Council votes to raise property tax rate by 4 cents

property taxes

by A.C. Hall

Over the course of three meetings last week the White Settlement City Council continued to work on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.  With sales tax revenues down over $300,000, the original proposed budget had a deficit of over $600,000.  Over the course of the budget discussions, the amount of that deficit that will need to be paid out of reserves shrunk to around $150,000.  The city currently has over $4 million in reserves.
The council did take a record vote on the new property tax rate, voting 4 – 0 to raise it from .69 to .73.  The reason there were only four votes is due to the excused absence of council member Elzie Clements, who is on vacation.  So far, Clements has not been a part of the budget discussions.  This increase of four cents raises the property tax rate by a little more than eight percent.  Council will hold two public hearings on the tax increase later in August.
Several reductions and items that were left out of the budget were discussed.  City Manager Jim Ryan stated that Fire Chief Brian Thompson wanted to add another full time position to the fire station at a cost of around $57,000.  Ryan stated that there are currently four paid firefighters on duty at all times and that this fifth position isn’t in the budget for the coming year.
“We can’t afford it this year especially,” Ryan said.
Ryan did mention that Chief Thompson would like to go to a fully paid fire department at some point instead of the paid/volunteer hybrid that currently exists.
Ryan also suggested reducing the hours of operation of the library from 40 to 30 to save money.  He said that this will reduce costs related to the library while allowing it to maintain its accreditation.
“We’re trying to reduce the budget this year due to revenue shortfalls,” Ryan said.
He stated that other cities have closed their libraries completely, but he feels the White Settlement library can still give good service to the citizens while operating fewer hours.  He also indicated this could be a temporary situation.
“If next year’s better, bring it all back,” Ryan said of the Library’s hours.
Another cost saving issue discussed was ending the $9,000 per year the City pays for the Chamber of Commerce to lease an office.  Instead, Ryan suggested moving the chamber to a small area on the south end of the Senior Center.  In addition to cutting costs, Ryan said it would have other benefits.
“It would give the chamber of commerce an area where they could hold their board meetings,” Ryan said.
Another cost cutting measure was the reduction or elimination of several city run holiday events.  Ryan said that the Christmas event, and the Easter egg hunt events could be scaled back or done away with.  He also indicated that there is no money in the budget to hold Settler’s Day this year.
“This might be the one year we could stop it,” Ryan said, indicating it could be started back up some time.
Several on the council voiced their desire to see the City do some sort of a Christmas event even if it is drastically scaled down.  The elimination of the Easter egg hunt appeared to be something everyone agreed with.  Several mentions were made of that event being utilized heavily by people from outside White Settlement.  Mayor Ronald A. White stated that he felt Settler’s Day is important and would like to see it happen.
At the Friday meeting, the focus was on capital purchases and projects.  Unlike usual budgets, no major purchases or projects are present in the upcoming budget.  Instead, council is looking at funding all of these out of two bonds they’ve passed over the past year, one a tax note and the other a certificate of obligation.  These bonds were designed to fund purchases and projects and have a total of around $10 million available in them.  Ryan explained that the nature of these bonds is that they need to be spent.
Usually, the process of what items to purchase and what projects to fund is a painstaking one as the staff and council work to use available revenues to cover as much as they can while denying anything not deemed important.  With over $10 million available in the two bonds, council were presented with a long list of major items for them to consider funding.  While the budget isn’t yet finalized, the following are many of the major purchases and projects that council are preparing to fund out of those bonds over the next year.
The first items discussed were renovations to City Hall restrooms and renovations and upgrades to the council chambers totaling $240,000.  A street sweeper for $216,000 was also left on the list, as the current one reportedly breaks often.  $46,000 for upgrades at the police station will include updating the female locker room, the break room, restrooms, and the main lobby.  Three new police vehicles totaling $105,000 are also ready to be funded.
Council member Danny Anderson asked why body cameras aren’t on the list of things being purchased for the police department.  Police Chief J.P. Bevering informed him that the body cameras the WSPD is interested in aren’t quite ready yet, as the software that will blend the body and car camera feeds together isn’t yet available.  He indicated that this purchase should be ready for next year’s budget.
More purchases that council are currently in favor of is $60,000 for cages, beds, and building upgrades at the Animal Shelter, $280,000 for building upgrades at the fire station, $36,000 for bay door upgrades at the fire station, $43,000 for a new fire department command vehicle, and $22,000 for fire department extraction tools and equipment.  Ryan said they’re pursuing a grant that would pay for half of the cost of those extraction tools.
One item the council chose to fund instead of leaving it for a later year were some upgrades to the library.  $100,000 for library flooring and a front desk remodel as well as $18,000 for painting at the library both are set to be funded.
Continuing the long list of items currently green lit for funding was $30,000 for work on the south kitchen and restrooms in the Senior Center, $60,000 for a new secondary bus, $26,000 for a lift trailer, $37,000 for a new parks department truck, $100,000 for a new parks department dump truck, and $27,000 for a new parks department four wheel drive truck.
Some of the largest items ready to be funded came in the water and street departments.  Council left $15,000 for a water department office remodel, $100,000 for water meter replacements, and $100,000 for a new water well near Hawaiian Falls on the list for funding.
In an effort to combat the yearly price increases from Fort Worth on the water the city buys, council also left $1 million on the list to fund the drilling of new water wells.  This could possibly drill two or three new wells.  A little over $1 million in street repairs and projects also remain on the list of things that are currently set to be funded.
All together, the list of purchases and projects council is poised to fund comes to around $10 million.  This will use up the majority of the available funding from the two bonds.
The council will continue to address and work on the budget in August as they prepare to pass it in early September.  The property tax rate will be discussed further at upcoming meetings in August where citizens will have a chance to speak about the proposed increase.