San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 10th, 2008
Final budget workshop yields minimal cuts for Kyle

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

KYLE – Though Kyle Councilmembers may want to minimize a certain property tax increase for the coming fiscal year, they were unable to agree on substantial cuts in their final budget workshop before they pass a new budget and property tax rate next Tuesday.

But tax haters who love a fight have nothing to fear from the City of Kyle. The staff told council Tuesday night to expect a proposal in the neighborhood of 44 cents per $100 of value next year, which is about seven cents higher than the proposal for this year.

The proposed tax rate for Fiscal Year 2009 still stands at 37.31 cents, up from 27.07 cents for the present budget, which expires at the end of September.

In the midst of a discussion that sometimes grew contentious Tuesday night, the council made only one potential cost-cutting proposal that stuck. Councilmember David Wilson suggested that the staff bring back a number next Tuesday to show how much money the city would save by deferring five hirings from Oct. 1 until Jan. 1.

The council voted, 4-2, to approve the motion, with Mayor Miguel Gonzalez and Councilmember David Salazar in opposition. Councilmember Michelle Lopez, who almost certainly would have voted in opposition, hadn’t yet arrived at the meeting.

The five positions effected would include an assistant librarian, an administrative assistant for the parks department, two police dispatchers and one inventory clerk for the police department. Asked after the meeting to ballpark the savings from deferring those hires for three months, City Manager Tom Mattis said it probably wouldn’t come to $50,000.

As a penny of property tax rate raises about $125,000, the potential savings from deferring the five hirings wouldn’t reduce the proposed rate of 37.31 cents by even a half-penny. Thus, the council’s efforts to reduce the rate might bring it to a shade below 37 cents.

The move to reduce the tax rate has emerged in the last couple weeks from a council minority composed of Councilmembers Wilson, Lucy Johnson and Ray Bryant. Councilmembers Salazar and Michelle Lopez have argued, along with staff, that the city might as well bite the bullet now or face greater increases in the future. Gonzalez has supported the staff’s budget work on its merits, while Councilmember Becky Selbera has made minor contributions on each side of the debate.

In order to reduce the tax rate to 35 cents, the original proposal since revised in light of lagging sales taxes, the council would have to cut the budget by $281,000, thus saving the average Kyle homeowner $2.50 per month. However, when pressed by arguments for and against certain cuts, the council has come down decisively in favor of staff recommendations.

“It’s one thing to operate on a budget that’s lean,” Gonzalez said. “It’s another thing to operate on a budget that’s <i>so</i> lean.”

Even Wilson’s suggestion that the staff bring back a cost savings estimate from deferred hiring ran into rough water when Gonzalez said, “Do we to ask (city finance director) Charles (Cunningham) to work on something that only one or two councilmembers want?”

Wilson told Gonzalez that he disagreed that Cunningham would be wasting his time, bringing a response from Mattis.

“Through all these deliberations, I haven’t heard any one say that this thing, or this program, should be eliminated,” Mattis said. “We slashed last year. That’s why you’re going through this year … I’m going to agree with the mayor. I don’t think the staff should do more work on this unless the majority of council wants it.”

Gonzalez argued that making the hires on Oct. 1, instead of Jan. 1, would give citizens the benefits of those services that much sooner, to which Wilson replied, “I don’t think what I’m suggesting will negatively impact our mission.”

Responded Mattis, “Oh, I think it does. It definitely does.”

Thus, the council voted on Wilson’s proposal, which passed. However, two other motions for budget cuts died for lack of a second.

Wilson’s suggestion that the city put off purchasing four vehicles for the Kyle Police Department (KPD) aroused more dispute. Wilson said the city could save $128,100 by not purchasing the vehicles.

But Mattis argued that council has impressed on him in the last couple years a desire to upgrade the police department across the board, adding that the city will need a fleet sufficient for 30 sworn officers by the end of January.

“It’s a mistake,” Mattis said of the proposal that the vehicles not be purchased. “This is something that will have an adverse impact on the budget next year because (the vehicles) aren’t programmed into that budget. It’s not a savings. All we’re doing is pushing it onto next year’s budget.”

Despite Mattis’ protest, Wilson motioned to cut the vehicles from this year’s budget. The motion died for lack of a second.

Johnson suggested that the city’s parks department doesn’t really need a $30,000 mulching lawn mower, arguing that it’s just as good to burn tree trimmings. But she couldn’t secure agreement from anyone else in the room.

The arguments against Johnson’s position called on the virtues of mulching in the interests of recycling and sustainability, as well as the city’s annual expenditure of about $5,000 to rent mulching equipment a few times per year. Parks and Recreation Director Kerry Urbanowicz said the city could conduct a consistent mulching program for its parks if it owned its own equipment.

“We need to use out resources more efficiently,” Lopez said.

“The recycling of the mulch, it cycles back,” Bryant said. “You burn it, it’s gone.”

Johnson made a motion, anyway, indicating beforehand that she knew it wouldn’t receive a second, and it didn’t.

So, the council and staff will talk budget and tax rate one more time at Tuesday’s regular meeting. The city charter requires that those matters be settled next week.

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