Council approves budget and property tax increase

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by A.C. Hall

After more than a month of budget workshops and public hearings, the White Settlement City Council considered passage of the final 2015 – 2016 budget at their Tuesday meeting.  Prior to voting on the budgets, council held one last public hearing for the Crime Board budget, the Economic Development Corporation budget, and the City budget.  No one spoke regarding the crime board or EDC budgets, but several individuals addressed the council regarding the City budget.
The first speaker voiced their opposition to the $10.1 million bond the council took out to fund projects and purchases.  The speaker referenced the .4 cent property tax rate increase that this bond is causing, saying they feel like that’s too high of a jump since people are just now coming out of a recession.  Mayor Ronald A. White reminded the speaker that the $10.1 million is to fund projects and purchases over a five year period, not just for the current year.
One speaker spoke in support of the four percent raise council gave to city employees, while another stated that the 4 cent property tax increase will barely make a difference in the total amount of property taxes people will have to pay.
A different speaker asked if the Fire Department received the things they requested in the budget.  They were informed about the upgrades and renovations approved for the Fire Station as well as the refinancing of the new fire truck.  One final speaker stated that they believe sales tax revenues will rebound next year and help get the city back on a better financial path.  With the public hearings completed, council voted on the budgets.  The Crime Board budget passed unanimously, as did the EDC budget.  The City budget was adopted by a vote of 4 – 1, with council member Elzie Clements voting against.  Clements gave no reasons as to why he was voting against the budget.
Next up was the final approval of the property tax rate increase.  Before the council was moving the rate from .69 per $100 to .73 per $100.  Finance Director Phil Bray stated that this is an eight percent increase.  He said that a home valued at $100,000 will pay $28 more in property taxes because of the change while a home valued at $50,000 will see a $14 increase in their property taxes.
Clements made several comments about the property tax rate.  He first stated that he’d like to see the information put up on the projector screen in the council chambers in the future so those in the audience can better follow along and understand the property tax process.  He then touched upon the many property tax exemptions the City of White Settlement gives to its citizens.
“That’s quite a lot of money the City is giving back,” Clements said regarding the exemptions available to citizens.
Council member Steve Ott also addressed the property tax rate.  Ott stated that when a citizen gets their property tax bill, they should understand that not all of it goes to the City of White Settlement.  He stated that other entities such as the school district, the hospital district, and Tarrant County also get much of the property tax.  He went on to address the taxes that get paid into the City of White Settlement.
“The value you get for the taxes you pay is tremendous.  Tremendous police force, tremendous fire department, it’s a wonderful value,” Ott said.
To finalize the property tax increase council needed to vote on it two separate times.  Both times the property tax increase passed unanimously.
Back the Blue event
Mandy Yount, the wife of a long time White Settlement Police Department officer addressed the council about a “Back the Blue” event that she and several other police wives are setting up.  She spoke about the dangerous times that face police officers right now, saying that she believes we have a moral obligation to support officers.  Yount stated that all lives matter, including the lives of law enforcers.
In conjunction with National Thank a Police Officer Day on September 19, Yount and the other police wives are holding a Back the Blue event at Veteran’s Park from 7 to 10 am.  Yount said she hopes that the council members will be able to attend the event. “I wholeheartedly support what you’re doing,” Mayor White told Yount.
Yount shared the online fundraising website that she’s using to raise funds for the event.  It’s located at http://www.gofundme.com/backingtheblue.  The campaign is hoping to raise $1000, with funds not needed for the September 19 event being donated to the White Settlement Police Officers Association.
Yount thanked several council members who have donated to the campaign.  As council spoke of their support for the event, they talked about waiving any fees for use of Veteran’s Park as well as possibly matching any funding raised by Yount.
Other items
Council voted unanimously to raise rental fees for some park facilities around the city.  Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp presented this item, saying they were looking to make the increases in order to offset related costs.  Clements said he was glad to see the rates going up, saying that it helps keep the City competitive.
Ott addressed the need to regulate the flying of drones within the City of White Settlement.  He referenced some of the issues drones can raise such as privacy and dangers related to being so close to an airfield.
“I think it would be a good idea to make it illegal,” Ott said.
City Attorney Warren Spencer spoke on this item, saying that some legislation already exists regarding the use of drones.  He stated that there are some exemptions in that legislation that White Settlement will need to be aware of so that any ordinance they pass doesn’t conflict with State Law.
Council directed staff to research the issue and work towards creating some sort of regulations regarding the use of drones within the City.

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