Georgetown budget increases related to new positions, services

[Update: City Council approved the second reading of the budget unanimously at its Sept. 9 meeting]

In 2015 the Georgetown Fire Department plans to implement a new fire-based paramedic program that Fire Chief John Sullivan said would help the department adapt and respond to its growing medical call base.

In 2012, more than 70 percent of the departments call load consisted of medically related incidents, he said.

City Council approved the first reading of the citys $231.04 million budget at its Aug. 26 meeting with a 5-1 vote. Councilman John Hesser voted against the budget after a motion he made to reduce public safety funding to the 201314 fiscal year percentages failed.

The proposed $1.4 million fire-based paramedic program includes purchasing two transitional response vehicles, or TRVs, as well as filling nine new positions and was one of the most discussed parts of the budget presented to City Council on Aug. 26.

This is new to the area, not necessarily new to the nation or other areas. Its more of an adaptive change rather than a technical change, Sullivan said. [The TRVs] look and feel like an ambulance, but they have compartments on them that allow us do what we do, and thats emergency servicesnot just medical; its also fire and rescue, hazardous materialwe wear a variety of hats. Thats that front line of defense that the fire department has adapted to over the years in the U.S.

Although Sullivan said he expects the cost of the new program to be covered through the collection of transport fees within three years, some members of the public said the program would be too expensive.

This is a major change. This is a critical decision. Once implemented it will be almost irreversible, and I think it will be very costly, said Dr. Stephen Benold, former medical director for Williamson County Emergency Medical Services. I think a lot more investigation, a lot more study and a lot more discussion needs to take place. This is not urgent. We have an excellent EMS system right now.

While addressing City Council on Aug. 26, Benold also questioned the quality of the fire-based medics and if they could provide equivalent care to the existing program.

Two other residents spoke against the program, and one spoke in favor.

Sullivan said the program was not intended to replace the existing Williamson County EMS system but to improve the care already being administered by the Georgetown Fire Department.

We want to leverage what we have and the county system to make it a premier system with a regional approach to our delivery [of care], Sullivan said. Were trying to work collaboratively with the county to improve the system.

Budget additions

The budget, which is 1.8 percent lower than the previous years budget, includes the citys $51.9 million general fund budget. The general fund serves as the citys operating budget and is about 5.1 percent more than the previous years $49.4 million budget, Chief Financial Officer Micki Rundell said.

The citys overall budget includes 32 new positions in a variety of departments, including utilities, planning and public safety, as well as a 2 percent merit pay increase and 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment that will both be effective in February.

The push for the [cost-of-living adjustment] came from staff, City Manager Paul Brandenburg said, adding that he directed department directors to cut their budgets to help fund the pay increases.

Cost-of-living adjustments as well as increasing starting pay for the police department were also funded in the budget, Rundell said.

Other public safety programs in the budget include three new police officers to create a new five-officer crime unit as well as funding for equipment. The completion and operation of the 76,000-square-foot Public Safety Operations and Training Complex, which is scheduled to open in December, is also included, Rundell said.

Also included is $7.9 million for the citys capital improvements plan, which will fund improvements to downtown parking, parks improvements such as upgrades to the Williams Drive Pool, sidewalks on Second and 11th streets, and master planning for the Downtown West civic center Phase I. Hours at the recreation center will also be expanded to seven days a week.

Tax rate

City Council also approved the first reading of the citys property tax rate at $0.434 per $100 of property valuation. The rate, which is lower than the previous fiscal years rate of $0.4395, is 2.49 percent higher than the effective tax ratethe rate that would raise the same amount of revenue as the previous year if no new properties were added to the tax roll, Rundell said.

Average home values increased 10.16 percent, meaning the tax bill for a homeowner of a home with an average taxable value of $210,184 will pay about $73.63 more a year, Rundell said.

Property taxes fund about 22 percent of the general fund, she said. Other funding comes from sales tax, service fees and return on investments from the utilities.

The city added $163.1 million in new or annexed property value, which increased the citys 2014 assessed valuation to nearly $5.3 billion, which is 11.9 percent higher than the 2013 valuation, Rundell said.

Commissioners OK $244 million budget, 42 new positions

By Kate Morris

The Williamson County Commissioners Court adopted a $243.66 million budget Aug. 26, which includes both salary increases and additional personnel.

The budget included 42 new positions as well as a 4 percent merit pay increase for justices of the peace, the county clerk, the tax assessor and the district clerk.

Some commissioners were concerned about the increases.

Last year we said we were going to raise salaries; this year we said we were going to add people, Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said. In this budget were doing both, and I think were spending too much money.

The budget for the 201415 fiscal year will go in to effect Oct. 1.

The total budget includes the $146.78 million general fund, $22.32 million road and bridge fund and $74.56 million debt services fund.

During discussions, Budget Officer Ashlie Koenig said her department received 139 requests for new county positions for the 201415 fiscal year. Those requests included both new positions and transitioning part-time positions to full-time.

The budget office recommended 25 of the 138 requested positions, and commissioners added 18 more positions.

Among those added positions were two sheriffs deputies and four control room operators for the jail.

Kurt Showalter, financial officer for the sheriffs office, said the control room positions are necessary to comply with the federal Prison Rate Elimination Act.

There are a number of components which you have to meet, Showalter said. The law sees 17-year-olds as adults for court purposes, but theyre still juveniles for jail purposes. [The act] requires special considerations and things you have to do.

Commissioners approved 42 of the proposed 43 positions.

As of press time Sept. 5, commissioners were expected to approve the property tax rate of $0.489029 per $100 of property valuation at their Sept. 9 meeting.

This budget will raise more in property taxes than last years budget by $6,687,063, or 4.3 percent, and of that amount $4,353,225 is tax revenue to be raised from new property tax added to the tax roll, Koenig said.

The budget will begin with a remaining balance of $71.4 million in general fund cash reserves. Commissioners will spend $5 million from the end balance on capital improvements. Those projects will be determined at future Commissioners Court meetings.