Abilene City Council preview: Sales tax revenue boom, vaccine incentives, potential Netflix lawsuit

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ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — The Abilene City Council will take on several issues at this week’s meeting. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more notable ones.

BUDGET HEARINGS

This week the Abilene City Council and city staff will undergo budget hearings as they finalize the tax rate for fiscal year 2021-2022. 

City Manager Robert Hanna says right now the city is financially strong.

He says the tax rate will be slightly lowered, not only because the city has paid off debts, but also because they have seen a boom in sales tax revenue.

“We’ve seen some fairly marked growth, we believe strongly that it’s the incentive checks coming from the feds,” said Hanna.

But just because the tax rate decreased doesn’t mean your tax bill will be going down. 

If your house or business was appraised at a higher rate this year, you’ll be paying taxes according to your appraised rate. 

The city reports that through June 2021, sales tax revenues have increased by almost 6% over fiscal year 2020.  

Sales tax revenues have increased 32% in May and almost 25% in June. 

The city is anticipating fiscal year 2021 to continue at a more normal rate and finish $1.520 million ahead of 2020.  

For 2022, the city is projecting a 3.5% increase over the three-year average resulting in a decline of $47,000 from 2021.

SINKHOLE REPAIR

Residents near Grape Street between Franklin and Delano Streets might be pleased to know the giant hole in the ground due to pipes being burst will finally be getting fixed. 

This week during city council, members will be voting to award a contract to Starks Construction Co., Inc. For $88,250.00 for sinkhole repair.

Greg McCaffery, director of public works, says that construction should begin next week and take about three weeks to complete. 

“Ordinarily, we would have awarded this the last meeting cycle or before that, but they filed bankruptcy protection, so we wanted to make sure they would be able to finish the job if they received this bid, and we have those protections in place and believe they can,” said Abilene City Manager Robert Hanna.  

STREET SURVEY

The council will vote to approve $120,000 for a company to survey the streets in Abilene.

The company, Fugro, completed a survey of the city’s road network again about five years ago to do what Hanna calls a “gut check” of the streets. 

Hanna says this is just good engineering practice.

TWO-WAY STREETS DOWNTOWN?

In efforts to continue to the progress of the downtown hotel, you may notice some new directions for streets downtown. 

This week at city council, members will be voting to approve making some two-way streets that are in conjunction with the design plans of the convention center hotel. 

“North Fifth, so North Fifth will go from one way to two way from Grape to Plum, and then Cypress between Fifth and Sixth as well,” said Hanna.

RENAMING STREETS FOR CHEESE

The city council will also vote to rename the streets near the soon-to-be Great Lakes Cheese Factory after the company as a thank you for the millions in capital investment to Abilene.

CITY TO INCENTIVIZE VACCINES FOR EMPLOYEES? 

The city is looking into vaccine incentives for its employees. 

Hanna says as the COVID-19 delta variant becomes more prominent across Texas, the city would like to be proactive in encouraging its employees to get their shots. 

The city is looking into federal funding for such a program. 

“The way we had the planned structure, it creates an environment where ARPA funds are able to be used for any costs for the taxpayer, so the Abilene taxpayer wouldn’t be out any money. It would be federal dollars that are doing this,” said Hanna. 

He is not sure whether COVID-19 funding could pay for incentives such as days off or cash incentives, but they will be presenting the idea to the city council for further guidance. 

NETFLIX LAWSUIT?

The City of Abilene could be entering a class action lawsuit against big-named entertainment companies such as Netflix and Disney Plus. 

This comes after a law firm in Dallas has found that such companies may not be paying franchise fees that cable companies are expected to pay taxpayers. 

The law firm has reached out to the City of Abilene to see if they want to join. 

“It could be a million dollars or more in fees that are owed to the taxpayers of Abilene, so it’s a serious question whether or not council wants to pursue that or not,” said Hanna. 

The Abilene City Council will be discussing the possibility at Thursday’s meeting.

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