Sales tax revenue continues to fall for White Settlement

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by A.C. Hall

Finance Director Phil Bray had more bad news for the White Settlement Economic Development Corporation at their latest meeting as he informed them that sales tax revenue continues to fall.  The EDC board relies on sales tax revenue to fund their annual budget, getting half of one percent of sales tax that is collected in the city.  After coming in 17 percent below estimates in March and 36 percent below estimates in April, Bray told the EDC that sales tax revenue came in 26 percent below estimates for May.  
“If this continues we’re gonna be down about ten or twelve percent for the year,” Bray said.
This three month trend comes after a thirteen month upswing in sales tax revenues.  Bray was asked by an EDC member why sales tax revenues were falling.  He said they have looked at reports and done research into it, and were able to identify a major factor.
“Everything we saw was directly related to the oil and gas industry,” Bray said.
He said that large companies in the city that rely on this industry have suffered, but the fluctuations in the oil and gas market have also caused smaller oil and gas related businesses to collect less sales tax.
Later in the meeting, the EDC discussed a possible budget amendment that would see several financial issues addressed.  Among those issues was a lowering of expected sales tax revenues for the year by $130,000.  The amendment also added in $560,000 worth of funds coming back to the EDC.  This comes from the forgiveness of the $1.4 million loan given to the EDC by the city’s general fund for Central Park improvements.  Not only did the city council forgive the remaining balance of the loan, but they also voted to return the $560,000 in payments that the EDC had already made.
The EDC unanimously approved this budget amendment.  The White Settlement City Council unanimously approved it at a later meeting.

Returning before the EDC for the second month in a row was a discussion over the upcoming Parks Recreation and Open Space plan.  Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp has been working on this plan for the past year with the Parks Board.  Once finalized, the plan will act as a guide for the next seven to ten years for park related projects and upgrades.
At the April meeting, Tharp stated that bike trails have consistently been among the highest priority for citizens.  This latest plan makes a bike trail system a major focus, and Tharp returned it before the EDC for discussion and input last week.
The bike trail system consists of three different things.  Bike routes are the simplest and cheapest part of the plan.  These are a series of connected streets that use signage to notify cyclists of a safe route to a pre-determined destination.
“We already have people that work at Lockheed and school kids that have created bike routes of their own,” Tharp said.  “We kind of looked at that and where they’re going and how those work.”
Tharp said he’s had discussions with Lockheed on where a potential Lockheed bike route would enter into their facility so interested workers could have a known route to use if bicycling into work.
Bike lanes were also discussed.  These are one way lanes painted onto existing streets for cyclists to ride in.  The plan currently includes a few bike lane paths along some of the city’s roads.
“All these roads are big enough to accommodate that, as far as width of road.  Generally speaking, on these particular routes there is minimal residential parking out on the street that would interfere with the lane,” Tharp said.
The final aspect of the plan are bike paths, which are new sidewalk pathways that would be built for the use of cyclists, walkers, and joggers.  These would be the most expensive aspect of the plan and as such were referred to as a longer term goal than the routes and lanes.
Speaking about the criteria for the overall bike trail system, Tharp said safety for cyclists and drivers was a top concern.  Things like car counts, traffic flows, school zones, and intersections were also listed as things to consider when putting the trail system together.  Topography and connectivity also come into play as considerations. Opening up the issue for discussion with the EDC, Tharp was asked about grant money that might help pay for the bike trail system.  He indicated that there was grant money available for things like this but that they were trying to get the plan in place first.  Tharp indicated that he will begin looking into grants that could help pay for the bike trail system and will report back to the EDC.