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Victoria city council split on budget cuts

By Melissa Crowe
July 15, 2014 at 2:15 a.m.
Updated July 16, 2014 at 2:16 a.m.


OTHER ACTION

Approved a resolution to allocate $400,000 in hotel occupancy tax funding to support the tourism industry

Opened appointments to fill vacancies on the planning commission

Granted a variance to James Wayne, owner of Frels Subdivision No. 1, on right-of-way dedications

Budget cuts are looming for Victoria's public library, pool and zoo.

Victoria City Council met Tuesday hoping to reach a consensus on the tax rate property owners will pay next year.

The proposed budget calls for employee raises, outsourcing street sweeping and creating a new street maintenance program. To meet those goals, city staff proposed cutting programs that televise parks and planning commission meetings, shutting down the pool for next summer and reducing funding for library subscriptions, books and equipment rentals.

Councilman David Hagan said he wants to see the budget reduced further.

The majority of the council was in agreement with lowering the tax rate to 58 cents per $100 valuation. It is currently at 59.96 cents per $100 valuation.

Hagan was alone in his argument to drop the rate even more.

"The constituents I've talked to do not want to see any property tax increase," he said. "Their paychecks aren't going up, but their property taxes are."

With gas prices, insurance premiums and the cost of food going up, residents cannot afford another increase, he said.

Hagan spoke to the national economy, saying American families are not growing financially.

"I'm not saying we're not more blessed than a lot of parts of the country," Hagan said. "I'm just getting feedback from the folks I represent."

May unemployment figures showed Victoria at a rate of 4.1 percent while the state's unemployment is at 5.1 percent, and national figures are at 6.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hagan said he will not vote for a property tax that brings in more money than last year's budget. That rate would put the tax bills at 56.18 cents per $100 valuation.

Across the dais from Hagan, Councilman Emett Alvarez opposed the cuts involving the pool and library and suggested a higher tax rate of 59 cents per $100 valuation.

He said cutting library services and closing the pool would impact many residents and children.

For the pool's six-week season, the city spends about $56,215 to keep it open.

Hagan joked that for that amount, they could pay for children to have memberships to the YMCA.

As for Hagan's argument that property taxes are too high, Alvarez said, "People have to be vigilant about appraisal values and go through the process of lowering them. It's incumbent upon property owners to protest those values."

Under the 58 cent rate, property taxes will bring in about $14.1 million.

Alvarez noted that figure is enough to cover fire or police services for the city but not both.

"We're using a lot of other sources to carry the rest of our budget," Alvarez said. "The tax rate is just a very small part of the overall picture."

Critics have suggested the city free up funds by not budgeting for the more than 20 vacancies. However, many of those jobs come from the public works department, which funds salaries through water and sewer bills, Alvarez said.

Alvarez said the budget is still "a work in progress" and encouraged residents to attend the next meeting to give them feedback on the programs and services they support or oppose.

"We have to make the hard decisions; that's why they elected us," Alvarez said. "Feedback and citizen communication at this time of year is very important."

City staff will present a full budget at the next city council meeting at 5 p.m. Aug. 5.

After a two-hour-long meeting Tuesday, City Manager Charmelle Garrett said the staff would look for ways to retain funding for the television services and the zoo.

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