By Colin Killian, Public Communications Manager
The City of College Station’s proposed FY 2020 budget continues the city’s focus on public safety while providing resources for essential current and future infrastructure projects.
The $341 million budget was presented to the city council on Monday at the first of three dedicated workshops at the CSU Meeting and Training Facility. Additional workshops will be Tuesday and Wednesday.
The proposed budget is about $19.7 million below last year’s budget because of the timing of capital project appropriations. The governmental fund’s budget totals about $105.2 million. This includes the general fund, which pays for public safety, public works, planning and development services, and administration. Enterprise budgets such as utilities are about $146 million and capital projects are just over $71.1 million. Special revenue fund budgets such as hotel taxes, community development, roadway maintenance, and impact fees total about $18.8 million and have restricted uses.
While property values continue to rise and bring in new revenue, it’s not enough to provide the infrastructure and levels of service our current and future residents need and deserve.
The proposed budget includes a 2.8777-cent increase in the property tax rate to 53.4618 cents per $100 of assessed value. Electric and wastewater rates won’t change, but a 15% increase is recommended for water rates to meet our existing and future capital infrastructure needs related to growth, and to ensure the water fund remains at stable levels in the coming years.
The first public hearing on the tax rate will be Aug. 22 at city hall. The city council will conduct public hearings on both the tax rate and budget on Sept. 12, with adoption set for Sept. 26.
“We proposed this budget in a way to address the needs of a growing community, as well as to maintain the excellent quality of life for our current residents,” City Manager Bryan Woods said. “We must, of course, always be prudent with available resources. The proposed budget attempts to take a strategic approach to address our community’s short- and long-term needs.”
While continued growth is a positive thing, the rapid pace strains city services such as public safety, transportation, and utility systems, as well as other core services.
Here are seven major points to consider about the proposed budget:
- Since 2009, our population has grown over 30% (about 40,000). During the same period, the student population grew nearly 34%, not counting the RELLIS Campus.
- Perhaps for the first time in College Station’s recent history, FY20 will see sales tax revenues being less than property tax revenues. That’s not all bad news, but it does show how sales tax can be a cyclical revenue stream.
- SB2, which will affect all Texas cities beginning in FY21, will limit our ability to generate the revenue needed to keep up with current needs, and certainly won’t provide a sustainable funding path for future growth.
- While property values are up, and we’ve seen positive developments in all parts of the city, we have seen an increase in the amount of exempt property with more than $2 billion of value now exempt. Those exemptions include much of what’s owned by the state of Texas, places of worship and faith-affiliated hospitals, seniors over the age of 65, and more.
- Healthcare costs continue to rise. The city has also recognized these increases, which contributes to the need to ensure salaries and benefits remain competitive for recruiting and retaining a workforce that’s able to meet our citizens’ expectations.
- Our employees are being asked to do far more than ever as the number of city workers per 1,000 citizens has declined. And while dozens more police and fire professionals have come aboard in the last decade — yet still fall short of recommended levels — the overall number of city employees remains relatively unchanged during that time frame.
- Our recent citizen survey identified a long list of city services that remain important to our residents, yet they also say we have lost ground in terms of the quality of those services.
Continued growth in the city’s overall and student populations must be addressed and play a major role in the budget process.
From 2010-19, College Station’s has population grown 30.5%, from 93,857 in the 2010 U.S. Census to an estimated 122,162 in 2019. The continued growth factor used in the five-year forecast is 2.5% for FY 2020-24.
The college student population grew 33.5% from 2008 to the fall of 2018. The enrollment numbers don’t include the impact of the RELLIS campus opening last fall in Bryan.
Sales Tax Revenues
Revenue sources for the General Fund include property and sales taxes, fines, service charges, and a transfer from enterprises such as utilities that are city-owned.
The sales tax rate is 8.25%, of which 6.25% goes to the state, 0.5% goes to Brazos County, and 1.5% goes to the City of College Station.
Sales tax revenue is difficult to predict since it depends on how much consumers spend. Growth in the city’s sales tax revenue has slowed substantially, rising only 2.5% in the two years from 2017 -2019.
For FY 2020, the city is budgeting only a 1% increase in sales tax revenue, well below the expected inflation rate. FY 2019 sales tax revenue is projected to fall $600,000 below budget.
FY 2021-24 forecasts include increases in sales tax revenue by 1.75% in both FY 2021 and FY 2022, and by 2% in both FY 2023 and FY 2024.
The total net taxable certified value of property in College Station for 2019 is about $9.9 billion, an increase of 5.79% from 2018. About $308.2 million in new value was added to the tax rolls, and existing values rose by 1.88%.
Single-family homes have made up 46.6% of the total market value since FY 2013, while Multi-family has increased by 2.4%, and commercial properties have decreased by 3.0%. Properties that are exempt from ad valorem taxes – such as Texas A&M and other government-owned properties — have increased 3.1%, which has had a significant revenue impact.
The City of College Station’s existing property tax rate of $.505841 per $100 of assessed value is just over 22% of the total $2.362841 rate paid by local citizens. The College Station Independent School District’s rate is $1.37200 while Brazos County is at $.485000.
Since 2010, the city’s population has grown 30.5%, while inflation has (CPI-U Index) has been 18.16%. The tax rate in that period has grown only 13.91%.
Based on the final property value numbers received, the FY 2020 effective tax rate — the rate that will raise the same revenue on the same properties — is $.495757 per $100 of assessed value. The adjusted rollback rate – the highest rate allowed before citizens can petition to lower the rate to the rollback rate – is $.534618.
