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Blanco City Council Faces Tough Budget Decisions, Raises Water, Garbage Rates
Wednesday, August 1, 2012 • Posted August 3, 2012

At their budget workshop on July 24, members of the governing body of Blanco reviewed a proposed budget with few changes from that of the previous year. With representatives of various organizations prepared to jump in with their requests, Mayor Chuck Homan reminded those in attendance that the meeting was not a public hearing but a workshop for council members to discuss how to allot available funds. He clarified that groups can plead their case at the public hearing September 11 prior to adoption of the budget.

The mayor also clarified that, although preparation of the budget is his responsibility, he delegated the task to Bobbie Mowery. She began by reviewing the Water/Wastewater Budget. Because sewer expenses have exceeded the amount budgeted in the current year, the city has decided to raise the residential water/sewer fee by $1 a month and the commercial rate to $20 for the first thousand gallons of use and $25 over that. Garbage collection fees will rise from $13.40 to $14 per month for residential users and from $15.75 to $18.75 for commercial users. These increases are expected to bring in $11,000 in increased revenue to the city. Mowery explained that Progressive Waste Solutions, formerly IESI, will soon come to the city to ask for an increase. Public Works Director Nathan Cantrell said that his department is not asking for a budget increase this year.

Since there was no further discussion of the Water/Wastewater budget, members began to review the General Fund Budget Summary. There are anticipated increases in income from property taxes, building permits, garbage sales, the hotel occupancy tax (HOT) money, and sales tax revenue. Offsetting those are anticipated decreases in income from municipal court fines, mixed drink revenue, and telecommunication fees.

HOT money passes through the city’s coffers on the way to recipients such as the Old Blanco County Courthouse Society and the Chamber of Commerce, which promote tourism and “put heads in beds.” In response to a comment by a council member that the percentage of HOT money given to the chamber may need to be adjusted to a set figure, chamber spokesperson Penny Thomas vociferously defended the chamber’s role in bringing tourism to Blanco. Since the decision on the allocation of HOT money is not part of the budget process, it was decided to hold a separate meeting at which entities asking for money could plead their case before council. It was also suggested that a representative of the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association be invited to explain eligibility for HOT money. Council member Danny Ray cautioned that diluting the money by dividing it among too many entities would lessen its benefits to the community.

Council members reviewed a wish list from Police Chief Milton Willmann for items totaling approximately $130,000, including funds for another officer, an additional vehicle, and possibly the data records system COPSYNC presented at earlier meetings, which is estimated to cost approximately $20,000 a year. Council member Bobby McClung asked the chief to prioritize the department’s needs in order to bring his requests in line with the proposed police department budget of $363,075, up from the current year’s budget of $345,075. Despite council member Maria Guerrero’s statement that, “We need to help the police department,” the sentiment was that the police department is already receiving a sufficient budget increase and has beefed up its number of officers to five and its number of vehicles to six.

Once again, library advocates attended with a plea to raise the city’s support of the library from the $12,000 awarded this year and budgeted for 2012-13. Friends of the Library president Ruth Holleman pointed out the library’s unique role as a place for people to spend time in a cool place, for young people to have programs in the summer, and for unemployed people to use the computers for a job search. She said that 150 people came to the library one day last week . She added, “This is how it helps you (the city), what it saves you from having to do.” Friends’ board member and former librarian Amy Mollberg expressed disbelief that the library does not receive more tax money from the city and county, and library accountant Millie Jones warned that the library can only function for only five or six more years without increased support as its endowment dwindles. Bobby McClung thanked the group for raising community awareness about the role of the library.

Bobbie Mowery and Maria Guerrero, the only two with calculators available at the time, began calculating what adjustments could be made to the budget to increase funding to organizations. The community aid fund will also remain the same for the coming year, with $8,000 divided among a number of agencies such as the Pioneer Museum, CARTS, Keep Blanco Beautiful, the Blanco Historical Commission, and the Blanco Performing Arts series. Mowery calculated that a 12 percent tax increase would increase the city’s revenue by $33,000, but Danny Ray expressed outrage that the city should consider a tax increase, putting further pressure on unemployed residents and those on fixed incomes.

As no one was willing to make adjustments to the proposed budget, it was decided that there was no need for another budget workshop. The budget must be on file in the city office by August 11, with a vote to approve at the August 14 meeting.

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