By Devin Corbitt, The Belton Journal
The Belton City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the 2016 budget and tax rate. The meeting began with presentations from each department head to discuss their 2015 accomplishments and 2016 budgets.
The first department on the list was the city council. Most of their budget, which amounts to 1 percent of the city’s total budget, consists of travel and training expenses.
The administration department, including the city manager and city clerk, make up about 4 percent of the city’s budget. Their main goals for 2016 include updating and implementing the strategic plan and the capital improvement plan and coordinating grants for city projects. This department also includes the Retail Development Coordinator and Public Information Officer.
The finance and legal departments consists of 2 percent of the total budget. Their main expense goes toward personnel in an effort to administer the city’s financial needs. Upcoming projects include renovating their customer service area and assisting in the implementation of the capital improvement and street maintenance plans. On the legal side, funding will be mostly put toward training and continuing education for staff.
The human resources department aims to streamline the open enrollment process for city employees signing up for healthcare benefits. Currently, all city employees must sign up on one day, creating a hectic and stressful day. H.R. hopes to create an online system that will allow employees to take their options home to discuss with their families and sign up electronically.
The police department makes up the largest portion of the city budget, with 29 percent of funds reserved for their use. Their number one priority for 2016 is updating their fleet. The department currently owns 13 marked patrol vehicles, four of which are not considered reliable for 24/7 use due to age and/or high mileage. Police Chief Gene Ellis hopes to implement a replacement plan this year.
The department has also requested additional personnel, which was not within their budget this year, as well as a variety of smaller equipment such as body cameras and new portable radios and tasers.
The fire department’s priorities center around obtaining state accreditation and improving retention. The department also plans to implement a new rank structure, which establishes a Training Officer/Fire Marshall position and an additional Lieutenant position while eliminating one Captain position. The department represents 22 percent of the city’s budget.
The information technology department, using 2 percent of the budget, plans to upgrade the city’s phone systems and email interfaces for 2016.
The public works department is made up of the streets department (9 percent of budget) and the maintenance department (3 percent of budget). The streets department has planned a busy year, with projects ranging from street maintenance to building sidewalks to constructing a parking lot beside the MLK Bridge. With many of their vehicles passing the 15-year mark, the department requested additional funds for equipment replacement, but it was not within budget. The maintenance department oversees park maintenance, such as the Nolan Creek project and planting trees, as well as fleet maintenance for all city departments. Goals for fleet maintenance include successful implementation of an online request / notification process.
The parks and recreation department seeks to update their strategic master plan and increasing their events throughout the year.
The planning department has also set up a busy year updating ordinances, developing a master signage plan for the downtown area, creating a preservation plan and designating historic landmarks, among a host of other goals.
The Lena Armstrong Public Library plans to use their 3 percent of the budget to create partnerships with the Belton Independent School District and local homeschooled students, as well as to complete the organization and renovation of their store room.
The city staff and council members wrapped up the presentations with a discussion of the proposed tax rate for 2016.
Finance Director Brandon Bozon proposed to keep the tax rate the same as last year at 65.98 cents per $100 valuation. This equates to a tax levy of $6.2 million from property taxes. A home valued at $142,601 would pay $941 in city taxes.
Municipal governments typically set tax rates somewhere between the effective and rollback rates.
The effective tax rate for Belton is 64.52 cents per $100 valuation. This is the rate that would produce the same amount of tax revenue as the previous year, regardless of growth. Council members seemed to agree that this option should not be considered due to the fast-paced growth in Belton, which is creating infrastructure and capital challenges.
The rollback tax rate is 68.58 cents. If taxes were levied from this option, it would provide the city with an estimated $6.49 million in tax revenue, while increasing taxes for the average homeowner by $37 over the proposed rate.
The remainder of the budget will be covered by sales taxes and fees.
Council members Craig Pearson and Guy O’Banion expressed concern that the proposed rate of 64.52 cents is not sufficient to meet mounting capital and infrastructure needs.
“We have a balanced budget,” City Manager Sam Listi said. “It concerns me that we continue to not meet critical needs in terms of vehicles and streets. Those are the two critical things, and we haven’t even touched on personnel. Everybody is working hard to stay within budget and take care of the citizens, and yet there is a strain on our ability to do what I think we, as professionals, all feel like we should.”
In their effort to stay within the proposed tax rate, department head budget proposals were cut by more than $1 million dollars from their original requests, bringing the proposed budget from $13.67 million to $12.6 million. The reductions included four new position requests as well as capital purchases to replace old equipment in various departments, particularly Public Works and Police.
“The big ones [long-term goals] that we were not able to get done in this budget were the street maintenance plan and the capital equipment replacement plan,” Bozon said.
On Aug. 11, council members are scheduled to further discuss the tax rate. At that time they are expected to set dates for public hearings, which allow citizens’ voices to be heard.
One of the factors that impacts funding for the city is the large percentage of non-taxable properties within Belton. These properties — which include churches, schools and other exemptions — make up nearly 30 percent of properties in the city, placing a larger burden on taxable businesses and residents and equating to nearly $400 million in value.
“That makes the pie very small for us to tax, so that’s a challenge,” Listi said.
Council members will take the next week to talk with Listi one-on-one about the budget to see if any adjustments should be considered before the meeting on Tuesday.
The city’s estimated taxable value is just over $946 million, according to the certified tax role.
The Belton City Council will reconvene Aug. 11 at 5:30 p.m. in the Harris Community Center, 401 N. Alexander, in Belton.