College Station’s city council wrapped up three days of workshops Wednesday afternoon, and the seven-person governing body now seeks constituent feedback as it analyzes the presented budget of more than $341 million.
Mayor Karl Mooney said the city’s proposed budget reflects a focus on investing in infrastructure for a growing city. College Station population is currently estimated at more than 122,000 residents, up nearly 30,000 from its official 2010 total.
“The concerns we have are that there are a lot of projects directly related to the health, welfare and safety of our citizens that are long-term projects that we have to begin working on significantly in this year,” Mooney said. “This budget — unlike other years where we focus on one fiscal year — we have to think of those projects, and funding those projects, well into the future.”
Mooney said the city is in the midst of putting more than $240 million into water and wastewater infrastructure over a number of years.
Led by city manager Bryan Woods, College Station officials presented a budget proposal that included a suggested 7.84% property tax increase.
Monday afternoon’s budget workshop included funding discussions for a number of city entities, with council members hearing from Fire Chief Jonathan McMahan and Police Chief Scott McCollum. The police department is set to receive funding to hire five new patrol officers and five police assistants, as well as purchase two new vehicles.
Funding for six more firefighters and maintenance on the Station 4 building is part of the 2020 budget proposal, pending approval of a grant.
Council members joked that they “talked a little trash” Tuesday, as the second afternoon’s discussions centered in part around wastewater and solid waste infrastructure funding, along with other capital projects.
The council heard Wednesday from partner organizations that receive portions of their funding from the city, including from Experience Bryan-College Station and the Brazos County Health District. City staff proposed a 3.5% increase for the health district; council moved Wednesday to bump up to a 10% increase for the next fiscal year.
Assistant city manager Jeff Kersten told the council Tuesday that funding capital projects, including construction, renovations and expansions of facilities, streets and other entities, make up about 21% of the budget proposal, or about $71 million in new appropriations.
Kersten said that more than $170 million in funding — from multiple budgets — is going toward a plethora of street and road projects.
“As we look forward to fiscal year 2020 and beyond, there is about $96 million in street-related capital projects that are planned out over the next five years or so,” Kersten said. “We’ve also identified a little under $35 million worth of unfunded capital projects, where they have been identified but we don’t have the capacity to move forward with them at the current time.”
Kersten said the city found funding for the previously unfunded Jones-Butler Road extension and roundabout project. The proposal calls for $5,725,000 in the FY 2020 budget for the Jones-Butler Road project.
He added the city is planning to issue $15.4 million in certificates of obligation next spring for street-related capital projects.
Finance director Mary Ellen Leonard said the city uses multiple methods to fund projects, including funds, fees and debt.
The proposed tax rate hike would also help the city pay for its infrastructure needs. If approved, the tax rate would climb to 53.4618 cents per $100 assessed valuation from the current level of 50.5841 cents per $100. For a $280,000 home, which is the average value, city property taxes would go up $108.85.
City officials recommended keeping the electric rate the same for FY 2020. According to city data, 90.5 employees serve 42,500 city meters.
The city did not propose a wastewater rate increase; 6% increases for wastewater rates are planned for fiscal years 2021 and 2023.
The city’s solid waste fund “is in good shape,” according to Tuesday’s presentation. The city raised residential and commercial rates for the current fiscal year.
The proposal includes a 15% increase in the water rate. The average monthly water bill would climb by $3.42 to $26.22 from the current average of $22.80.
Regarding the Northgate district, the budget proposal calls for $85,312 for support of the continued closure of Boyett Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, which the city began about a year ago.
Debbie Eller, the city’s director for community services, said the city is in the midst of working with consultants on how to ensure safety in the high-density district.
She said the Boyett closure was designed to help ensure pedestrian safety on peak nights, and the city has worked to handle the rise in use of ride-share apps in Northgate. The city anticipates that the Northgate District Study that began in the current fiscal year will identify a more permanent solution.
“It’s really challenging in the area, because it was designed 20 years ago,” Eller said Tuesday. “At that time, there were just a handful of bars, and now we have almost 30 bars in the area.”
The proposal also includes $43,800 in funding for maintenance of the Northgate surveillance camera system.
City residents will have opportunities to weigh in on the tax rate and budget during public hearings scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 22 and Sept. 12, respectively. Bryan residents and Brazos County residents also have opportunities to weigh in on proposed budgets and tax rates, as governing bodies for both entities have filed proposals in recent days.
Woods said after Wednesday’s workshop that he hopes residents attend the upcoming public hearings to give input and/or ask questions of city leadership about the budget.
“People can certainly give feedback to me, the city and their council members; if you want to weigh in on the budget and speak to the council as a decision-making body, those public hearings are the place to do it,” Woods said.