City Manager

Discussion about short-term rentals set for Nov. 18

By Brian Piscacek, Assistant to the City Manager

The City of College Station invites residents to join city staff on Monday, Nov. 18, for a discussion about short-term housing rentals.

The informal gathering will be at 6:30 p.m. at the CSU Meeting and Training Facility at 1603 Graham Road. We’ll also serve light refreshments.

The idea of homeowners renting out their homes has evolved through online platforms such as Airbnb and expanded in College Station with the demand created by Aggie football weekends. The recent growth of short-term rentals across the nation has been dramatic, with Airbnb alone logging a half-million transactions last year in Texas.

Our discussion includes an overview of the short-term rental model and its impact on our community. We’ll address current conditions, solutions adopted by other municipalities, and elements of a prospective ordinance.

We’d like to hear not only from residents, but also real estate professionals, lodging operators, and short-term rental hosts. Elected and appointed city officials may be in attendance, but city staff will lead the activities, including small group discussions.

For more information, contact me at bpiscacek@cstx.gov.

 


About the Blogger

Brian Piscacek has been with the City of College Station since 2012 and has served as assistant to the city manager for special projects since early 2019. He was previously a community development analyst. Before coming to College Station, Brian worked for Texas Tech and the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation. He earned bachelor’s (2007, Political Science/History) and master’s (2009, Public Administration) degrees from Tech.


 

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Why don’t we have more cable and internet options?

By Brian Piscacek, Assistant to the City Manager/Special Projects

Contrary to popular belief, the City of College Station does not limit local cable television or internet service options.

So why doesn’t our community have more choices?

First, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) grants cable and telecommunications franchises at the state level. The city of College Station has nothing to do with it.

From there, market forces come into play. Generally speaking, new providers find it cost-prohibitive to enter a market where an established franchisee already has the necessary infrastructure in place. In our case, the local cable franchisee has built its vast infrastructure over many years.

That’s why Suddenlink Communications is our community’s primary cable TV and internet provider.

Suddenlink’s infrastructure is located in the city’s public right-of-way, a publicly-owned space through which authorized telecommunications and cable companies provide their services. In return, companies such as Suddenlink pay quarterly franchise fees to the city.

A competitor is free to invest in our market and offer those services. In fact, a handful of smaller internet and telecommunications providers are available in parts of our area.

If you have questions about your bill or concerns about your service, your best bet is to contact the company. Even the PUC doesn’t maintain regulatory authority over cable television service, despite issuing the franchises.

 


About the Blogger

Brian Piscacek has been with the City of College Station since 2012 and has served as assistant to the city manager for special projects since early 2019. He was previously a community development analyst. Before coming to College Station, Brian worked for Texas Tech and the North & East Lubbock Community Development Corporation. He earned bachelor’s (2007, Political Science/History) and master’s (2009, Public Administration) degrees from Tech.


 

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Monday’s inaugural community conversation: Thomas Park

By Barbara Moore, Assistant to the City Manager/Special Projects

On Monday, Sept. 16, the City of College Station will host the first of what we hope will be many community conversations. We invite you to join us at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at the Lincoln Recreation Center at 1000 Eleanor St. for the inaugural topic of Thomas Park.

We’ll serve light refreshments and provide childcare.

The primary goal of these conversations is to listen and share information about important community issues. To reduce the formality of these discussions, we’re hosting them away from city hall and removing the usual stressors of lecterns, gavels and speaker time limits. Let’s talk to and learn from one another.

While elected and appointed officials may be in attendance, the conversations will be led and facilitated by City Manager Bryan Woods and city staff.

A second community conversation, one that focuses on code enforcement, is being organized for early next year, and we’ll provide those details when they’re worked out. Because this is a continuing series of conversations on topics of importance to our community, we are open to your suggestions. Feel free to email me at bmoore@cstx.gov.

We hope to see a full room at our first community conversation to help us fully understand the issues that shape our city.

 


About the Blogger

Barbara Moore is in her 13th year with the City of College Station and her first as assistant to the city manager. Barbara served 12 years as neighborhood services coordinator. She previously was the executive director of Family Outreach of Bryan/College Station and was the director of faith-based relations for the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity. Barbara is a 1992 graduate of Jackson State and earned her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington in 1996.


 

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City’s FY20 budget addresses current, future challenges

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.

 

General Fund RevenueThe 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.

General Fund Expenditures

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Population Growth

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.

Property Values

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.

Property Taxes

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.

Financial Stability

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.

Fundamental Shift

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.

City Workforce

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.

City Services

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.

 


About the Blogger

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.


 

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City of College Station launches new website Thursday

By Lacey Lively, Marketing Manager

When websites first became a big deal in the mid-1990s, a lot of folks thought they were just another technological fad. But about as fast as you can say “Gig ‘em, Aggies,” everyone realized that an organization’s web presence is its most important communications and marketing tool.

