Thursday, June 26, 2014

City Budget to Squeeze Area Citizens?

Budget Director Morgan Chegwidden's City Council presentation on June 17th utilized Council priorities from the strategic planning session at Fort Chadbourne.  They include: 

  • Water infrastructure and long term water supply
  • Streets: renewed infrastructure
  • Salaries: adjustment to market
  • Improved development process
  • Police station: replace with new or refurbished

Morgan's presentation included original 2013-14 budget projections and proposed 2014-2015.  The city did not incorporate the city's 2013-14 year-to-date experience.  To the extent there are a number of major changes, like employee health insurance, this presentation could hide significant swings, positive and negative.

Taxes are projected to rise by 8% sales tax and 4.7% property taxes.  Tom Green County- property valuations are up an average of 14% for residential and 28% commercial.  Tom Green County property valuations increased from $3.8 billion to $4.8 billion, an increase of $1 billion. That's a whopping 26.3% increase in property valuations.

Water revenue is budgeted flat from 2013-2014.  Water Chief Ricky Dickson recently said he was 53% of his revenue budget when he normally would be at 57%.  That means revenue is behind nearly $800,000.

Finance Director Tina Bunnell City said fund 260 is at a negative $2.4 million in expenditures with encumbrances, but the water sales season is starting.  Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Michael Dane stated If the City keeps Drought Level 2 status it will need to raise rates significantly to hit the current revenue projection.

Personnel for police is down nearly $270,000.  Personnel expenses are expected to be lower due to turnover, higher paid employees leaving, and positions sitting unfilled for extended periods of time.  The personnel budget did not include wage or benefit increases.

The finance department projects it will have $1.5 million available to address council priorities:

  • Water – $3,000,000 operating, capital need depends on pace
  • Streets -- $7,500,000, additional capital need depends on pace
  • Employee salaries -- $1,862,283
  • Meet and Confer -- to be determined
  • Improved development process -- to be determined
  • Police station -- $5,000,000
  • Services lacking adequate staff or expenses
  • Health insurance -- 12-14% increase $750,000 

The $1.8 million salary increase is 5% raise across the board.  Staff finally mentioned health insurance and project a 12-14% increase or $750,000.  Council discussed having a separate budget work session.  The first state imposed budget deadline is August 5th. 

Water fees will return to City Council's agenda on July 1 as will the Water Advisory Board.  City Councilwoman Elizabeth Griindstaff asked that the landlord mediation function, formerly provided by Angelo State University, be explored.  She said there is a need for this service in the community.

Economic forces point to citizens paying more and more.  Rents are much higher, such that citizens need access to mediation.  Water bills will rise substantially just to meet current revenue expectations.   Property valuations, the basis for county-city-school system taxes, are soaring.

Watch the coming budget workshop.  Can citizens bear 25% increases across the board?

Update 6-29-14:  The Standard Times reported on rapidly rising property appraisals, the basis for local taxes.  

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