City staff requests 7.5% pay raise; property taxes may go up another 4%; water rates may rise again.
At a special meeting of the Huntsville City Council Tuesday Night, the City Staff presented to the Council its recommendations for the City Budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year that begins October 1. Those recommendations include:
A 7.5% across-the-board pay increase for all City employees
Based on a survey done by the City staff, this pay increase would allegedly bring the City’s pay scales up to the same level as other Cities in the area of comparable size. Staff also claims it would help the City deal with what has been a steadily increasing turnover rate in the last four years.
The cause of this turnover was questioned by some members of the Council, but was not answered to their satisfaction and more information was requested.
Also not included in the Staff recommendation was information on whether the alleged pay disparity was in any way offset by current benefit packages current City employees receive.
A 4.0% Property Tax Increase
The Staff proposes that the City Council maintain the property tax rate at the current level of 41.06 cents per $100 Valuation. Because of the generally increased assessed valuation of properties in the City by the Walker County Appraisal District (WCAD), this will pull in about 4% more tax money from essentially the same taxpayers than was taken in last year.
A residential or business property owner in the City whose property is assessed at this 4% average higher value will pay 4% more taxes this year than last, even though the tax rate doesn’t change. To keep property taxes at last year’s level, the City Council would have to lower the tax rate to 39.48 cents per $100 valuation. This rate is referred to as the “Effective Tax Rate.”
Special Fund for Economic Development
There was a complicated discussion about the possibility of creating a Special Fund for Economic Development. This money, possibly as much as $900,000, would be carved out of the General Fund. Under Texas State Law some versions of the Fund would require Voter approval. No decisions were made pending further review.
Water Rate Increase
When the $24 Million upgrade to the TRA Water Plant was approved in 2011, the City water rates were increased to pay for the new debt. These rates have now roughly doubled in the last four years. There is another, smaller 1.1% rate increase proposed for this year. No particular reason for this increase was given.
It has long been City policy to hold two months of operating costs (16.67% of the annual budget) in reserve for contingency purposes. In 2012, as partial justification for the 10.5% property tax increase of that year, the City Council raised this level to three months (25% of the annual budget). That increased level of taxation plus other measures has caused a large cash surplus to be created and maintained by the City. That continues in this budget as all funds, even with the pay raises and other expenditure increases proposed, are still well over the 25% level of reserves required.
After last week’s outrage by citizens over proposed changes to the City’s Development Code, there was an expectation that Council would be mindful of the wishes of Huntsville citizens as they discussed this budget. Is a budget that gives all City staff a 7.5% pay raise, raises property taxes by 4%, raises water rates, and unnecessarily hoards huge amounts of cash (cash that could be given back to the taxpayers) , what the people of Huntsville want? There seemed to be no discussion as to what the voters wanted from their representatives at City Hall. No mention was made of the fact that Huntsville taxpayers have to work to earn every dollar of the $65 Million that this Council is about to spend.
The bubble that covered City Hall before those previous meetings appears to be firmly back in place. It is covering and protecting it once again from a public that it apparently doesn’t even know exists; protecting this small group from a public they are supposed to serve.