by SEAN BATURA
Faced with a choice between increasing funding for street and sidewalk repair or lowering the property tax rate, the San Marcos City Council on Tuesday picked streets.
At a glance: San Marcos budget changes
The San Marcos City Council made final adjustments to the fiscal year 2011-2012 budget late Tuesday, cutting some areas to increase funding for street and sidewalk repair, a proposal floated by council member Ryan Thomason. A rundown of the changes:
WHAT THEY CUT
• Five percent reduction in the general fund for “other and office supplies” totaling $25,060.
• Membership fee/contribution to the Clean Air Force of Central Texas totaling $6,224.
• Membership fee/contribution to Envision Central Texas totaling $5,000.
• Arts project funding reduction of $8,670 ($52,530 remains, provided by Hotel/Motel taxes)
• Exterior window cleaning expenses for city buildings totaling $5,000.
• Ten percent reduction in funding for social services agencies, totaling 44,571.50 ($401,141 remains)
• Council member travel stipend reduction amounting to $7,000 ($83,000 remains).
• One percent across-the-board departmental increase rather than the two percent increase. ($33,500 increase remains)
The cuts total $135,025.
WHAT THEY INCREASED
• The council voted 4-3 to add the $135,025 to the street and sidewalk repair fund. The money is enough to resurface three or four miles of city streets, city staff said.
WHAT THEY TURNED DOWN
• Council member Chris Jones opposed some of the cuts but proposed, if they were going to made, that the savings be used to fund a property tax decrease. His effort failed when Thomason wouldn’t accept the amendment.
In the last hours before the council was to approve its annual budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, council member Ryan Thomason proposed adding $135,025 to the city’s road and sidewalk repair fund — a 25.7 percent increase over what had been planned — by cutting the money from other areas of the budget.
Council member Chris Jones countered by offering an amendment to Thomason’s motion that would have instead applied Thomason’s identified cuts to a property tax decrease as the starting point toward shaving one cent off the proposed property tax rate of 53.02 cents per $100 in value. Cutting a cent from the property tax would have required $257,402 in cuts or an additional $122,377 in cuts beyond what Thomason proposed.
Thomason declined Jones’ amendment, however, and the council went on to vote 4-3 in favor of his package of cuts and correlating increase in street and sidewalk repairs. Mayor Daniel Guerrero and council members Shane Scott and Jude Prather joined Thomason in voting for the cuts and transfer; council members Kim Porterfield, Fred Terry and Jones opposed the move.
City staff said $135,025 is enough to overlay three or four miles of city street with asphalt.
“I don’t think we’re fully neglecting roads, but there are still quite a few avenues in town where you almost need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get down,” Thomason said. “It’s because budgets like this were under-funded for so long.”
Thomason’s cuts were taken from a list forwarded to council members on Friday by City Manager Jim Nuse, who identified possible areas to trim less than a week before the final budget adoption after being repeatedly pressed to do so by Jones. They range from an across-the-board reduction in social service agencies (totaling $44,571) to eliminating a window washing contract for city buildings ($5,000) to withdrawing from the Clean Air Force of Central Texas ($6,224) and Envision Central Texas ($5,000).
The cuts amount to a tiny share — 0.09 percent — of the overall $149.6 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2011-2012. But the debate over the transfer helps shed light on the council’s priorities.
Jones, who opposed some of the cuts and eventually voted against them, said savings from the budget reductions should be returned to city taxpayers as a reinvestment in community.
“An investment in people and people’s ideas is more valuable than four miles of road,” Jones said Wednesday. “And that’s the reason why I wanted to either not cut human services, or, if we were to cut human services, give money back to people so that they could make the investment in their ideas and possibly bring about a better San Marcos.”
Thomason said a recent community survey indicated citizens want better roads and sidewalks more than tax cuts. Jones said Clean Air Force funding was valuable to provide residents air quality data during wildfire season, and he said decreasing the tax rate would help offset the effect of increased utility rates.
Thomason was joined in his effort by the mayor. Citing arguments that Thomason has made in previous budget meetings, Guerrero said, “Funding we have set aside for social services is twice, if not more, than what we have allocated for the maintenance of our streets. And what was shared at a previous meeting was that for every dollar for road construction that is spent, it takes $10 to…[maintain] it, and we are behind in allocating the necessary funds to at least maintain the streets that we currently have.”
Porterfield on Wednesday said she opposed the cuts because they were rushed through at the last minute and without a public airing.
“I opposed making changes to the budget at 10 p.m. during the meeting we were scheduled to approve the budget,” Porterfield said. “The council has been reviewing the budget for months, and I don’t agree with making changes that could negatively impact our planning, environment, low-income, elderly and abused citizens, and public art in the final minutes of the process without adequate discussion or deliberation.”Email | Print