Kyle finance director Charles Cunningham giving a budget presentation to the city council last week. Photo by Lance Duncan.
By LANCE DUNCAN
KYLE — It’s a measure of Kyle’s present budgeting problem that city councilmembers agreed Tuesday night to reduce the amount to be allocated for emergency medical services (EMS) Tuesday night.
By declining to add $135,000 to the city’s EMS contribution, which would have brought it to $300,000, the city will be able to shave a little more than one cent off the proposed ad valorem tax rate, reducing it from 49.6 cents per $100 of taxable valuation to 48.58 cents. The city taxed at a rate of 37.31 cents on the present budget.
A penny on the Kyle property tax rate generates about $132,000 in the proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget.
Kyle City Manager Tom Mattis hoped to put the extra EMS money into a contingency fund, perhaps to fund another ambulance in the city. The city presently has one ambulance, with emergency back-up service available from San Marcos. Mattis said an additional ambulance in Kyle would make one available on each side of Interstate-35.
Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez argued at a budget workshop last week that even if the city gets another contracted ambulence, it wouldn’t exclusively serve within the Kyle city limits. The ambulance currently serving Kyle is a contracted private EMS service, which goes to wherever its calls require.
“They’ve never reported their list of runs to us,” Gonzalez said, adding that Kyle might consider extending its Emergency Services District (ESD). “They’re going out there anyway.”
Said Mattis, “The truth is, this system is the one thing that hasn’t changed since Hays County was 30,000 people.”
Mattis asserted that one ambulance won’t be enough to serve the city once it grows to 40,000 people, but that it would be the “least painful” service for the council to cut on the new budget. The latest Kyle population estimates place the city at just more than 27,000 people.
Kyle finance director Charles Cunningham made a presentation to council at last week’s budget workshop to address the impacts of potential cuts. Many citizens attended the council’s second budget workshop, in contrast with the few who showed up for the first.
Cunningham began his presentation with a comparison of Kyle’s costs and resources with similar neighboring cities, including Schertz, Pflugerville, Cedar Park, and New Braunfels, saying those city governments employ between 200 and 270 people, while Kyle falls below that number at 100. Kyle also was below the average when it came to comparing the number of employees per citizen in each city. The average was 5.5 employees per person, while Kyle has 3.19.
“We run a lean operation,” Gonzalez said.
Mattis appealed to citizens to recognize the importance of city employees and staff, saying, “We are in the service business, and the only way we provide those is with people.”
Cunningham said the city’s municipal swimming pool costs the city around $249,000 yearly, and generates revenue of around $66,000. Thus, said Cunningham, $182,856 from the city’s ad valorem tax goes to maintaining the pool. He said that reducing the number of days that the pool is open by 75 percent would only take about a cent off of the city’s ad valorem tax rate, and Mattis said the savings would amount to about a dollar per month in savings for the average taxpayer.
Councilmember David Wilson pointed out that Kyle’s pool is enjoyed by many residents.
“The pool shuts down regularly due to the number of kids in it,” he said. “It is heavily used.”
Many of the Kyle residents at last week’s workshop were concerned about the fate of the city’s parks and recreation department, perhaps out of alarm over an email sent out by Parks and Recreation Director Kerry Urbanowicz, in which he claimed that the council was considering heavy cuts to the parks and rec department, possibly to dissolve it entirely.
Cunningham said the overall cost of Kyle’s recreation programs is just more than $406,000. Mattis said the entire recreation program represents about 2.5 cents of the tax rate. Councilmembers appear to be unwilling to make cuts in the department.
On the community development fund, Mattis said, “I take the blame.” For the past six years, that portion of Kyle’s budget has been taken care of by developer fees, with a surplus being built over the first four years and spent during the last two.
“We’re just having to come back to reality,” Mattis said.
Cunningham said that eliminating one administrative position from the community development department would reduce service fees by $10,000, and that eliminating an inspector position along with that would save the average home owner one dollar per month.
Wilson asked what kinds of delays removing an inspector would cause for people trying to get building permits. Mattis said that the city generally gives inspections within 24 hours, with two building inspectors on staff and a building official who does some inspections.
Mattis said the number inspections required in Kyle has lessened in recent years, so the city currently has no problems keeping up with demand.
“We use outside contract inspectors to make up for fluctuations,” he said.
Mattis also said that the proposed budget raises building fees by 15 percent, which would help to deal with the department’s costs.
Cunningham said the city planning department costs the city about $100,000, adding that the department doesn’t have a lot of room for cuts. Mattis said it isn’t realistic to cut service fees for the planning department, as they are used to contract outside engineers.
“None of us have engineering degrees,” he said.
Cunningham said that the Economic Development department costs the city $165,000. Removing an administrative position would lower the cost by $40,000, but Mattis again warned that cuts would drastically affect the service level.
“It’s service,” Mattis said. “It’s people. The only way to reach low numbers would be to eliminate these jobs.”
Wilson said that the department is the “face of the city,” representing Kyle to any companies who wish to develop there.
Lopez also showed support, saying the economic development team has 93 active projects.
“We need our staff,” she said.
Mattis also urged the council to not cut the two-percent cost of living raises the budget provides for city staff, saying Kyle is behind other comparable cities in employee pay.
“We’re close, but not quite there on across the board competitive benefits,” he said.
Mattis added that the current state of the economy will prevent many other cities from raising employee pay this year, giving Kyle a chance to cut the gap.
Wrapping up the presentation, Cunningham said that Kyle’s current Maintenance and Operations (M&O) rate is very low compared to some neighboring cities, with less than 18 cents of the proposed tax rate paying for all services in the city. Cedar Park, in comparison, is taxes 45 cents for M&O.
Kyle’s M&O rate had gone down to as low as 12 cents in 2007 and 2008, due to funding from developer fees. In 2000, it was 31 cents. With the EMS cut, the proposed budget contains a 0.67-cent M&O increase from last year to 17.98 cents. The majority of the tax rate — 30 cents — will go to debt service, mostly paying for road projects.
“We believe that this review is healthy and educational for all of us, but the budget we’ve provided is really lean,” Mattis said.
Lopez indicated that she was not in favor of making many cuts.
“When we make decisions to take on debt, we have responsibilities to deal with that commitment,” she said. “We have to consider keeping this at around 49 cents.”
Wilson agreed, saying “we will reap the benefits in a few years if we make the tough decisions and keep our services.”