On Aug. 14, City Manager John Ware presented his proposed 1996 budget to the City Council. The budget, which totals $1.24 billion (yes folks, that’s a “b”), is $140 million larger than last year’s budget. But because of the good economy, the proposed tax rate for next year is slightly less than the current rate.
The City Manager’s budget doesn’t recommend any service reductions or layoffs. And for the first time in several years, the budget doesn’t include an increase in the storm water management fee.
There are, however, two proposed fee increases that will impact all of us. The first is the 3.9 percent increase in the water rate, and the second is an eight percent increase in the sanitation fee.
City employees will be pleased with the City Manager’s budget because pay increases are included for everyone. Last March, the Council voted a five percent pay increase for sworn personnel in the police and fire departments. That is included in this budget along with a three percent increase for all non-sworn personnel.
The budget also includes the sale of $55 million in bonds. Many of you may remember that when we brought the proposed bond program to you in the spring, we assumed we would only be able to sell a maximum of $30 million in bonds in the first year.
However, the upturn in the tax base and other positive economic indicators will allow us to increase that number to $55 million while adhering to the very conservative financial management performance criteria the City long ago adopted.
The City Manager’s recommendations include projects such as erosion control at Royal Lane and Woodlands on the Creek Condos, where citizens and property are in imminent danger. He also recommends a floodway study on McCree Branch. Also included is resurfacing of Ferndale from Northwest Highway to Kingsley Road.
For the first time in several years, the library’s budget increases from $15.25 million last year to $16.54 million this year. Almost half of that increase will be earmarked for books and materials.
As we are all aware, City streets have not been maintained adequately during the past several years, and we are in desperate need of an ongoing maintenance program.
Ware’s budget includes $4.1 million to establish a program to address ongoing maintenance of streets. While this isn’t enough to deal with the problem, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
For those who have been concerned about our parks and recreation centers, this budget includes $800,000 for park equipment and proposes to maintain our pools and our recreation centers at the current levels of service. The capital budget has an allocation to design the addition at Lake Highlands North Recreation Center, with construction anticipated in the next budget cycle.
Most Council members have been frustrated with our inability to deal with the backlog of code violation citations in our municipal courts.
The City Manager’s budget includes funding for a new municipal court to deal exclusively with code violation citations. Perhaps we will finally be able to get the attention of some of our slumlords who have played the system to their advantage for years.