The 2011-12 fiscal year is coming to an end, and a new budget proposal is being examined next week by Mayor Kenny Weldon and members of the city council in anticipation of the coming fiscal year's financial requirements. Being cognizant of the degree of need among city departments is an intricate problem, but city leaders are prepared for the challenge.
“The city has been working on aspects of the budget all year,” Weldon said. “We had a series of workshops where department heads talked about what they needed.”
The mayor's and city council's first rule of order is to determine what is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the citizens.
“Is the police force adequate for the population? Is the fire department able to provide adequate coverage?” Weldon said of the concerns city leaders will address at the workshop. “Then there are the discussions about infrastructure. Are we where we need to be there?”
The draft budget was prepared by city administrator Mark Kaiser and finance director Walter Wood, who pooled all of the requirements and requests from the city departmental directors together into the draft budget to be reviewed.
Taxpayers can be certain the city coffers are in reliable hands. The state of Texas' comptroller has criteria for budget management and transparency. Of the 20 points used to measure the effectiveness of a city's financial state, Stephenville received a rating of 17 for the third year in a row.
“It's the gold standard,” Weldon said. “That really speaks highly of their attention to detail with putting together all of the criteria that must be met to be considered a transparent budget. That's good news going into this workshop.”
Last week, council members were given copies of the draft budget to be studied, and it was posted on the city's website.
“It's the city staffs' proposal of what they need to operate their departments next year,” Weldon said.
The proposed expenditures come to $25,976,675, a sum arrived at after going through the proposals made by each department. That number is nearly $17 million less than the initial appeals made by the city entities.
“When we went through the review, there were nearly $43 million worth of requested funds,” the mayor explained. “But we had to decide of that sum what we need in order to operate next year.”
The city staff has carved away at the $43 million to arrive at the current proposed sum just barely south of $26 million. And now they must decide what areas are in most need of funds.
“We have to determine what the top priorities are,” Weldon explained. “And how do we in turn prioritize them? There has to be a lot of discipline when we are talking about tax payers' dollars. It's an obligation of government not to be wasteful.
“The way the budget is presented right now doesn't prioritize. It just says here's the need. Next week, we need to look at it and decide what is the priority of need. And we have to come to an agreement on that.
“If we don't have enough money in the budget, the answer isn't just to raise taxes. The first thing to do is to look at what can be deferred to next year. That's going to be a critical part of the discussion. And we will have to agree on that and go from there.
“We have a budget of the total requirements. And $25 million is what we need,” he continued.”What we need to hear next week is what is the priority of that requirement. This budget says it needs more taxes in order to be balanced. That's an issue that will have to be agreed upon. Raising taxes should be the last resort, not the first.”
Sales tax accounts for nearly 40 percent of city revenue with property tax providing roughly 30 percent. Other revenues come from franchise taxes such as those charged in cell phone bills and fees charged for various services provided by the city.
For many of Stephenville's citizens, the bottom line question is what will the proposed budget do to their property taxes.
It is estimated the proposed budget will raise more property tax than last year's budget by $255,333 with nearly $70,000 resulting from new property tax added to the tax roll this year.
The public is invited to attend the work sessions Monday through Thursday beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the training room at City Hall. A public hearing of the budget will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug, 21, in council chambers at City Hall.