Senator Cites McAlester As Model For Fixing Federal Financial Mess

Thursday, February 28th 2013, 11:01 pm
By: Tess Maune

An Oklahoma Senator says congress should look at a local town for the best ways to cut spending.

McAlester's handling of a $1.2 million shortfall is being praised all the way in Washington.

In January and February, the city's sales tax revenue dropped by 20 percent, unexpectedly. But city leaders say they've already come up with a plan that's put them back in the black.

This week, Senator Tom Coburn used the city as a model for cleaning up a financial mess on the floor of the Senate.

"For McAlester, a $1.2 million budget cut is a bigger hit than what we're talking about with sequestration," Coburn said.

In a matter of weeks, the town with a population of 18,000 has managed to pull itself out of financial disarray. Mayor Steve Harrison said the first order of business was putting a freeze on 12 open positions.

"Easiest thing to do is to, at least, not add to the problem, so we put a hiring freeze on," Harrison said.

The Mayor estimates that will save more than $500,000.

Then, the city looked at all departments to determine what unnecessary spending could be eliminated; like traveling and training expenses.

"We've looked at all our expense categories and, in general, we've looked at about 5 percent savings in each one, and that gets us back to where we feel comfortable at the moment," Harrison said.

2/28/2013 Related Story: TU Professor Says Sequestration Will Affect Everyone

Senator Coburn has suggested doing some of the same on a federal level.

So, Harrison wrote the Senator a letter, explaining how it's worked for McAlester, and Coburn read it before the Senate Wednesday.

In his letter, the Mayor says none of the cuts would be without pain, but would be accomplished while maintaining essential city services.

"If the Mayor…can make the adjustments to serve his constituency without decreasing services, why can't we?" Coburn said Wednesday.

"If people would just start using some common sense, and saying ‘How can we solve this problem?' I think a lot of the answer is already there. It's in writing," Harrison said.

The Mayor says he just wrote the letter and praised City Manager, Pete Stasiak for finding the savings.

"It's our job to put the scenarios and the future of McAlester in perspective," Stasiak said. "We're working on that right now. We're looking at a complete reorganization of the city and how we provide services."

City leaders say, as of now, they're not planning for any layoffs or furloughs. They also say they believe the decline in sales tax revenue is connected to sequestration. They say federal employees there are afraid of losing their jobs and have cut back on spending.