$41 million budget approved in Marble Falls

By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

In a series of unanimous votes, the Marble Falls City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 5, approved ordinances adopting the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 tax rate and budget and amendments to the Master Fee Schedule and the Marble Falls Economic Development Corporation budget.

The total tax rate of of .6340 or 63.4 cents per $100 valuation, is comprised of .3982 for the Interest and Sinking Fund (I&S) and .2358 for maintenance and operation (M&O). The total is 1.43 cents per $100 valuation lower than the previous year and the percentage devoted to maintenance and operation, slightly greater.

“This $41 million budget has been a five month process for the staff,” said Finance Manager Margie Cardenas. “And it represents your work at the July 2013 workshop.

The final result is comprised of all the city's funds, including capital improvement projects, $11.5 million; general fund expenditures of $10.3 million, and water and waste water, $5.2 million.

Although they voted to approve the budget, council members Reed Norman and David Rhodes made it clear they were unconvinced that one portion of the $1,019,247 budget of the Parks & Recreation Department should be spent without further study.

When the department's director, Robert Moss, made his presentation at a previous meeting on the new Parks & Recreation Master Plan, he detailed work that had been delayed for most of a decade, as funds were directed to development. It had been his and the Parks & Recreation Commission's assessment that the time was right to add two, full-time permenant maintenance employeees. The budget impact would be $54,000.

Norman, a lawn and landscape professional, and Rhodes, a former council and Parks & Recreation Commission member, want a more in-depth cost analysis of out-sourcing work before the money is applied to staffing.

The Marble Falls Police Department has budgeted for two new patrol officers and four new patrol vehicles. Prior to the meeting, a number of arrivals were attracted to one of the Ford Interceptor SUV's added this year.

Patrol vehicles log long hours of use and the department has been faced with heavy repair demands before a regular plan for replacing worn vehicles was begun.

As part of the new budget process, the council approved an average 3.2 percent increase in water rates to support the annual bond payment for infrastructure improvements to the utility system.

In Fiscal Year 2016-2017, when the city issued $7.9 million in bonds to fund improvements to the water plant, wastewater plant, water lines and water storage tanks, it was determined that the city would need to increase utility rates.

Months of study and comparison of increase scenarios went into the decision to spread the increase over multiple years to minimize the impact on utility customers.

The first increase, last year, effected the base rate. This year's increase is on consumption only. There will be no increase to the monthly base charge, the irrigation rate, the bulk water rate or sewer rates.

The city immediately put out a press release to explain that the increase is 4 percent at each consumption level, but since the base charge remains the same the overall effect to the consumer is less than than that.

“The majority of the city’s utility customers, over 85 percent, will see about a 90 cent to $2 increase on their monthly water bill,” said Cardenas.

“We are actually encouraged by where we are with the utility rates right now,” said City Manager Mike Hodge. “Initial projectionsm calculated at the time of the bond sale, indicated adjustments in the second year would need to be higher.

“We are fortunate to be able to keep the increase to a minimum and still cover the cost of the debt obligation for the ongoing utility improvements. It’s less than what we anticipated and we don’t have to increase sewer rates in order to meet that obligation.”

Hodge said new development is also a contributing factor in lower than expected increases.

“The cost of service is distributed among a larger customer base, which has helped to keep the increase down as well,” he said, noting that city staff is always ready to answer questions at city hall, 830-693-3615.

In detail, customers consuming up to 10,000 gallons of water in a month currently pay $4.15 cents per thousand gallons of water. The new rate, $4.32 is 17 cents per thousand gallons of water more.

In a second tier, 11,000-30,000 gallons, the current rate of $5.06 per thousand gallons of water is to increase to $5.26, 20 cents more per thousand gallons more.

Third tier customers, who use more than 31,000 gallons of water in a month, will go from a rate of $6.20 to $6.45 per thousand gallons, an increase of 25 cents.

Customers can expect to see the increase on December water bills.

Also approved by the council was a contract for Phase 4 of city water plant expansion. On the recommendation of City Engineer Eric Belaj and SD Kallman Engineering, which designed the project, the bid was awarded to Bryan Construction of Bryan in an amount not to exceed $3,741,958. Two options were added to a base bid of $2.56 million.

“The plant is rated at 3 million gallons per day (GPD), but (with the aging sand filter) we can't do it every day,” said Belaj. “This project will increase the capacity to 4.8 million GPD and sets the stage to increase to 6.2 million should we need it some day.

The project is part of the city's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) endorsed by the council Tuesday night. Bryan Shirley, chairman of the CIP Committee, was on hand for Belaj's presentation of the portion of the plan scheduled for the upcoming 2017-2018 Fiscal Year.

The updated version of the plan (5-Year CIP 2017-2022) is available for review on the city website, www.marblefallstx.gov.

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