Area municipalities prepare to approve FY 2014-15 budgets
Throughout the summer, city budgets were at the forefront of city council agendas in Grapevine, Colleyville, Southlake and Westlake as each of the cities are scheduled to adopt budgets in September for the upcoming fiscal year. While the budgets vary in overall expenses and revenues, all four cities have chosen to invest a significant amount of revenue for projects and improvements of infrastructure that will improve the economy and the overall quality of life of their residents.
Grapevine's $217.6 million budget includes funds for a multigenerational community activities center expected to be complete in spring 2015. The $52.7 million Capital Improvement Plan also includes several street, park and water improvement projects.
The town of Westlake is focusing on the expansion of Westlake Academy to help alleviate crowding issues. The expansion is $7.8 million of the $33.2 million proposed budget. Westlake is scheduled to adopt the budget Sept. 22 at its regular council meeting.
With a newly built Whole Foods Market in Colleyville, the city is expecting more sales tax revenue, which city officials plan to use toward updating amenities such as parks. The $39.5 million budget also adds 7.5 full-time -equivalent employees.
An increased homestead exemption in Southlake's $86.78 million budget will give homeowners a slight tax break. With the anticipation of more revenue from property taxes in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the city is investing heavily in the building of the Community Recreation Center.
Grapevine's residential property appraisal values increased by 5.4 percent this year, prompting City Council to approve a budget that reduces property tax to the effective rate of $0.332439, but also adds several new positions and salary increases.
The 2014-15 budget shows revenue is up 4.01 percent from last year's budget, and the overall total revenue and transfers equals $59,995,486 compared with $58,442,131 in 2013-14.
Increased property appraisal values are not the only source adding more revenue to the FY 2014–15 budget, as the City Council approved an ordinance increasing hotel and motel taxes by 1 percent effective Oct. 1. The tax is projected to bring in $2,191,124 in revenue.
A switch in ambulance providers is projected to increase ambulance fee revenue to $1,766,000 from last fiscal year's $1.5 million
The city will also take in more revenue with the opening of a multigenerational Community Activities Center in spring 2015. The new CAC is expected to bring in twice as much profit than last fiscal year and will include aquatics, an expanded fitness room, and programming and activities rooms.
Because of the expansion of the center, the parks division is budgeted to see a 10 percent increase in personnel services and residents will see a rise in CAC fees..
"The fees are increasing for the [CAC]swimming pool because there are more amenities that are going to be available for residents once the [community activities)]Center is complete," management services director Gary Livingston said.
Dividing the budget
Grapevine's budget adds five full-time positions: two firefighter/paramedics, one EMS battalion chief, Convention and Visitors Bureau railroad management trainee and an assistant LAN/WAN administrator who will be responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing the city's network domains.
Also included is a merit and step pay increase for all general city employees. They receive a 3 percent salary increase if their job performance is up to par.
Public safety employees, such as fire and police will receive a 5 percent step pay increase upon passing evaluations. Additionally, there is a one-time lump sum of up to three percent for employees at the top of their salary grade.
"Investing in the workforce is one of the city's goals that they try each year to meet," Livingston said. "We always try to be in the 50th percentile in the 18-city area that we survey. We want to keep it competitive so we can keep our employees and attract people to our city."
Each year the city sets aside funds for upgrades and replacements. This year the budget includes $2,843,000 budgeted for vehicle acquisitions—including 16 vehicle replacements and three additions—and $557,000 for technology equipment.
Quality of Life fund
In 2007, Grapevine drafted a plan for the city to set aside a fund to solely be used to pay for city projects that would improve the quality of life of residents.
The proposed budget includes a transfer of $3 million from the general fund into the Quality of Life fund. However, only $831,715 is committed to multi-year projects for FY 2014–15. The ongoing projects that are included in the fund are as follows: $30,000 for backlit street name signs, $150,000 allocated for Main Street holiday decoration, $106,715 for Phase 1 of the Wall-Farrar Nature Park, $295,000 for the Gateway Project (signage/landscaping) and $250,000 for the community activities center multi-purpose field improvements.
Colleyville taxpayers will not see an increase in property tax rates in the city's $39.5 million proposed budget, but with the opening of a Whole Foods Market and several businesses at Colleyville Downs, city officials anticipate sales tax growth.
"The Whole Foods Market is very beneficial to the city in terms of dollars and business and to our residents," Mayor David Kelly said. "It brings local residents and non-residents to our city and also makes them aware of other retail and restaurant opportunities near by."
Although sales tax is projected to increase, city officials are remaining conservative with revenue estimates. The city faces a challenge with constrained growth in the property tax revenue category due to a freeze on assessed valuation for properties owned by individuals 65 years or older, even though property values are increasing.
However, with an increase of over $2 million from the current year's operating budget, the city has budgeted for 7.5 additional full-time employees, including one police officer, three firefighters/paramedics, one economic development coordinator, one temporary construction manager and increasing three part time positions to full-time positions.
The proposed budget also calls for performance-based merit increases, employee insurance benefits, an employee retirement system, ambulance and police vehicle replacements and several technology upgrades.
The Capital Improvements Plan has $24 million budgeted for various projects that require an investment of $50,000 or more. The plan covers a five-year period, but only the upcoming year of the plan is included in the 2014-15 fiscal year budget.
