Enhanced Efficiency: In proposed budget, tax rate stays same

Published on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 22:06 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

The city of Tyler’s proposed 2014-15 budget of $104.2 million calls for keeping the current tax rate at 22 cents, but increased revenues from new construction and higher property values will allow it to fund new positions, street maintenance, pay increases and improvements at Glass Recreation Center. The proposed budget includes expenditures for the following funds: general, development services, motel tax, utilities, airport and solid waste.

The proposed budget, which was presented during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, also includes a 5 percent rate increase for water and wastewater; an increase in parking fees and improvements to the departure lounge at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport; additional adaptive control systems and flashing yellow arrows for traffic; and various software, among other things.

“Because of the slight growth in property values, sales tax revenues and the work our employees have done to enhance efficiency and productivity, we are able to keep Tyler’s tax rate at 22 cents per $100 valuation,” City Manager Mark McDaniel said in a news release. “This rate is one of the lowest municipal tax rates in Texas, which helps stimulate business and residential growth.”

With a tax rate of 22 cents, the owner of a home valued at $150,000 would pay about $330 per household per year, or $27.50 per month.

Assistant City Manager Susan Guthrie said this is a good value, as residents in that home receive things such as police and fire protection, streets, parks and the library for $27.50 per month, which is less than some likely pay for a gym membership.

Tyler’s tax rate was 58 cents in 1985 and 53.36 cents in 1994, and decreased “even in the face of steady growth in population as well as in the physical size of the community,” according to a news release.

“We have been able to enhance our productivity through programs that engage our employees, including our Performance Excellence Program, Business Planning, Internal Communications, City University and our incredibly successful Lean Six Sigma Program that has saved more than $5 million in hard and soft savings,” McDaniel said in the news release.

City officials said 25 percent of general fund revenues are from property taxes.

“When homeowners pay their property taxes, only a little over 10 percent is for the city,” McDaniel said in a news release. “The other 90 percent goes to Tyler Independent School District, Smith County and Tyler Junior College.”

As far as sales tax collections, the city is projecting a 4 percent growth, following the correction for large one-time audit adjustments that have occurred in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to a city presentation.

Heines said the change in taxable values is similar to the 2013-14 fiscal year. The percent change in taxable values for that year is 2.5 percent, while the percent change for the 2014-15 fiscal year is 2.6 percent. With the new taxable values, 1 cent of Tyler’s tax rate generates $712,369 in revenue.

As far as details of the budget, there is the proposed 5 percent increase for water and wastewater, which the city attributes to about $12 million of capital investment needed in the water system in the coming year, according to a news release.

Water customers who use an average of 10,000 gallons of water per month will see a $3.04 increase.

“Unlike many other communities, Tyler pays cash for many infrastructure projects – even in the Water Utilities Fund,” McDaniel said in a news release. “We are an older city with an aging water system, so must continue to keep pace with rising costs and infrastructure needs.”

Heines echoed McDaniel, saying, “As we have an aging system, I think it’s critical we focus in and make sure we’re doing the necessary improvements so we don’t get into long-term problems.”

McDaniel said no general fund fee adjustments are recommended for fiscal year 2014-15, but fees related to the city’s new animal care facility, such as adoption fees, will be considered at a later time. He said the facility is expected to open during the latter part of next fiscal year.

McDaniel said there is a 4.9 percent increase in proposed expenditures for the general fund, and 3.5 percent is related to public safety.

He said the city purchased new software for police/fire, which should enable them to do a better job in the field and at the station in a variety of ways.

McDaniel said software for record keeping, as well as full funding for four community resource officers, also is included in the proposed budget.

Recommended in the budget under Development Services are two new positions — building inspector and planner— as well as new plan review software, city officials said.

McDaniel said the new plan review software allows multiple staff members to look at one set of plans electronically, mark it up and get feedback to the developer in a more timely fashion.

“This I think will help us be more efficient in our plan review and also turn it around quicker and have better documentation,” he said.

Still, he said, the city won’t purchase the software unless enough revenue comes in.

As far as the recommended positions, he said the city has recently had a lot more building activity and wants to make sure that it can keep up with it.

The city is not recommending an increase in Solid Waste, but there are plans to get six new natural gas trash trucks to replace old trucks, city officials said.

McDaniel said the city’s natural gas vehicles have not only saved Tyler money but also are showing to have less wear and tear on residential streets, which will be a long-term benefit.

At Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, it is expected that parking fees will increase, according to a news release. The parking fee for short term would increase from $8 to $10 per day, while the parking fee for long term would increase from $5 to $6 per day.

McDaniel said the airport is starting to show wear and tear, especially in the departure lounge area, so plans for the airport also include improving furnishings in that departure lounge area. The city also plans to restore an airport tech position that was previously frozen, continue enhanced marketing efforts and purchase new parking lot equipment.

McDaniel said increasing the parking fees helps cover the cost of the new parking lot equipment, as well as the airport tech position.

According to a news release, the proposed 2014-15 budget also includes $450,000 for the Seal Coat Program to maintain streets, as well as two new traffic positions - a signal technician and a marker technician.

McDaniel said more adaptive control systems and flashing yellow arrows are also proposed for traffic management. He said most of the $165,000 for adaptive control installations targets the areas of Fourth Street, Fifth Street and Old Jacksonville Highway.

Additionally, a brick street study is part of the proposed budget.

McDaniel said the study is not from a historic preservation standpoint but rather an engineering standpoint. So, he said, the city wants an engineer to indicate what the best practices are as far as maintaining brick streets.

Although some bricks were recently exposed during asphalt work on Broadway Avenue, restoring them for use again would have been cost-prohibitive, Heines said.

Additionally, replacement exercise equipment, a new cardio room and parking lot expansion are planned for the Glass Recreation Center, according to a news release, as is the continued development of the new Stewart Park and the first phase of the Rose Garden Master Plan is expected.

The proposed 2014-15 city budget, if passed, also includes new carpet on the second floor of the Tyler Public Library, additional funding for new books, a self-check kiosk and restoration of security services, according to a news release.

Also proposed in the budget is extending the outreach program ReNEW.

Ms. Guthrie said ReNEW involves a concentrated effort to do clean up in a low-to-moderate income area, and the additional funding allows the city to maybe target other areas that are declining.

“It’s kind of the broken window syndrome in reverse,” she said.

In regard to salaries, up to 4 percent pay increases are recommended for police and fire employees and zero to 4 percent performance-based pay increases are recommended for all other staff, according to a news release.

“Due to rising health care costs, we are raising family health care premiums by 5 percent,” McDaniel said in a news release. “Employees can cut the additional cost in half if they choose to participate in a wellness plan designed to lower claims costs.”

Other positions in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014-15 include six employees — one supervisor and five officers — for animal services and seven employees — one manager, five technicians and one clerical position — for the new animal care facility, according to a city presentation.

Ms. Guthrie noted that the city’s budget is separate from the half-cent sales tax budget, which was adopted earlier this summer.

Projects planned for next fiscal year for the half-cent budget include the $17.9 million Cumberland Road project, the $3.3 million South Tyler Police Substation, $1.6 million for citywide sidewalk improvements and $4 million for annual pavement enhancement on about 55 lane miles of city streets, according to the city.

Residents may weigh in on the city budget during upcoming meetings at Tyler City Hall, 212 N. Bonner Ave. Public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 27 and Sept. 10. The budget is scheduled for adoption on Sept. 24. Meetings begin at 9 a.m.