Editor's note: This letter exceeds the word count that is typically allowed. The exception was made due to the importance of the issue and critical timing of the council's next vote.
I support the proposed tax increase because I believe Stephenville must continue providing quality services, decent facilities, retail opportunities, and a level playing field for current and potential businesses. I hope this self-imposed Q&A will shed some light on my reasons:
1) The Budget – This is a 264 page document containing details on the city’s financial accounts, every department expense and expected revenue, proposed projects, capital replacement, and a long list of department requests that don’t make the cut. The council met on 10 different occasions to discuss the budget – these meetings have been open to the public, and the budget is available on the city’s website.
2) Is the city trying to raise my taxes by 5%? NO. You are currently paying a rate of .485. The city proposes an increase to .495. That’s a 2.06% increase, amounting to one penny per $100 in property values. If you own a $100,000 home, you pay an extra $.80/month or $10.00/year. If passed, this would generate a revenue of $98,359.
3) Where will the new tax dollars go? The original plan was to help fund 4 new dispatchers for the police department. With training, salary, and benefits, this would cost the city approximately $200,000. Since the tax increase only generates $98,359, we must look to other resources for funding. There are no new building or street projects in this budget.
4) Why do we need new dispatchers? Our public safety call volume increased from 17,000 calls in 2005 to 21,000 calls in 2012 without increasing the number of dispatchers. To put this in perspective, Erath County employs 11 dispatchers and had 11,050 calls in 2012. Stephenville employs 8 dispatchers, and received 21,479 calls in 2012. As the volume of work increases, the demand for adequate services rises, and this requires funding.
5) Why won’t the new construction generate enough revenue to support the demands for services? Jerry Lee, Chief Appraiser of the Erath CAD reported a 15.2 million dollar increase in new construction for 2013. This equals $74,014 increase in revenue for the city. Tarleton’s growth is good but we lose taxable property as the university acquires it. We also provide economic development incentives for new growth but only receive a portion of the full value for several years.
6) City employees shouldn’t get a raise with our tax dollars! The quality of services is directly related to the quality of staff you use to provide them. Running a city isn’t much different than operating any other business in the service industry. The citizens are our customers, and we should provide adequate services for them and strive to attract new customers. We need competent staff, and of our 144 employees, 110 of them require a certification or degree. For years we have been understaffed in comparison to other taxing entities, and I support making salary adjustments to stay competitive. Plus, visitors enjoy our streets, parks, Splashville and other facilities, so if we want to continue attracting new customers we must maintain the quality of services we provide.
I hope Stephenville will move forward like other local progressive taxing entities. Tarleton has improved its athletic facilities, Erath County just completed a new jail and gave pay raises to their employees, and S.I.S.D just began their new building constructions and also gave pay raises to their employees. We must not get left behind in the “status quo.” I invite you to contact the council members to share your thoughts, and to attend the meeting on Sept. 17 at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. at which we will be voting on the proposed tax increase.
Place 7, Stephenville City Council