ABILENE, Texas (BigCountryHomepage.com) – At City Council’s Wednesday morning meeting to discuss Abilene’s 2022-2023 budget, several topics were brought up which may confuse some residents.

Big Country Homepage spoke with City Manager Robert Hanna and Councilmember Shane Price to explain how Abilenians may be affected by a decrease in the property tax rate and a raise in street maintenance fees.

Below is a full transcript between Hanna, Councilmember Price and Big Country Homepage Reporter Tyler Henderson.

Henderson:
“[Could you] talk about the budget, kind of implications it’s going to have on the city and, kind of, some of the main points that were addressed this morning?”

Hanna:
“So, my job was to put together a budget that funded Current Services, which I did. But I also want to take care of the workers, employees of this organization.

“Everybody’s seeing high gas prices, everybody’s seeing high grocery prices… And so I’ve asked Council to consider a 6% increase for non civil service employees on salary. They approved that on First Reading, so I think what we have adopted – on First Reading, at least – is a budget that funds Current Services, increases amount of money available for street maintenance, and you’ll see substantial dollars earmarking associated with street maintenance improvements going forward, and taking care of our workforce.”

Councilmember Price:
“And one of the challenges with the workforce is there’re a lot of other businesses that are offering higher salaries, and so it’s difficult to retain or to recruit new talent that was needed for providing the services that the citizens need… And so we’re trying to address that, as well.”

Henderson:
“I bet it’s hard to find good work anymore, good workers and it’s kind of everywhere. But let’s talk about kind of the long term goals.

“I know that you said in 2024 there’s kind of a significant jump in some of the water utility… Stuff like that, some of the improvements that are going to be made. Walk me through that, because that’s a pretty big deal.”

Hanna:
“Sure. So, Council adopted a 20-year master plan that walks through the utility’s infrastructure and makes key improvements over time. And we’ve prefunded that with an ordinance that had a schedule-rated option for this next fiscal year.

“So you’ll see that in the budget, and there’s about $8 million of capital improvements. So, as we prefund some of these expenditures, we’re really saving money to pay cash for this, as well to the extent that we can.

“So in fiscal year ’24, you’ll see ,like, a $30 million capital expenditure. Some of that will be cash, some of that may be debt service. But the majority of it will be cash. And we did that intentionally, to reduce the amount of debt service we’re issuing and, actually, to provide a savings to the citizen because we’re not going to pay interest on all that.

“So when you look at the total cost of the master plan, over time, we saved hundreds of millions of dollars by doing it this way, because we’re not having to pay interest.”

Councilmember Price:
“Right. One of the things that will come into play this coming year is street maintenance fee increase… And, as was reported a few months ago when we got a report from Fugro [Pavement Engineering], our Payment Condition Index actually went down. And so we are trying to turn the tide, in essence, and start making enough improvements that we can increase that index.

“And everybody is familiar with their neighborhood roads that are not in the best condition. And so we’ve addressed a lot of the larger streets; Ambler and Industrial. And TxDOT’s been putting money into Treadaway and other larger streets.

“The challenge now is to get into the neighborhoods and to get rid of the potholes, and the substandard conditions that exist there. In order to do that, we have to have the money for it.

“Just like with the larger capital improvements that Robert Hannah just mentioned, there’s an opportunity to either borrow money and then pay interest on top of the actual improvements that are made, or use the street maintenance fund – which we’ve had the last few years and continue to pay as we go, and make these improvements so that we can get better and better streets.

Henderson:
“And obviously the key concern for any resident is, well, ‘what’s it going to do to My taxes? Are they going to go up, are they going to go down? What’s it going to do?”

Hanna:
“Sure.”

Henderson:
“Can y’all address that a little bit?”

Hanna:
“I can. So your tax rate is comprised of two parts. One part we control, one part we don’t.

“The part we don’t control is going up, and that’s your appraised value. We have no input, no control of that. It’s the way it’s designed.

“On the tax rate side, that we do have. The City has an opportunity to raise, lower the tax rate. And so I’ve asked Council to consider a rate decrease, and Council just approved that on First Reading today.

“So the tax rate was 0.7875, I think, and it’s going down to 0.7621.

“Your tax liability – my tax bill is going to go up because my appraised values are increased, right? So, I’m not going to suggest peoples’ taxes are going down. It may in some senses, in some instances, but majority of people saw an appraisal increase.

“We’re trying to recognize that and reduce the tax rate in a responsible manner, to offset the pain people are going to feel with the tax bill.”

Councilmember Price:
“Right, and likewise with the street maintenance fee, there will be a $2.00 increase per month for residences.

“And if you’re Low-Moderate Income, the fee stays the same, which is $1.75. And so if you think you qualify, but you haven’t already applied for that reduction in your street maintenance fee, please reach out to the City. Who’s the best place to contact?

Hanna:
“Office of Neighborhood Services. Leticia [Reeves], she is the best person for that. She’s our division manager over there and she can help you get that application to the process.”

Henderson:
“Great. I mean, that’s all just ways to try and save people money, which I know the City of Abilene really tries to do.

“Well, is there anything else that y’all want to hit on that was kind of a key point here that’s going to look forward to 2022-23 budget?”

Hanna:
“For me, really, it was just about funding existing services and taking care of folks. And I appreciate Council’s consideration of that. They’ve listened and I think they’ve adopted a good budget.”

Price:
“And not specifically on the budget, but the new Downtown hotel is expected to open in April next year, and so that’s something that we’re looking forward to. And it will be in time for the college graduations, in time for Western Heritage and in time for the CALF Festival. So it’s pretty exciting to look forward to that.”

The adoption of the new budget is scheduled for August 11.