In the last quarter-century, websites have become essential to not only businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions, but all levels of government. The City of College Station’s website attracts more than 2.5 million views a year and provides essential information about the city’s activities, programs, and services.

The current website has been operating since 2007, and while 12 years may not seem long, it’s an eternity in the web world. The site has served our community well, but a change is long overdue. It simply has become stale, outdated, and out-of-touch with modern trends and technology.

Thankfully, we launch a fresh new website – featuring brighter graphics and user-friendly navigation with drop-down menus – on Thursday at the familiar cstx.gov. With so much of our web traffic coming from smartphones and tablets, the new site also is optimized for mobile devices.

Our web presence is vital since it’s typically among the first things anyone sees when searching online for information about College Station. Our priority was to develop the site from the users’ perspective, and the result is an easy-to-use, intuitive site that is also aesthetically pleasing. It’s much more secure, too.

Redesigning the website wasn’t a simple endeavor. Our Public Communications team led the effort with assistance from Information Technology staff and web administrators in the various city departments. The new content management system was designed and customized by CivicLive, an experienced national company that specializes in municipal websites.

The main sections of the new site are Departments and City Hall, Residents and Neighborhoods, Business and Development, and Our Community. An “I Want To” tab is a shortcut to find the answers to commonly asked questions. Other shortcut tabs take users to employment information, bids and proposal requests, utilities, maps, e-pay, and more.

The home page also features a prominent search bar, a meeting and event calendar, and the city’s latest news releases, blog posts, and podcasts. The new site will no longer allow users to subscribe to departmental updates (e-notify), although they can still subscribe to the events calendar and documents.

College Station’s population has grown by 50 percent since we launched the old website. The new site better reflects what our community has become. The best part is that it will continue to grow with us. Good websites are always a work in progress as new content is added and we explore new and better ways to communicate with you.

We’ll be tweaking the site and smoothing out rough spots in the coming months. The website exists for your convenience, and we encourage you to contact us with constructive comments and suggestions.

You can email comments or questions to me at llively@cstx.gov.

 


About the Blogger

Marketing Manager Lacey Lively has been with the City of College Station’s Public Communications Office since 2011. She previously worked as an internet marketing consultant for the Bryan-College Station Eagle and as a web designer. A native of Beaumont, Lacey earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism and communications from Texas A&M in 2009.


 

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Citizen survey provides valuable insight to city leaders

By Colin Killian, Public Communications Manager

When I was a kid, I adored sports statistics. Batting averages, shooting percentages, passing efficiency – you name it, I ate it up.  I never dreamed I would someday be just as enamored by the vast array of statistical data in your average citizen survey.

National Service Research conducted the City of College Station’s survey in April, and we presented the 71-page summary report to the city council Thursday night. About 950 pages of the raw survey data sit on my desk.

What kind of stat nerd would spend hours of his life pouring over this stuff? Yep, this guy.

And despite what you might think, some of the numbers are pretty interesting, especially when compared to the rest of Texas.

In sports, a .325 batting average may be impressive, but what if the player only ranks 50th in the league? What if he hits .300 but ranks 8th? We compare sports statistics to give context to how athletes perform. Cities do the same thing with citizen surveys to achieve a similar context.

We had an outstanding response with 1,236 residents participating. All surveys and polls have flaws, but with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent, we’re confident the results of this survey fairly reflect the views of our population.

We conduct these surveys periodically as part of the city council’s strategic plan, so we’re able to measure and compare our performance over time. Before this year, our most recent surveys were in 2016 and 2012.

The 2019 survey also compares us to Texas cities that have conducted similar surveys in the last two years. We stacked up well against our peer cities in the state (those within 60,000 of our population of 122,000) and Texas cities overall.

What did the survey show?

On the affirmative side, about 8 of 10 residents rate the overall quality of city services and our water, wastewater and electric services as good or excellent. We’re also pleased that 85 percent give the city’s customer service a positive rating.

In addition, about 9 out of 10 respondents rated our community and their neighborhood as an excellent or good place to live and raise a family. That same portion would recommend College Station as a place to live.

The problem areas are what you’d expect, led by traffic congestion. Only 24 percent gave us an excellent or good rating for that, but the benchmarks show traffic being a problem everywhere in Texas, which reflects the rapid population growth in our state.

Of course, our police and fire services again rate highly with the public. Since 2016, we’ve had a nine-point increase in the percentage who feel safe in their neighborhoods, despite an 11-point rise in those who feel crime is increasing.

The five most important community characteristics to residents were the ease of car travel around town, the availability of medical and health care facilities, the availability of quality affordable housing, the overall appearance of the community, and job opportunities.

The survey is simply one of many tools that city management and the city council use to provide a high level of service to our residents. While it’s apparent that College Station stacks up well across the board, we also recognize we have many areas that need improvement — and that’s even more valuable to us than the positive ratings.

Check out the complete survey results when you have a chance and let us know what you think.

2019 Citizen Survey Results

As the survey illustrates, your opinion is always important.

 


About the Blogger

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.


 

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