Shenandoah City Council discusses budget, reserve policy

Shenandoah City Council discussed the city's preliminary 2019-20 budget and other city issues at its July 24 regular meeting.

Shenandoah City Council discussed the city's preliminary 2019-20 budget and other city issues at its July 24 regular meeting.

Shenandoah City Council members reviewed the city’s proposed 2019-20 budget during their July 24 regular meeting, which also featured discussions of the city’s reserve fund policy and the creation of a local retail research committee.

Shenandoah’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year features increases to both city expenditures and revenue over fiscal year 2018-19. Based on the preliminary budget outline, spending could increase by about 5.23% from $8.82 million to $9.28 million. Revenue is budgeted for a larger increase of 6.61% from $9.13 million to $9.73 million, mainly due to an estimated $573,340 jump in sales taxes. Finance Director Lisa Wasner noted some values could change based on this year’s final tax information, which had not yet been provided by the county tax assessor.

Some of the largest spending increases are expected to come from the Community Development, Public Works and Police departments, all of which requested the addition of new staff members for around $80,000 each. The new positions include a building and fire inspector, a utilities and maintenance supervisor and two patrol officers.

During their budget review, some council members questioned additions in the Police Department given its request to both hire two new officers and increase several categories of budgeted overtime pay as part of a $282,000 annual budget increase, the largest of any city department.

“We noticed the excess overtime last year, and we looked at that and said, ‘We can hire two new officers with just the overtime pay.’ And now overtime is increased,” Council Member Michael McLeod said. “The idea was, we’d hire our new officers and overtime would go down because we’d be more effectively staffing positions without overtime.”

Assistant Police Chief Barry Gresham, who attended the meeting in place of Chief Raymond Shaw, said he would have to conduct a study on the overtime question before providing council with an answer about the increases.

“If I told you something now, it would just be speculation,” Gresham said.

Wasner said some of the additional budgeted overtime could be due to expected increases in police presence for city events and unplanned traffic control.

Council Member Ron Raymaker also asked about the necessity of bringing in more police officers this year given recent staffing additions in the department and the status of residential developments that, while expected to require a larger police presence once completed, are not yet filled.

“Is the request for two officers premature? We’ve added four in the last four years, so I’m just saying we’re not quite to the point yet where we need to add two more police officers,” he said. “When that build-out is done, we would probably need those officers—right now, probably a little early.”

Gresham said the department requested the new officers to prepare for future population growth and to establish work shifts that could be more flexible and would require less overtime if officers are sick or on vacation.

“With a five-person shift, we’ll eliminate a lot of that overtime, but we’ll also be able to cover the city better and try to keep a more close patrol in the city during busy times,” he said. “This has been a long-term part of the strategic plan, ... to get to five officers per shift for the future.”

Although it was not discussed during the meeting, the council’s agenda also included Council Member Charlie Bradt’s budget wishes that were not featured during a previous review of council requests. Bradt requested the city examine an impact fee policy to help finance an expansion to its wastewater treatment plant and asked for the creation of a walking trail near Holly Hill Drive and the reforestation of three land parcels in the city.

Shenandoah will hold its budget workshop Aug. 9-10 at the city municipal complex.

In addition to the budget, council also examined establishing a city policy on general fund cash reserves and a committee to examine retail trends at the July 24 meeting. The reserve topic was presented as the city does not currently have a policy in place regarding the use of reserve funds.

Council agreed to consider a policy that would require keeping 180 days’ worth of the city’s annual budget as reserve funds that could only be used for a declared emergency situation. If used, council would then have 90 days to present a plan to replace the funds.

“I think it’s an opportunity for this council to be proactive in a reactive situation,” Bradt said.

Later in the meeting, the council also approved the formation of a committee to examine storefront retail trends in Shenandoah, given the city’s reliance on sales tax and the ongoing shift toward online retailers.

“We’re seeing the footprints of storefronts shrink. Even though they’re still building more retail stores, the footprint is shrinking,” City Administrator Kathie Reyer said. “The long-term goal is to look at the impact on the revenue stream if we start to lose storefronts because we’re not capturing all the sales tax dollars from online purchases.”

The committee was approved and will be comprised of Reyer, Bradt, Council Member Ted Fletcher and two local business managers.

Other items on the council’s July 24 agenda included approving appointments to the Montgomery County Emergency Communication District board of managers, the Houston-Galveston Area Council General Assembly and the Conroe-The Woodlands Urbanized Area Mobility Committee. Council then adopted a resolution opposing the inclusion of 2010 desired future conditions in the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District’s groundwater management plan as directed by the Texas Water Development Board. The council also approved funding the city’s Savanah Drive water line replacement project, which is expected to go out for bid in August.
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


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