FY17 budget focuses on public safety, streets and infrastructure
By Colin Killian, Public Communications Manager
The citizen survey conducted in April showed that most of our residents believe College Station is headed in the right direction. We’re proud to be one of the most livable and desirable cities in Texas.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of work to do.
According to the U.S. Census, College Station was the fastest-growing non-suburb in Texas from 2014 to 2015. In the last decade, our population has grown by a whopping 28 percent. With student populations at Texas A&M and Blinn continuing to expand, we can expect another 40,000 residents in the next 10 years.
Thanks to our rapid growth – not to mention substantial budget cuts in the years after the 2008-09 recession – we’ve fallen behind in some key areas, especially street maintenance. Although surveyed residents gave the city high marks for customer service and overall service quality, they made it crystal clear where they want the city to focus its efforts.
Better streets, less traffic congestion, adequate infrastructure and public safety services were at the top of the list. Unfortunately, none of those necessities are cheap.
Proposed Tax Rate
The proposed FY17 city budget presented to the city council Thursday night includes a modest two-cent increase in the property tax rate and an eight percent increase in wastewater fees. The council may also consider a roadway maintenance fee. The water rate would remain the same while the electric rate would fall by one percent, thanks to lower purchased power costs.
While property values continue to rise and bring in substantial new revenue, it’s simply not enough to provide the infrastructure and levels of service our current and future residents deserve. And the proposed tax rate of 47.25 per $100 valuation would still be far below what you’ll find in most other Texas cities, especially those experiencing the consequences of similar growth patterns.
The average tax rate for Texas cities with populations from 75,000-150,000 is about 58 cents. The 10 fastest-growing non-suburbs – excluding College Station – average about 59 cents. Even our neighbors to the north in the City of Bryan have a tax rate of 62.9 cents, along with a monthly street improvement fee.
If you have a $175,000 home, the increase would raise your monthly tax bill by about $3. You would be paying less than $69 a month for 24-hour police and fire protection, streets and traffic management, parks facilities, code enforcement and planning and development services.
That’s less than a typical monthly cell phone bill.
The proposed budget totals almost $341 million, including more than $108 million in capital projects required to meet our current and expected growth.
The mission of the police and fire departments, along with emergency medical services, is to provide a safe community for us to live in and raise our families. Part of the proposed tax increase would pay for seven new positions in the Police Department – five officers, a criminal investigations assistant, and a digital evidence technician.
The budget also includes $25 million for a new police station.
In addition, the new tax revenue would cover five new firefighter positions to complete the staffing and equipping of the city’s second ladder truck, which will go into service next year.
Core Services and Capital Projects
With more people coming to town as residents and visitors, we obviously need better traffic flow and properly maintained and expanded streets and transportation systems. The proposed budget includes almost $2.6 in new funding for street improvements and more than $24 million for street and transportation capital projects.
The massive amount of new development has also created tremendous strains on our Planning & Development Services Department, which needs to add a graduate engineer, an engineering construction inspector and a combination building inspector. Increases in development fees are proposed to pay for these positions.
The $108 million proposed for capital improvements come from various sources, including general obligation bonds authorized by voters, certificates of obligation supported by tax and utility rates, cash reserves from the general fund, utility funds, and hotel tax fund.
The eight percent increase in wastewater fees would help pay for related capital projects in 2017 and beyond. The city is also considering implementing water, wastewater and roadway impact fees on new development. If adopted, these fees would help cover the costs of infrastructure in our high-growth areas.
That brings us back to meeting the demand of our residents for city services. You can’t provide high-quality services without the city’s most valuable resource — our workforce. Maintaining a competitive pay and benefits structure allows us to attract — and keep — well-qualified employees who provide services to our residents and visitors.
Over $2 million is included in the budget for implementing the new pay plan and providing a pool for performance increases in FY 17. A 2015 salary survey resulted in a recommendation to implement a new pay structure to address performance and retain high performers.
The proposed budget includes a 3 percent pool for performance pay increases for eligible employees, a 3 percent increase to the step plan for sworn positions in the Police Department, and a 3 percent performance pay increase for the Fire Department.
Public Hearing Dates
The council will review the budget in a three-day series of in-depth workshops starting Monday, with final adoption of the budget and tax rate set for Sept. 22. A public hearing on the tax rate is scheduled for Aug. 31, followed by another public hearing on the tax rate and budget on Sept. 8.
Colin Killian (@ColinKillian)has been with the City of College Station since 2010. He previously served 23 years as associate media relations director for the Texas A&M Athletics Department. Killian has also done extensive volunteer work for the U.S. Olympic Committee and worked as a reporter and editor for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and Lewisville News. A native of Hobbs, N.M., he graduated from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree in journalism/political science.
Photo Copyright: underverse/123RF Stock Photo
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