Continuing or new investments
Mayor Kelly said it is vital to city officials to continue to invest in projects that are tangible and are of use to residents.
"Our budget is built around what our residents want and what's important to them," he said. "Public safety is very important to them and so is improving our infrastructures. So, we are budgeting for those projects such as the quiet zones and city parks so our residents can have a better quality of life than before."
Some of those budgeted projects include: $51,000 for quiet zone maintenance of the Fort Worth & Western Railroad, $427,000 for the completion of Pleasant Run Trail and improvements at the Cotton Belt-LD Lockett Park, $15,000 for a signage update at Reagan and Woodbriar Park and $30,000 for shade structure replacement at City Park.
The city council was scheduled to adopt the budget at its Sept. 16 meeting. Find it online atwww.colleyville.com.
The proposed $86.78 million budget for FY 2014–15 includes an ongoing homestead exemption that jumps from 3 percent FY 2013–14 to 10 percent. That amounts to a homestead exemption of roughly $52,000 for the average priced-home of $643, 334 in Southlake, according to the city. About $240 will be cut off of the average homeowner's property taxes.
"We've always said with the development and the growth, our goal is always to give tax relief," Southlake Chief Financial Officer Sharen Jackson said. "And so each year with the growth in our budget, we're always looking to see if we're at the point that we can give tax relief, and this year with the increase in the development and in the economy, we were afforded that opportunity to increase the homestead exemption."
Even with the increased exemption, the city anticipates a 6.7 percent increase in general fund revenue this fiscal year, including an increase of 3.6 percent in revenue from property taxes.
The city's residential property values are projected to go up by $463 million in 2015, from $5.495 billion to $5.958 billion.
The proposed property tax rate for Southlake is $0.462 per $100 of valuation, which falls in the mid-range of tax rates for cities in the area. The rate remains the same as it was in FY 2013–14.
On the low end University Park had a tax rate of $0.2743 in 2014 and Grapevine's property tax was $0.3425, according to the budget presentation given by the city.
On the high range were Coppell with a rate of $0.6375 in FY 2013–14 and Arlington with a rate of $0.6480.
One of the city's planned expenditures for 2015 is Phase 1 of the Community Recreation Center, which is part of Southlake 2030, the city's master plan. That portion of the project is expected to cost about $15 million, and the city has set aside money to pay for Phase 1 with cash.
"That's from several years of planning," Jackson said.
The overall project's cost should be about $46.9 million, according to the city. The city plans to pay for Phase 2's price tag of $31.9 million using a special-purpose sales tax, but Southlake must gain approval of voters first. That will be part of the May 2015 election.
"We're just reallocating our sales tax for that project, and if approved, we will begin Phase 2," Jackson said.
The sales tax revenue would shift from the Crime Control District, and the rate would remain the same.
Other proposed projects for FY 2014–15 in the Strategic Initiative Fund include $700,000 for a new fire engine as well as $350,000 for improvements of the public infrastructure in Town Square, such as sidewalk work and landscaping.
The city council was scheduled to adopt the budget at its Sept. 16 meeting.
Westlake's proposed $33.2 million budget accounts for the expansion of Westlake Academy and infrastructure reinvestment, among other expenses, and anticipates additional revenue from permits and fees from the Granada housing development.
Not including the costs of capital projects, Westlake Academy or transfers between funds in the budget, the proposed municipal operating costs have increased by about $1.46 million from the FY 2013–14 budget. That includes about $214,000 for debt service repayment and about $759,000 for payroll expenses.
Westlake's property tax rate is among the lowest in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to the town's budget document, at $0.15634 per $100 of valuation. The proposed rate is about five-thousandths of a cent less than last year's amount. Because the residential property value that can be taxed has increased town-wide by a net amount of about $26.9 million, the town will have the same effective tax rate as 2013 and 2014, despite the slight dip in its property tax rate.
"We've added additional property, that's why we're going to be able to get more revenue," Westlake Finance Director Debbie Piper said. "But that percentage, that [effective tax] rate, is based on last year's —the exact property we had last year and those values."
Westlake Academy accounts for $7,848,324 of the total budget, which includes cost of $900,000 for the work to expand the school. The expansion is supposed to alleviate crowding by adding a multipurpose hall, a new athletic fieldhouse and a three-story school building. The physical growth at the academy is needed because of the increase in student population in recent years. In the 2013–14 school year, 697 students attended the academy. This year 822 were anticipated to attend. .
"The number of Westlake residents who are selecting Westlake Academy as the educational choice for the students has doubled in the past five years," according to the transmittal letter written by Thomas Brymer, the town manager and superintendent of Westlake Academy. "Resident surveys indicate that the academy is one of the main reasons they moved to Westlake and why they plan to remain in our community."
The lottery list of nonresident children wishing to enroll at the Academy has grown from 700 to more than 2,100 for the same five years.
Westlake is also including infrastructure reinvestment in its budget, including $99,000 for an outdoor warning system, $730,000 for a fire pumper truck and $1.1 million for the purchase of land for a fire station.
The town anticipates that it will receive a $10,000 fee for each lot in the Granada housing development. Granada will feature single family residence construction. The city assumes it will receive fees for 44 lots in this FY 2014-15.