Stephenville City Council members and city officials reviewed the upcoming 2009-10 budget Monday night in what council members called their most civil budget workshop to date.
The meeting was done in less than three hours and many city departments will do what many families are also doing - work with smaller budgets.
City Administrator Mark Kaiser said he is recommending an increased tax rate, from $.435 per $100 in property value to $.4435, less than one percent. Although the increase is less than a penny, Kaiser said it would help generate $91,095 in revenue and keep the maintenance and operations tax rate at $.3762 per $100 in property value.
Dr. Malcolm Cross voiced concern over the increase.
“I am a little concerned over the increase in the tax rate, but I think in the economic times, it’s a necessary evil,” Cross said.
Kaiser said the city has experienced a 10 percent drop in sales tax compared to just a couple of years ago and historically, the city has received more revenue from sales taxes than property taxes. Due to the uncertainty of the national and state economy, Kaiser said they did not budget for a change in sales tax revenue from the 2008-09 fiscal year but still expects the city’s sales tax receipts to bring in more than property taxes.
The silver lining is no department will be forced to lay-off employees or lose programs or services. Kaiser said he is also not recommending a hiring freeze at this time; however, new positions will not be added to the roster.
Some employees could see a slight boost as well. Kaiser has budgeted $75,000 for pay adjustments ranging from zero to two percent.
And with $3.3 million of the proposed $20.9 million budget slated for debt service, the city will retire a more than $2 million debt.
“This year we’ll be reducing our debt by $1.3 million in principle [in the utility fund],” Kaiser said.
Another popular topic was the Stephenville/Clark Municipal Airport.
Under the 2009-10 budget, the city’s general fund will subsidize the airport fund by $11,000. The airport is undergoing some expansion projects and currently has 15 people on a waitlist to rent hangars.
The improvements are expected to begin in 2011 and include extending the runway and adding a 12-bay hangar.
Council member Russ McDanel asked about raising the cost of hangar rentals by five percent to help offset what the city would subsidize. Smaller hangars run about $800 per month to rent at Clark and Kaiser said he didn’t support an increase.
“I don’t want to diminish any of the excitement that’s going on with the extension of the runway and the new hangar,” Kaiser said. “We’ve got people wanting to come here and I can tell you that hasn’t always been the case.”
Councilman Scott Evans said they might need to consider raising the rent. He wasn’t sure if the average citizen of Stephenville would feel comfortable subsidizing a facility that is mainly seen as something large corporations use.
The city is seeking TxDOT grant money to fund large portions of the new construction costs at the airport.
Stephenville’s police and fire departments also received attention during the budget workshop.
The Stephenville Fire Department has been working to relocate Fire Station No. 2 and the budget provides funds for the design phase of the move. The station currently sits at the corner of Harbin Drive and Frey Street.
The fire department was also budgeted $90,000 to replace a 28-year-old booster truck.
Fire Chief Jimmy Chew said the aging truck has a 900-gallon water tank - that won’t hold water. The department has already spent more than $10,000 in repairs and Chew estimated another $12,000 would be needed to replace the tank altogether.
“It’s just not cost effective for a 1981 truck,” Chew said.
Chew said the department is looking to buy a smaller booster truck that will hold 400 gallons. The smaller truck would be easier to navigate on the city streets.
The criminal investigation division of the police department took a $10,000 cut.
Last year, the department was allocated $30,000 to use as “buy money” in drug stings. However, the department’s success has led to fewer large drug operation stings and Chief Roy Halsell said the department should be able to work with $20,000 in “buy money” for the coming year.
The 2009-10 city budget totals $20.9 million with $16.5 million appropriated for continued operations, $3.3 million for debt service and $1.1 million for capital improvements and equipment.
Capital improvements include:
• $50,000 to move the T-ball complex
• $380,000 grant match for Bosque River Trail Project
• $200,000 for the Garfield water pump replacements
• $250,000 for a new city water well
• $100,000 grant match for College Farm Road first-time sewer
• $200,000 for landfill scales and office
The budget report included a few interesting numbers from the 2008-09 fiscal year.
The city received $600 in liquor license application fees, $900 from solicitor licenses, $2,047 in garage sale permits and $574.30 in animal permit fees.
The city also received $60,293 in building permits, down from $206,339 collected during the 2007-08 fiscal year.
Overall, the budget was well received by council members. Evans and Councilman Alan Nash concluded by stating they would like to see if more funds could be appropriated for capital improvement projects and repairs at the Stephenville Historical Museum.
In the proposed budget, they were given $5,000 for work on the Berry House. Nash suggested raising the funding up to $15,500 to help the museum get started on more projects.
Evans and Nash both wanted to see continued funding for the brick street rehabilitation project.
A public hearing over the proposed budget is set for next Tuesday.