OML board in January, 2009, and revised by the OML board in July, 2010. Download the Municipal Finance Policy (.pdf)


Oklahoma Municipal Salaries And Benefits in 2010:

OML annually publishes a salary survey which reports the current wages, fringe benefits and pay plans for cities and towns across the entire state. Basic wage and benefit information is reported in tabular form. Expanded coverage for cities with employee unions provides more detailed information that is useful in the design of pay/benefit plans and in negotiations with labor organizations. It is used by cities and towns across Oklahoma to evaluate their salaries and benefits. The 2010 survey will be provided in an updated electronic format on CD.


Oklahoma Municipal Utility Costs in 2010:

This is a comparison of utility rates in easy to read charts which is published in cooperation with the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma (MESO). It presents water, sewer, refuse, electric, gas and cable television costs for cities and towns. It is both a handbook for local communities and a source of comparative data on trends in rates and services.

Automated Meter Reading:Worth It? Most Cities Say Yes!

Several Oklahoma communities have moved to automated meter reading in recent years. Seventeen reported to full, partial, or test areas for meter replacement with remote-read meters. Thirteen were pleased with the results. Municipalities ranged in size from towns of 300-500 to several hundred thousand.
Results that cities hope to achieve include personnel reductions, more accurate readings in all kinds of weather, reduced injuries, and improved customer satisfaction. One city anticipates a savings of $800,000. Field personnel look forward to avoiding angry dogs and insects that resent meter readers’ invasion of their territory. 
In the Grand Lake community of Bernice, Mayor Bill Raven said water customers are more confident in the accuracy of the town’s new automated meters.
“When you take out that human element, people don’t question it as much,” he said, noting that it can be difficult for a person to read a meter when it’s in a muddy hole. “We think it’s going to work well,” he said. 
Those who were not pleased have expressed concerns with the cost/benefit ratio of meter replacement and/or performance of equipment. The City of Ada’s road to successful automation was a long and bumpy one. City Manager David Hathcoat said if he had to do it over again, he’d assign a staff member to the workers installing the meters, to make sure it’s done right.
“I would really watch the installation, because we had a lot of bad ones,” he said. Despite the troubles the city encountered with its transition, Ada’s automated meter reading system is now running smoothly, and Hathcoat said he hopes to see a reduction in labor costs as a result. 
Ponca City combined the rollout of automated meter reading with the introduction of other energy-saving measures. Over 16,000 electric meters and 11,000 water meters were replaced by automated meters, most city-owned buildings were equipped with HVAC systems, traffic lights were changed to brighter, more efficient LED lights, and more energy-efficient bulbs replaced the older bulbs in the city’s street lamps. 
While some cities such as Ponca City, Ada, and Muskogee have chosen to do citywide installations, others chose to start with a test area or do a selective replacement. Norman’s approach is to target large meters, and also rural areas, cutting down on fuel expenses and travel time.
More cities are aware that old water meters lose accuracy. Regular replacements frequently result in increased revenues when water usage is correct. In some cases it can also result in customer shock when false readings are replaced with accurate ones and they wonder why the water bill has suddenly increased.
If your community is considering automated meters you can contact Cheryl Dorrance, cdorran@oml.org or Sarah, Sarah@oml.org for information on cities that have experience with either test areas or full rollouts. (From Oklahoma Municipal Budgetary Conditions in 2009)

Municipal Cemeteries: A Statewide Picture

Municipal cemeteries are a topic about which many OML members have questions. To help provide you with some context regarding municipal cemetery operations around the state, we conducted a survey in January 2009 with the help of OML intern Matt Krier. Here’s a summary of what we learned from the 56 municipalities that responded to the survey.
In terms of size and fees, we found a great deal of variety among municipal cemetery operations. Price per lot ranges from $50 to $1,800, averaging at $370. Prices for non-residents average at $60 more than what residents pay, but there’s a broad range there, too, with the highest non-resident markup at $2,500. The average charge of a weekday burial is $285; on weekends or holidays, it’s $424.
Do Oklahoma municipal cemeteries pay for themselves? Yes and no, you said. Half of the municipalities that responded said cemetery revenues covered their costs, and the other half said they didn’t. For towns and cities charging at least $400 per lot, 82 percent said revenues covered costs. In those cities that answered no, an overwhelming majority use revenue from the general fund to make up the deficit.
The sizes of Oklahoma cemeteries run as broad a gamut as the size of our communities themselves, ranging from 298 lots to 27,256. Cost per lot seems to have no effect on what percentage of lots are sold in a particular municipal cemetery. In municipalities where lots cost less than $200, 33 percent of respondents said they noticed non-residents buying lots due to the low costs — but so did 58 percent of municipalities that charge more than $400. The contradiction could be explained by the proximity of cemeteries to one another, attractiveness or other factors that add to the desirability of more expensive cemeteries.
Did you know that three Oklahoma municipal cemeteries have automated kiosks to help visitors find plots? Visitors to almost every Oklahoma municipal cemetery must visit city hall to locate graves. Staff is on hand at 33 cemeteries statewide. Fewer than half have maps of gravesites. Seven municipalities encourage out-of-town visitors to patronize local businesses when they’re in town looking for family plots and ancestors’ graves. Vandalism was a reported concern at 14 municipal cemeteries. Increasing police patrols, locking gates after dark and keeping cemeteries well lit were the most commonly reported approaches to mitigating cemetery vandalism.
For a more detailed spreadsheet of information regarding the cemetery study, contact Cheryl Dorrance, cdorran@oml.org or Sarah, Sarah@omlorg. (OML Survey, Winter, 2009)

