Cedar Park and Leander finalize budgets, plan to lower tax rates for fifth consecutive year


City councils in both Cedar Park and Leander planned to lower the city property tax rates for fiscal year 2017-18, which would be the fifth year in a row for residents of both cities to see the rate decrease.


In September, Cedar Park voted to lower the tax rate by more than 1 cent, and Leander City Council planned to lower its tax rate by about 2 cents.


The cities adopted budgets for fiscal year 2017-18 in September, and the new fiscal year for both cities begins Oct. 1.


Cedar Park budget
On Sept. 14, Cedar Park City Council approved a $140 million operating budget that invests in more public safety positions; funds more city services, such as street maintenance and the library; and invests in additional transportation projects, 2015 bond projects and more economic development opportunities.


During budget discussions in August, Cedar Park City Manager Brenda Eivens said council discussed goals during a June retreat and identified several priority projects for the next fiscal year.


“We took that information and really thought about boiling it down to what we’re trying to achieve as a city, and [we] have a budget document that helps support those goals and strategies,” she said.


In September, City Council adopted a property tax rate of $0.4575 per $100 valuation. The rate is higher than the effective rate of $0.455521, which is the rate that would generate the same amount of tax revenue as last year’s budget. The $140 million budget is also about $7.2 million more than the FY 2016-17 budget.


Assistant Finance Director Chad Tustison said the increase was largely due to higher sales tax revenue and property tax revenue, which make up the city’s largest sources of general fund revenue.


The city’s general fund revenue equals $49.9 million, and the fund’s expenditures total $51.1 million. Tustison said the city would use its fund balance, or city savings, to balance the general fund.


The budget includes $33.2 million for transportation projects, such as an extension of New Hope Drive to Sam Bass Road; Phase 2 of the an expansion of Anderson Mill Road; and the realignment of Bell Boulevard.


A projected increase in sales tax revenue would also provide funds for more economic development as well as community enhancement projects, such as a Town Center trail and pedestrian bridge and $4 million for Bell Boulevard redevelopment.


The budget also adds 19.5 full-time positions, including five firefighters for Fire Station No. 5 and four positions in the police department.


Leander budget
Leander’s $128.5 million budget invests in existing city infrastructure, adds nearly two dozen positions and continues implementing 2016 voter-approved bond projects.


The budget is about 2 percent higher than the FY 2016-17 budget, largely due to an increase in the city’s property tax base, City Manager Kent Cagle said. The tax base consisted of $3.8 billion in taxable property in the city’s FY 2016-17 budget, and Cagle said the city expects the tax base to grow to $4.6 billion for FY 2017-18.


He said the increase results from the number of new properties being built, reappraisals on existing properties and annexations that added more properties to the tax base.


“You can almost guarantee that the next budget year will be well over $5 billion,” he said.


The city’s proposed tax rate of $0.577867 is equal to the effective tax rate. As of Community Impact Newspaper’s Sept. 15 press date, City Council was set to approve the tax rate during a Sept. 21 meeting.


“I would dare to say we’re probably one of the only cities, at least in Central Texas, if not the state, that will lower their tax rate to the effective rate,” Leander Mayor Chris Fielder said.


The budget allocates funds for infrastructure maintenance, such as water and sewer systems; drainage and infrastructure projects on the eastern side of the city in the vicinity of Ronald Reagan Boulevard, RM 2243 and Hero Way.


“We get so much focus on the growth, and rightly so, but once that subdivision is added and the streets and the infrastructure are accepted, they start to age,” Cagle said. “And we’ve got to start making sure that we take care of all that.”


Residents will also see movement in the second phase of projects identified in the 2016 voter-approved bond package. Some bond projects include work on Metro Drive, Raider Way and Woodview Drive and streetscaping on North Brushy Street as well as park projects, such as Lakewood Park, Robin Bledsoe Park and Veterans Park.


The budget also includes 21 new positions, including four police officers, a deputy court clerk, a project manager in the public works department and an emergency planning specialist for the fire department. Out of all the new positions, 18 will be funded by the general fund, and three by the utility fund.


“We’re doing our best to keep a very lean staff, and that helps keep our costs low,” Cagle said.

By Caitlin Perrone
Caitlin covers Cedar Park and Leander city councils and reports on education, transportation, government and business news. She is an alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin. Most recently, Caitlin produced a large-scale investigative project with The Dallas Morning News and led education coverage in the Brazos Valley at The Bryan-College Station Eagle. After interning with Community Impact Newspaper for two summers, she joined the staff as a reporter in 2015.


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