OMAG provides training for Council

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council last week received encouragement from the Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group (OMAG), which is a public-entity risk pool representing more than 500 cities and towns, to participate on a regular basis in best practices training for public officials. OMAG offers a Stable City training program that is designed to encourage the development of sustainable local governments.

Bill Tackett, who is director of strategic initiatives and partnerships for OMAG, and David Weatherford, who has served as a legal counselor for several Oklahoma cities and towns, provided training to Pawhuska counselors on March 28, and encouraged them to participate in additional sessions. Tackett explained that the March 28 training was an “event,” but what he thinks is necessary for local government officials to make progress in addressing stable government problems is a an ongoing “process.”

Tackett and Weatherford encouraged Pawhuska officials to be bluntly honest when filling out a questionnaire concerning their views regarding the city’s leadership, communication, financial well-being and more. In conversation that followed the filling out of the questionnaire, Tackett turned to Interim City Manager Laura Teague for her assessment of Pawhuska’s current financial situation.

Teague says Pawhuska’s financial picture is troubled

Teague, who has been interim city manager since July 2022, said the current financial situation is not good. Sales tax revenues have been down and city government is over its budget in the general fund, she said. She cited a lack of needed policies and the absence of any financial reserve arrangement.

“We do need fiscal planning,” Teague said during the training session. She later told the Journal-Capital that funds will eventually be transferred from the city’s utility operations into the general fund to cover whatever shortfall exists at the close of the fiscal year. City fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30, so April is the first month of the final quarter of the 2022-23 fiscal cycle.

Teague added, during her follow-up conversation with the newspaper, that Pawhuska has felt the effects of the national inflation problem during 2022-23, and she said expenses have been increasing in the utility operation, as well.

During the March 28 OMAG training session, Teague offered context. The city’s financial circumstances might be considered “bright and cheerful” if compared with the situation a number of years back, but compared to just two years ago it is less cheerful, she said.

“We know we’re depressed right now,” she said, referring to sales tax collections.

OMAG said Pawhuska appears to be one of the stronger cities

The OMAG representatives told Pawhuska officials March 28 that the city’s sales tax generating capacity seems to be stronger than many other smaller communities across the state, but they also cautioned that dealing effectively with financial problems is usually a project that takes time. Teague told the Journal-Capital that she was considering having a follow-up conversation with OMAG representatives, to make sure they completely understood the details of Pawhuska’s sales tax arrangements. For instance, one penny of the city’s sales tax goes entirely to help support the local hospital, rather than supporting maintenance or development activities.

“I’m not sure we’re really that good,” she said regarding the upbeat assessment that OMAG provided.

The OMAG team tried not to overpromise the possible results of its training for public officials.

“I don’t have an original thought in my head,” Tackett said, attributing any nuggets of wisdom he might impart to other sources, from which he had appropriated them. “Please put that in the story.”