Cities and counties prepare budgets, plans for fiscal year
Cities and counties have the task of preparing and adopting a budget within their fiscal year time frame. Sometimes even a two-year budget cycle may be employed. Although not part of an annual or biennial budget, it is a good idea to develop a five-year plan for long-term capital purchases and projects. A budget is a useful tool that shows how much money will be available, where it comes from and how it will be used. But not all local government budgets are equal! Some budgets may be thriving while others are starting the year very lean. When that happens, hard decisions must be made on whether to raise property taxes or utility fees and make cuts or put projects on hold.
Local government budgets include long-range strategies focused on community development and sustainability through the use of Master Plans. As blueprints for the future, these plans identify economic, land use and infrastructure development or redevelopment. In addition to a long-range Master Plan is the Capital Improvement Plan that identifies present and future needs requiring capital infrastructure. Such plans operate for a shorter duration, often three-to-five years, and list the projects and capital programs planned for the community with corresponding revenues and financing sources.
Bastrop City Council and city staff met last week for their first workshop session to plan the 2017-18 budget. One goal was to find a way to pay for Bastrop’s continued growth while staying below a property tax rate of 60 cents. A big priority is to alleviate flooding and the city has considered increasing building fees for residential and commercial developers and implementing a fee for utility customers to improve the city’s drainage. The Public Works Department suggested charging $7 and $9 each month to utility customers and reserve those funds to install storm sewers, clear ditches and for supplies to replace culverts. Public Works has requested spending $90,000 on new street signs, $89,000 for striping and $350,000 to build sidewalks that would connect city parks.
For residential and commercial developers, the Planning Department is proposing fee increases of 82 percent per lot to build subdivisions, 54 percent for residential building permits and more than 500 percent for commercial site development. The department also suggested new fees for development agreements, geographic information system mapping and to review traffic impact analyses.
Bastrop’s next budget workshop is planned for July 20. Topics will include water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades, plans for the convention center and capital improvement projects such as upgrades to the rodeo grounds and Bob Bryant Park. The city has until September to finalize and adopt a budget. View Bastrop’s adopted budget from 2016-17.
Harris County Commissioners Court received an update on the capital improvement projects for the 2017-18 fiscal year. County officials are working with port officials to address needed infrastructure improvements for the Port of Houston and how to pay for it. By the end of 2017, it is projected that more than 500 semi-trucks will access Houston’s port. The county collects property taxes to cover debt service payments at the port, which are $53 million for 2017. Officials are looking at ways to fund sources for infrastructure without issuing additional taxpayer supported debt. One suggestion proposed to ease the burden on the existing infrastructure was to implement an on-dock rail system, which would allow trains to carry additional containers.
Funding will be requested by the Commissioners Court for several improvements at NRG Park, including upgrading phone systems and resurfacing parking lots within the complex. A new multi-service center at 6301 Pinemont Drive is expected to come before commissioners for approval later this year to finish the design phase. County engineers will be focused on existing facilities during the fiscal year which include roof repairs, elevator replacement and major system repairs. The recommended budget for the county’s Facilities and Property Maintenance program is $70 million and the budget office suggested up to $50 million in new borrowing over the next year for these projects.
Commissioners approved to bring on a construction manager-at-risk for the $105 million plan to repurpose the Houston Astrodome. The design phase is expected to last into 2018 with a projected completion time frame of 2020.
The Harris County Flood District receives $120 million in funding each year- $60 million for maintenance and operation and $60 million for new capital improvement projects. Officials would like to increase the amount used on capital projects and decrease funding for maintenance and operations by finding efficiencies. Another goal is to ultimately have a set tax rate similar to the county’s hospital district that can increase over time as the county’s needs increase.
For the Harris County Toll Road Authority, officials have added $400 million in new borrowing capacity, up from $200 million, over the last few months. The new capacity will help fund ongoing projects and a new toll road bridge over the Houston Ship Channel.
Terrell City Council members met last week to discuss the proposed 2017-18 budget, which includes first-phase repairs to Griffith Avenue and the rehabilitation of Rose Hill Road from Interstate 20 into Terrell. City staff are proposing to spend $390,000 to design the Griffith Avenue project which will begin with a section from Rockwall to Walnut. The plan calls for replacing water and sewer lines that are 70 to 80 years old, replacing sidewalks and adding a new street. Funding for the construction portion of Griffith will be included in the 2019 budget and funding for the remainder of Griffith, beyond Walnut, will be in future budgets.
Improvements along Rose Hill are included in the 2017-18 budget at $250,000. The city also plans to improve the area around Rose Hill and Interstate 20 with a landscaping project as an additional gateway to the city as development at Interstate 20 and Farm-to-Market 148 moves to the east. Design for that project is budgeted at $85,000 with the project to be completed in future budget years. View Terrell’s adopted budget from 2016-17.