City of Excellence plan could increase tax rate

Council set to approve budget, tax rate Sept. 11

After a debate over raising taxes last year, Georgetown City Council could vote to raise taxes again this year to help fund a five-year business plan to create a "City of Excellence."

"One of the directives that we received last year was to develop a five-year business plan because everybody was concerned about all the things we wanted to do and what the tax rate was going to be," Georgetown Chief Financial Officer Micki Rundell said. "Internally, we use [the 2030 comprehensive plan] as our basis, and we worked through how you would make that all happen and the things we would have to support all of that."

As of press time Sept. 7, the council was expected to vote Sept. 11 to approve a property tax rate of 41 cents, an increase of more than 2 cents from the 2011–12 tax rate of 38.75 per $100 valuation.

City Council approved the proposed maximum tax rate of 41 cents at its July 24 meeting with a 4-3 vote with council members Tommy Gonzalez, Rachel Jonrowe and Troy Hellman voting against.

"No one likes to pay more taxes, but in order for us to meet the five-year goals that we have established, that are, I feel, a great step to move the city forward in reaching those goals, I think we need to have the flexibility to have a public hearing to hear from the citizens how they feel about this," Councilman Danny Meigs said at the July 24 meeting.

If approved, the 41 cent tax rate could increase the average homeowner's tax bill by $45.53 annually or $3.79 a month. The average home value in Georgetown is $185,915, which is an increase over last year's average home value of $184,959, Rundell said.

Strategic planning

On September 20–21, City Council is expected to begin strategic planning to define the five-year business plan, Rundell said. However, the 2012–13 budget was set up as the plan's foundation.

"My hope is that we come away with a statement that says this is what the City of Excellence is, and this is what we will rally around, and this will become the official vision of the city," she said.

City Manager Paul Brandenburg said the plan would also help direct how to issue voter-approved bonds for parks and recreation projects, as well as road improvement bonds.

"How do those things all factor into the upcoming year's budget? Not only in the upcoming year but in years two, three, four and five," he said. "That's really the purpose of putting together this business plan—to plan financially beyond just one year [and look] at multiple years at [how it will affect the budget]."

Implementation

"What we elected to do this year was make [the budget] the foundation for the City of Excellence," Rundell said. "We didn't want to do the status quo and say this is all you need to maintain service, which is what we have historically done."

Rundell said the 2012–13 budget includes programs that will build upon the five-year plan, including planning for the amphitheater approved by voters in 2008.

"It's a major element of the City of Excellence," Rundell said. "The community wanted that."

Rundell said the budget was balanced using the effective rate of $0.397501 per $100 valuation. The effective rate is the tax rate required to levy the same amount of revenue on the same properties as the prior year.

"We didn't anticipate having to go out and raise taxes for the City of Excellence; we could do it with what we had," she said, adding that economic growth in various revenue streams, including sales tax, helped offset a property tax increase. "The council took the action to raise [taxes] more than what is in this budget."

If approved, the 41 cent rate could generate more than $420,000 of additional revenue.

"Those funds are not appropriated in this budget. What my recommendation will be to the council if they do pass the 41 cent tax rate will be that they take that money, and after we do our strategic plan, we will come back and allocate it through a budget amendment," Rundell said. "It takes the leadership of the council to do that. I was very encouraged by their commitment to the vision that the citizens want."

Rundell said that additional revenue could be used to purchase public safety vehicles and equipment that would have been debt-funded or fully implementing the compensation plan that was expected to take two years to complete.

The budget includes staffing and operations for Fire Station No. 5, which is expected to be in operation by October; completing the design for the public safety training and operations facility; and investing in downtown, parks and city facility planning.

About $1.1 million for pay increases for 371 city employees was included in the budget to launch a two year employee compensation plan.

Other items in the budget include park improvements such as rebuilding the creative playscape at the Georgetown Recreation Center and funds for the Light Up the Square campaign and the art center. Rundell said the city has also eliminated several frozen positions.

Property tax exemptions

Homeowners age 65 and older qualify for a property tax exemption that caps their property values. The percentage of frozen property values in the City of Georgetown rose about 7.5 percent this year to total approximately 30 percent.

"Everybody says that's a terrible thing—well, it's a challenge," Georgetown Chief Financial Officer Micki Rundell said. "It's what makes us unique, and we do everything we can to mitigate that."

Rundell said the city's assessed property valuation increased 2.98 percent from last year and includes $90.2 million in new or annexed property values.

However, the added value was offset by the $94 million in frozen values, which caused the effective tax rate to be about 1 cent more than the previous year's rate, Rundell said.

Williamson County Budget includes merit, elected official pay increases

By Korri Kezar

The Williamson County Commissioners Court approved the county's 2012–13 budget and tax rates during its meeting Aug. 28.

A complete budget of $216.3 million was approved, and includes $129.4 million in the general fund, $18.7 million in the road and bridge fund and $68.2 million in the debt service fund.

Staff originally requested a general fund budget of approximately $149.4 million, which was trimmed down with measures such as deleting the county's carpool program, which lost an estimated $8,045 during the 2011–12 fiscal year.

The budget includes a 3 percent raise for elected officials and a 4 percent merit raise for county employees. Judge Dan Gattis told the court that not all employees will receive a raise, though some could see a bump of up to 5 percent.

County taxes were set at 48.9029 cents. The rate's breakdown includes 28.1529 cents for maintenance and operations, 4 cents for road and bridge and 16.75 cents for debt service. In total, the rate is approximately 0.1 cent more than last year's and is predicted to bring in more than $210 million in revenue during the fiscal year, up half a million from this year.