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Council adopts budget, reduced tax rate

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The Bandera City Council last week approved a $3.4 million budget for the new year with a property tax rate that was slightly less than the old rate and appointed a third member to council on a split vote.

The decisions came in separate meetings on Sept. 29 and on Thursday, Oct. 1, and got council moving into a new fiscal year expectantly but with some of the same divisions that had separated the past council.

The budget and property tax votes on Sept. 29 took place quickly and unanimously with no discussion after council had been studying the spending plan for weeks.

The budget includes $1.6 million for the city’s General Fund, which pays for most of the city’s departments and operations, and $1.8 million for the utility fund, which expects to spend all but about $200,000 in its revenue.

The city’s revenue in the new year is about $500,000 more than the prior budget, which is surprising given the financial outlook the city assumed as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down stores and limited tourism opportunities available to the city at least initially, said Mayor Suzanne Schauman.

The biggest change in the new budget is a $500,000 contribution from reserve funds to get year one going on a seven-year street improvement plan for the city.

The budget gives employees no across-the-board raise but does include funding for new vehicles, including one for the Marshal’s office and two for the utility department, the mayor said.

An anticipated $13,712 shortfall in the new General Fund convinced council to move about 2 percent of the gross revenue from the utility fund to the General Fund to help pay for street repairs.

Schauman said the money came from reserve funds that were anticipated in the utility fund, not from a new fee in that fund.

Council adopted a new fee schedule for the city in 2021 which was the same as the fee schedule implemented last year.

“It’s a good budget,” Schauman said of a spending plan that took effect on Thursday, Oct. 1. “I’m really proud of it.”

That’s in large part because the city’s property tax rate will fall by a fraction of a cent this year to 49.5014 cents per $100 valuation, which is expected to generate about $172 less in tax revenue this year than the old tax of 49.83 cents per $100 valuation had.

Increasing property values, including those associated with new and improved property, allowed the city to adopt a smaller tax rate without losing too much revenue.

Councilman Jerry Russe said he would continue to look for ways to implement savings in the new budget, particularly in the area of overtime expenditures, but otherwise he was “really pleased” with the spending plan.

Russe made several motions at the Oct. 1 meeting that resulted in split votes, with Council members Don Clark and Rosie Smith siding with him and Councilwoman Rebeca Gibson opposing the propositions.

One of those was to name Alan Calaway to a position on council that had been vacated by Lynn Palmer.

Calaway is a former public works employee in Bandera who currently works as the lead maintenance operator at Red McCombs Toyota in San Antonio. He said in his application that the city was suffering from a lack of maintenance in areas like roads and parks, and he felt like he could help.

Russe said he felt Calaway’s expertise would be a good fit for the council post and that his family had long roots in town, but Gibson disagreed that he was the best candidate to fill the post.

The opening originally drew three applicants, but one withdrew before the vote, leaving only Calaway and former Councilwoman Christine Morse, a Bandera realtor, as candidates. Morse resigned from council more than a year ago for unexplained reasons and said in her application that she felt an obligation “to fulfill my prior seat.”

Russe also made the motion at Thursday’s meeting to take $50,000 that the Bandera Economic Development Corp had proposed in its new budget for incentive programs to aid Bandera businesses whose buildings were in need of repair or which needed equipment or other assistance and to move the funding to programs benefitting streets or other infrastructure needs.

Russe said spending the sales tax proceeds available to the EDC on infrastructure needs conforms with the original intent established for the EDC when it was formed. If individual businesses needed a grant from the corporation’s board in the coming year, that business could still come to the board to make an appeal for assistance, the councilman said.

His budget shifting proposal also passed on a 3-1 vote as did another proposal he had to modify the bylaws for the EDC board of directors to require that both of openings on the board for county residents be filled with people who owned businesses with a dedicated storefront in Bandera, not just one of the two.

Council last week named Andrea Jankoski, the former president of the EDC board and a candidate for City Council in the upcoming election, to an opening on the current EDC board on a 3-1 vote. It also Cindy Lou Coffey, a former councilwoman and current candidate for Bandera mayor, to the EDC board on a unanimous vote.

In addition, Gibson announced at the Oct. 1 meeting that she would be stepping down from the EDC board to which she had been appointed earlier in the year. She said he always had intended for the appointment to be temporary and felt it was time for a permanent replacement to be named.

Five additional applicants have submitted their names for appointment to the EDC.