Council keeps current tax rate

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Despite signs toward the end of the budget process that the city might get some new employees and a higher tax rate, the Liberty Hill City Council unanimously passed a budget and tax rate for the new fiscal year that is very similar to the current budget.

During the month-long discussions of the new budget, eight different new positions were considered, including five additions to the police department – two school resource officers (SRO), a lieutenant, investigator and traffic officer – two maintenance techs and a code enforcement officer. However, when the final decision came down Monday, the Council voted on a budget that did not include any of the positions.

The tax rate will stay the same, at $0.50 per $100 valuation, meaning the property tax on a $300,000 home in the city limits will be $1,500.

The vote was 4-1, with Council Member Wendell McLeod voting no. McLeod insisted from the beginning of the budget process he wanted to see the tax rate lowered to $0.48.

The established tax rate, along with sales tax revenues and fees will generate an estimated $3.23 million for the General Fund next year, and budgeted expenses are $2.96 million, leaving the city with $267,000 to add to its reserve fund. The city currently has about $2.5 million in reserves.

The $0.50 tax rate accounts for a debt service rate of $0.177365 and maintenance and operations rate of $0.322635.

Due to increased property values, the current rate will generate a $130, 571 increase in property tax revenue.

The additional positions, including salary, benefits, training and equipment were projected to add $625,528 to the budget. While they were not included, that doesn’t mean they can’t be added at a later date.

“We can certainly do a budget amendment,” said Finance Director Michel Sorrell. “We have great flexibility. As we need those things and vet those programs that need to be vetted a little bit more, like the SROs, we can come back to council with that information and certainly amend the budget.”

The budget does include a 3 percent cost of living salary increase for all city staff.

EDC changes
One point of discussion at Monday’s meeting was the reduction in capital improvement funding contributed to city projects from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) budget for next year.

The EDC Board voted to contribute $100,000 less to city capital projects, including reducing contributions for comprehensive planning and transportation from $50,000 each to $25,000 each, and eliminating the drainage contribution completely. It was $50,000 previously.

Council Member Ron Rhea asked why the Board chose to reduce those amounts this year.

“In 2017, the EDC spent about $187,000 on capital improvement projects,” said EDC Director Lance Dean. “The proposed budget for 2019 was about $225,000 total for capital improvements. After the workshop we had, the Board felt it was in our best interest to be more fiscally conservative because we were spending the money out of our fund balance.”

Dean said there would still be $125,000 spent on capital improvement projects, but City Administrator Greg Boatright pointed out that only $50,000 of that was for city capital projects.

“My only issue with that is we’re getting ready to spend probably $350,000 probably on downtown parking,” Boatright said. “I would want and hope that if we come to (the EDC) that maybe there will be some flexibility for you to add to that transportation parking amount.”

Rhea asked what the purpose of keeping the funds in reserve was and Dean replied that it was to have a savings account.

Pressing Dean once more before the vote to approve the proposed EDC budget, Rhea asked again about any potential plans for the EDC savings.

“I just want to reemphasize, that $100,000 is for reserve, for emergency,” Rhea said. “It’s not for a purchase, let’s say, Foundation Park or anything like that?”

“That money is a savings account, it has not been allocated for anything,” Dean said. “I am not aware of anything like that.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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