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City, county spending plans being finalized

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Bandera’s City Council will shelve plans for one of two fee increases proposed in the utility fund next year and will restructure its water and wastewater fee increases after hearing complaints from business owners at a meeting last week about a proposed water rate increase they considered excessive.

Bandera County Commissioners’ Court, meanwhile, held a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 19, on its plans to implement the same 67.69 cents per $100 valuation tax rate in 2020 that it has charged since 2010 and drew no complaints from anyone at the hearing.

Both the city and county are scheduled to vote on their 2020 budgets and tax rates on Thursday, Sept. 26, so they can be ready for the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The city is looking at a budget of just over $3 million, compared to a budget of about $2.8 million this year, while the county has outlined a budget of about $22.5 million, or about $1.3 million more than the current budget.

At City Council’s meeting on Thursday that included a hearing on a proposed property tax hike of more than 9 cents per $100 valuation, René Leith, a Bandera realtor and property manager, said the 30 percent hike proposed for commercial water rates was “nowhere within our budget” and indicated that recommended fee increase suggested council was taking an unfriendly stance toward city businesses.

Other business owners also complained about how big the commercial water rate increase was, so a new rate hike for water and wastewater users is moving forward as council prepares to pass a budget and tax rate in the coming days.

Council’s plan now is to increase the base rates of water and wastewater users on the residential side by 20 percent and by the same amount for commercial water users next year to make the hike more equitable.

Council members also emphasized that the proposed fee increases would apply only to the base rates of the utility customers, not to the overall bill as had been indicated originally. That should lower the overall increase in costs for utility customers.

In addition, council plans to establish a new category of water and wastewater user of zero to 1,500 gallons a month that will not experience a rate hike under the new fee schedule. That category was proposed to provide relief for seniors on fixed income who are expected to be heavily concentrated in that lower tier of water users.

The water and wastewater fee adjustments were made in part to generate revenue that the city had hoped to raise with a new, $3 franchise fee so money could be set aside to fund a costly relocation of the city’s wastewater system that is expected to be needed in the coming years.

That fee had to be withdrawn, however, because the county’s population was not large enough to qualify for that charge.

The city is still planning to add a $2 per month fee on the bills of utility customers to generate additional funds for road repairs that arise because of work done in the city on water and sewer projects.

The almost 9.5 cent increase in the property tax rate in the city has not stirred up any public protest during hearings in the last several weeks. It is needed to enable the city to retire debt incurred in a state loan to upgrade the city’s water system and to make other improvements in the city, officials said.