Council/staff talk budget in work session

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by A.C. Hall

The White Settlement City Council met with city staff last week to talk about some changes to the budget.  City Manager Linda Ryan was back from her medical leave and presented a new plan to help city employees deal with the high increase they’re facing in insurance costs.  Insurance costs were expected to come in ten percent higher than last year, but actually were nearly twenty percent higher.  Those utilizing the dependent insurance will see that section of insurance hit with an increase between twenty-five and thirty-three percent.

“The dependent coverage is horrible, just horrible,” Ryan said.  

Council member Steve Ott voiced his concerns over the insurance plan the city is using.  

“Is this the best health policy we can get?” Ott asked.  

He was told that there was only one other bid for insurance and that the other company would have charged around forty percent more.  

Ryan presented her plan to help city employees deal with the major insurance increase.  Instead of giving employees a three percent cost of living raise, Ryan proposed giving a four percent cost of living raise instead.  She said even after doing this it would leave the budget balanced.  

Council member Mike Arnold asked if it would be possible to offer a five percent raise, saying the reason the city is in such good shape is because of the employees.  Arnold continued to push for the five percent raise throughout the discussion.  

“This year we’ve got the money, let’s give it back to our people,” Arnold said.  

Ott voiced his support of a five percent raise, but council member Danny Anderson wasn’t behind it.  He spoke about the need for the city to use the money to help the taxpayers as well as the city employees, saying it might be better to stick with the four percent raise and keep a little extra in reserve in case anything unforeseen happens during the next year.    

With council members Elzie Clements and Gene Hatcher both absent from the work session, Ryan said she would reach out to them to get a decision on how the majority of the council is leaning regarding giving a four percent raise or a five percent raise.  

Another option discussed to help insurance costs in coming years was offering senior citizen city employees incentives to not use the city insurance.  By removing seniors it could help rates come in lower.  

“Unfortunately you don’t want seniors on your insurance,” Ryan said.  

The need to be fair with this plan was discussed, as it would annually need to be offered to any seniors who were employed by the city.  Council members seemed to be in favor of the idea, but no final decision was made about it.  

Moving to other budget matters, Ryan said she’s added $90,000 of expected revenue into the budget.  This comes from the money made from eleven permits Chesapeake is expected to get for eleven new wells.  

This led to discussion about Chesapeake and the Council’s relationship with them.  The moratorium against Chesapeake was mentioned, as was the possibility of doing more to hold Chesapeake accountable.  

“If we push them to court we’re gonna lose,” Mayor Jerry Burns said.  

Burns talked about the need to be careful how hard and far the council tries to push Chesapeake over past issues, saying the city of Denton took Chesapeake to court and lost.  

Ryan shifted the discussion to some upcoming water rate increases the city is facing from Fort Worth.  The city buys much of its water from Fort Worth, and Ryan said she’s heard there will be a 13.9% increase in the cost of the water this year.  

“We’re going to have a water situation in the near future,” Ryan said.  

The city has talked recently about drilling some new wells, and staff members said they’re also actively looking at refurbishing some of the city’s current wells that are under performing.

Mayor Burns said that the city may need to look at initiating some more severe water restrictions as a preemptive measure.  He spoke about the problems the increase in water costs can pose to the city in the coming years.  

“That’s probably our future number one debt,” Mayor Burns said of the water cost increases. The move to hold Settler’s Day inside Hawaiian Falls was also discussed, as Economic Development Director Jim Ryan gave more details about how that event is going to work.  He said that it will be free for everyone to get into Hawaiian Falls that day and that those who want to use the attractions there will be able to do so for reduced prices. He also said there will be vendors set up inside Hawaiian Falls.  

Ryan also informed the council that Hawaiian Falls is planning celebrations and events for most major holidays, suggesting that the City could consolidate their own holiday events and get citizens to go to the Hawaiian Falls holiday events instead.  He said this would accomplish two things as it would save the city money and would also help Hawaiian Falls draw more people.  “We need Hawaiian Falls to be successful,” Ryan said, voicing his concern that the City’s holiday events might pull business away from the Hawaiian Falls holiday events.

Ryan did say that Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp wants to continue running city holiday events like the Christmas celebration.  Council member Anderson also said he’d like to still see the city do something for Christmas, suggesting they just hold it on a different day from the Hawaiian Falls event.  

“These people are professionals at throwing parties,” Ryan said of Hawaiian Falls.

Council seemed receptive to the idea of scaling back some of the city holiday events, but appeared unsure of the idea of doing away with City holiday events altogether.  Jim Ryan asked that they wait and see how Settler’s Day goes at Hawaiian Falls.  

The final item discussed at the work session was the condition of Cherry Lane.  Staff told the council that they got a bid to repair and re-do a section of Cherry Lane from I-30 down to the old Taco Bell for a cost of $1 million.  The city has over $2 million for road and infrastructure repairs and said that Cherry Lane is a major priority for them.  

  “That’s a main moneymaking thoroughfare for our city,” Mayor Burns said.  

  No specific decisions were made about the $1 million Cherry Lane bid, but several council members made it clear that they believed Cherry Lane was a big priority when it came to street repair.