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Bandera City Council adopts budget, tax hike

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A budget that raises the property tax rate, boosts base rates for residential water and wastewater customers and creates a $2 fee for utility customers won approval from Bandera City Council last week, though one council member said he wished more consideration would have been given to budget cuts for the new year.

Councilman Glenn Clark said during the Thursday, Sept. 26 council meeting that he essentially was “taken to the woodshed” by a constituent who is knowledgeable about city operation who argued that council concentrated too much on increasing revenues for 2020 rather than finding ways to cut spending.

Though Clark ended up voting for the $3.29 million city budget for the new fiscal year and agreed the city’s utility rate structure had not been keeping up with the needs of the system, he said it would have made sense to consider some cutbacks along with the increases.

“There should have been more discussion on where we could have trimmed some fat,” he said after the meeting.

Council, after lowering the utility rate increases last month in the face of strong objections from business owners, voted in quick succession to adopt a new budget for the year that began this month, the property tax rate that supports it and increases in the city’s utility fee schedule.

The new budget also includes a new fee of $2 on the monthly bill of utility customers to generate funds to keep city roads repaired and an 8.5 percent increase in the garbage collection fee that matches the increase the city will be charged for garbage collection services by the company that holds that contract.

The new budget approaches $3.3 million, or about $400,000 more than the current budget counting both the city’s general fund and the utility fund.

The city’s property tax rate was increased to nearly 49.83 cents per $100 valuation from the old rate of 40.33 cents per $100 valuation, which was the most it could be raised without opening the city up to a possible tax rollback vote.

Almost 7 cents of tax hike was required this year to pay back the state for a loan it provided the city to improve its water system, a project that is ongoing, officials said.

The tax hike will call for about $95 a year more in taxes from the owner of a $100,000 home in the city.

While council did not increase water and wastewater rates for customers using the least amount of water – between zero and 1,500 gallons a month - it boosted the base rate of residential customers in the next tier of users by 20 percent.

Commercial water customers will see the same size of increase in their bills, but commercial wastewater rates were not increased because they already were significantly higher than the water rates.

The city had been increasing its water and wastewater rates by 5 percent in recent years but found that was not allowing the system to keep up with its current needs and plan for future improvements.

Consultants who examined the city’s utility fees said increases of more than 40 percent could have been justified, but council decided that would be too much for ratepayers to bear. It first considered a 30 percent hike in commercial water rates and a 10 percent boost in residential rates before settling on the 20 percent increase in both categories.

Mayor Suzanne Schauman said the higher fees will increase utility bills by about $4 a month for many of the city’s water and wastewater customers. The fees will not increase for customers in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, but those customers will pay the new $2 fee for roads.

She and City Administrator J. Horry defended the new budget, saying department heads did have their budget requests cut back over the last few months and that new spending was not excessive, particularly for a city that has neglected some of its needs for so long.

“There is no wish list in the budget,” said Horry. “It’s pretty much what we need to operate day to day.”

In the city’s general fund, the largest allocations are reserved for the City Marshal’s office, $437,950, general administration, $285,963 and the streets department, $254, 575.

There is extra money in the budget for capital projects like water well work and pump replacement and to establish a targeted fund for road improvements, an upgrade that councils past and current have consistently supported.

About $250,000 not spent in the current budget will be moved forward to the 2020 budget, Schauman said. She hopes that will be targeted toward roadway upgrades and a costly wastewater treatment plant that will be needed in the near future.

Councilwoman Lynn Palmer said the city had kept its tax rate and utility rates lower than they should be for too long, and the new budget establishes rates that are more realistic and in line with city needs.

It may not be a popular opinion, but the tax hike and increased fees “needed to be done,” the councilwoman said.