Management Concerns: Green for Towns and Cities

We’re enjoying some respite from high fuel and energy prices, but municipal officials can’t be certain that (relatively) cheap gas will last. About a third of municipal officials reported that they have taken actions in their communities to “go green.”

Surprisingly, they indicated 108 hybrid and 84 compressed natural gas vehicles in service in a dozen communities. Hybrid vehicles run on easily available fuel, while CNG requires access to compressed natural gas facilities that are unavailable in some areas of the state. CNG vehicles are more suited to fleet utilization with centralized fueling points. Sapulpa is trying some of each.

Also, 28 municipalities took other actions to reduce fuel usage, either by reducing the use of vehicles at work (23 municipalities) or take-home vehicles (10 municipalities). While this wasn’t addressed in the survey, a number of communities have seen increased interest in golf carts and ATV use on public roads. Currently, legislation is in place to allow limited usage of these vehicles while interim studies are under way on additional options.

 Most officials emphasized measures that limited fuel use, and some have explored other means of conservation. While no cities indicated they have adopted LEED (green building) standards for all applications, several have made significant investments in energy-efficient technologies.

On the comprehensive approach, Lawton hired Chevron to implement a comprehensive energy program for the city including off-peak utility use. Ponca City has purchased an energy management system that they anticipate will result in long-term savings of $800,000. Norman instituted a “green team” to develop an alternative fuels program. Oklahoma City has hired a full-time energy manager “to assist in identifying and implementing energy efficiency measures.” They are currently upgrading to more energy-efficient lighting in city facilities.

Individual actions include LED traffic lights in Durant, energy-efficient heat and air in Gage’s new city hall, and heat pumps in the community center in Headrick. Improvements don’t have to be high tech to yield results. Elk City has replaced old energy-hogging light bulbs with new, high-efficiency ones.

As both information and technologies become better understood, conversions will increase. Nothing sells a program like seeing its success in another community. Contact Cheryl, cdorran@oml.org or Sarah, Sarah@oml.org for more information.

Management Concerns: Sports Complexes

Last summer at the OCOM Mayors Summer Retreat, mayors were impressed with the tour Mayor Mike Brown conducted of Weatherford’s vast multi-sports complex. The facilities ranged from baseball and softball to soccer to a fishing lake.

Other communities around the state build community pride, keep residents active and bring in sales tax dollars with sports facilities tailored to their needs and pocketbooks. Sports complexes come in a variety of combinations whether multiple facilities for one sport, or one stop-shopping for multiple sports.

The Budgetary Conditions survey queried communities about their facilities. Sixty-five reported sports complexes within their municipality. Baseball was the most frequent sport in all sized municipalities with 59 responses, followed by softball with 52. In order of popularity, municipalities reported walking trails, water centers, soccer, and skate parks. “Other” sports included basketball, golf, tennis courts, football, track, batting cages, and mud-bogging.

Yes, mud-bogging.

Newer field sports facilities sometimes feature a wheel design with concession stands in the center of fields, usually for softball or baseball. In addition to providing an asset for local teams, tournaments can bring in outside visitors and substantial revenues.

While most of the facilities were built by the municipalities, management and maintenance is often shared with other community groups ranging from sport leagues, booster associations, individual teams to schools.

Water facilities vary from pools to splash pads or water parks. Many communities are opting for the splash pads or water parks with slides and wave pools over traditional swimming pools. Few communities have the option of restoring a swimming lake and scenic WPA era bath house like Pawnee did.

Walking trails may be the surprise hit, at least to the 38 communities that reported them. If well lighted, they may be used at all hours of the day and night. They are one facility that can be used by all ages, and depending on design, may accommodate walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters.

Skate parks were reported by 22 communities and are popular with young enthusiasts and increasingly the aging “youngsters.” Contact Cheryl, cdorran@oml.org or Sarah, Sarah@oml.org   for future information