Proposed Tax Rate
Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation to change the cap on the rollback rate from 8% to 3.5% effective for FY 2021. It also reduced the franchise fees the city receives for the use of rights-of-way.
Starting last spring, department directors took a critical look at departmental expenses and made recommendations to the city manager about prioritizing needs and how to address the revenue limitations.
City management recommends a proposed rate of $.534618 per $100 of assessed value, an increase of 2.8777 cents. Under the proposed rate, the owner of a $280,000 home would pay an additional $8.58 a month. Each cent on the tax rate generates about $820,000 that can be spent.
The proposed rate strategically addresses funding for existing commitments as well as known future needs. Woods recommends that about one-third of the revenue generated by the tax rate increase this year be held in the fund balance.
The fund balance is the city’s safety net for emergencies or a downturn. Over the last several years actual fund balance has been between 20-25% of expenses. Bond-rating agencies encourage us to keep a balance equal to approximately 25% of expenses to get the lowest interest rates on our debt. The proposed budget formally moves the budgeted fund balance requirement from 15% to 18%. This demonstrates a commitment to maintain healthy fund balance reserves.
The FY 2020 budget is strategically designed to generate additional funds of approximately $1.5 million to begin addressing current and future public safety needs, including additional police officers and initial staffing for Fire Station No. 7. A study earlier this year found that we need 23 additional sworn officers.
Before this year, sales taxes were the largest source of General Fund revenue. In FY 2020, sales tax provides 34.5% of the budget, while proposed property taxes provide the largest source of General Fund revenue at 35.3%.
That marks a fundamental shift in the primary revenue source for funding the majority of city services such as police, fire, and roads. The shift is small, but it represents funding stability for our existing commitments as well as a stable revenue source to provide for the needs of the future.
If approved, the city’s overall property tax rate would still rank among the lower half of Texas cities with populations of 75,000-150,000. Only five cities in our population group have a lower operations and maintenance tax rate than College Station’s proposed $.313175.
That brings us back to answering the demand of residents for high-quality services, which aren’t possible 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 to serve our residents and visitors.
The city trimmed its budget significantly in the years after the 2008 economic downturn. While the police and fire departments grew in the last decade, most other services and departments remained relatively flat.
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. The police and fire departments accounted for 44% of the general fund budget in 2009, but by 2019, those departments comprised about 51%.
Meanwhile, the number of city employees per 1,000 population has decreased significantly from 9.7 in 2011 to 8.4 people in 2019. Most of the new city employees in the last decade have been in public safety. The Police Department has added 49 positions (both sworn and civilian) since 2010, while Fire had grown by 42 employees.
The elimination of the jail in the new police facility allows us to reclassify the detention officer positions into three police officer and five police assistant positions. Two other officers are also included in the budget.
Overall, the proposed budget adds 24 full-time equivalent employees, with 16 in public safety. The six new firefighter positions are contingent upon the award of a federal grant, which will be determined in late August. Half of the salaries of the two new employees in parks will be covered by the Hotel Tax Fund.
Since the city provides essential services, it stands to reason that the largest general fund expense is for salaries and benefits. It’s vital that the compensation plan and benefits attract and retain qualified employees in a highly competitive environment.
Increased growth puts demands on resources and results in the need for service level increases. Service level adjustment highlights include:
- Police Department: 5 patrol officers and 2 vehicles; 5 police assistants.
- Fire Department: 6 firefighters using pending SAFER Grant Award; Station-4 building maintenance.
- Public Works: Attenuator truck, corrective facilities maintenance.
- Parks and Recreation: Southeast Park crew Leader, grounds worker, and maintenance equipment.
- Municipal Court: New operating software.
- Economic Development: Economic development coordinator.
- Information Technology: Cybersecurity service, firewall refresh, replacement software for open records requests.
- Electric Utility: Comprehensive cost-of-service study, asset management system for substations and protection and control devices, relay foreman and vehicle, electric project coordinator/designer.
- Water Services: Water rate restructuring review concurrent with wastewater.
- Wastewater Services: Wastewater rate restructuring review concurrent with water, collection flow monitoring equipment.
- Solid Waste: Street sweeper vehicle and operator.
- Northgate: Surveillance camera system maintenance, funding for the temporary Boyett Street closure on peak nights.
Capital Projects and Infrastructure
The $71.1 million proposed for capital improvement projects 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.
Significant capital projects for FY20 include:
- Final construction of the new police station.
- Construction of a new city hall.
- Royder Road Phase II.
- Greens Prairie Road from city limits west of Woodlake to Royder Road.
- Jones Butler intersection improvements.
- Continued digital electric meter installation.
- Final construction of the Graham Road Electric Substation.
- Construction of the Rock Prairie Road elevated water storage tank.
- Construction of Northeast Sewer Trunkline Phase III.
- Improvements to the Carters Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant centrifuge.
- Expansion of the Lick Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
- Completion of Southeast Park Phase I.
The 2019-20 fiscal year is shaping up as another busy one for the City of College Station, which has many formidable challenges ahead. The proposed budget provides the resources to address these challenges while laying a firm and stable foundation for our future.
Colin Killian (@ColinKillian) has been with the City of College Station since 2010 after serving 23 years as associate media relations director for the Texas A&M Athletics Department. Killian has also 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.
If you found value in this blog post, please share it with your social network and friends!