Mayor Pro Tem Barron's Latest City Update (7/19/22)
I know, I'm late again! If you don't make it through this whole update, let me start with a reminder of the meeting TONIGHT at 6:00 at Gem of the Hills to begin discussions about the future of 281 and its potential impact on our community. Hope to see you there.
Now, budget. I have very few numbers for you right now as our initial meeting was a very high-level look at the budget. Last year, as you might remember, we were taking wild guesses at what we had and what we needed because our financials were in such bad shape. Thankfully, this year we will have actual expenses to help us figure out our numbers for next year. That said, it appears we will be facing another VERY tight year. We are drilling down on the numbers to get the budget as lean as possible, but it doesn't look pretty. We have far too many expenses that have been "kicked down the road" in an attempt to keep taxes as low as possible. Unfortunately, now all those deferred expenses are catching up with us like a $50,000 city hall roof repair. The roof has been leaking for years and can't go any longer. That is just one example. Thankfully, we have been able to get some of the projects done that we must have like a rate study to set our utility rates at a level to maintain service AND actually plan for the repairs and maintenance necessary for our infrastructure. Thanks to our city administrator, Warren Escovy, we were able to get a FREE rate study done by PUC! Ordinarily, a rate study would cost in the range of $45K-$60K. Thank you, Warren!
Speaking of infrastructure. We are going to put as much as we can of the federal grant money we received this year and will again next year into road repair, BUT, we want to do that with a plan to replace the water lines that are leaking the most at the same time we repave that section of road. Our CIAMAC committee is developing a plan and prioritizing the repairs so we can begin to do the work systematically. We cannot possibly find all the money needed through taxes or utility rates to do all the work needed in our community, but we are trying to find $150,000 to $200,000 a year to begin. Throughout the year we will continue to search for grants and explore the possibility of a bond election at some point in the future to get us where we need to be. I want to share with you the numbers (shocking as they are) of the costs involved with repairing our infrastructure. A cold mix followed by 1.5 inches of asphalt overlay costs $12.85/sq yard (yes, YARD). If we do the streets like the section of the 2020 city street program by the schools, it increases to $26.50/sq yard. That means that repairing the high and medium traffic volume roads would cost $1.8M and the low-volume roads would add another $2.2M. If we replace ALL of our leaking water lines we would spend $27M and repairing all the sewer lines would be $13M. Yes, million. See what I mean? You know the old saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." We have to start somewhere, and the start should be part of a multi-year (or multi-decade) plan. We are NOW ready to begin. Stay tuned for more on the budget. As I always say, when I know, you'll know.
City Council was fairly uneventful. All items on the consent calendar were approved. Under old business, the short-term rental ordinance was amended with the primary amendment being a change in the fees to $300 per STR property per year. Council approved entering into an agreement to invest available funds with Texas CLASS to bring at least some additional dollars into the city while keeping funds available for use. Council also instructed the city administrator to negotiate a contract with Avenu Insights and Analytics for analysis and recovery of any currently unidentified sales and use and franchise taxes. This will be done on a contingency basis. The entity will also identify and collect all fees and hotel occupancy taxes from short-term rentals. We are doing our best to find any and all revenue sources out there.
An issue that remains unresolved is the issue of selling bulk water. We are currently NOT selling because we are in Stage 2 drought restrictions. The council is struggling with the best public policy regarding this practice. Certainly, when water is plentiful (if we can remember when that was), the sale of water brings some additional revenue into the city. The other side of that coin is that we are still pumping out of the river when it could remain there for the health and economy of the area. We did agree that the current rates are too low. Staff will bring us some comps from other towns and we will need more information to decide. We will need to calculate the fiscal impact for the city once higher rates are put into place. We also need to consider the costs involved in overseeing this program. The issue was tabled until further evaluation.
Another presentation was made by a representative from Palmco regarding a possible economic development agreement between the city and Palmco, Inc. that would involve a PID (public improvement district). This was a presentation on the financing tool only. This was not an action item.
Echo was granted a setback variance to construct a deck behind the gallery on 281, and the city will issue an RFP for gateway signs to be placed at the north and south entrances to Blanco. If you are interested in participating in this, please contact the Mayor and see the city website for more information. The purpose of the RFP is to get some idea of the cost of the project to guide the historical commission in fundraising or other financing activities.
That's about it. The next budget workshop will be August 4, at 3:00 in the Byars Building. Please feel free to attend and learn along with us. If you can't make it, I'll keep you updated as we go. Thanks for your interest in your city government.