It's true, approving the budget each year is probably the most important task of the Lubbock City Council — it impacts every service (and future service) of the city.
Discussions and debate over the fiscal year 2018-19 city budget began last week.
The council discussed tax rates and fees, debated long-term goals, shuddered at the debt payments and combed through numbers. This budget will continue to be picked apart for the next few months as the deadline to pass it by Oct. 1 nears.
Here are 20 major takeaways from the budget, and the talks surrounding it:
Lubbock's tax rate is going up — The proposed budget now calls for increasing the property tax rate 1 cent, from 53.802 cents per $100 property valuation to 54.802 cents. It's the first rate increase since 2015. A 1-cent increase would amount to about a $15-per-year increase on the average Lubbock home - which has a taxable value of $147,227 as of 2018. But many home values also increased, on average 5.3 percent, so many homeowners would see larger increases due to the tax increase and what's referred to as "appraisal creep."
The city is projected to receive about $5.5 million more from property taxes in 2018 than in 2017, for these reasons as well as new construction in the city.
The 1-cent increase, city officials say, would fund the city’s Public Safety Improvements Project approved earlier this year, which includes the construction of three police substations, a new police headquarters, a police storage facility and a new municipal court facility. The total project is estimated to cost $60 million. The city already issued $10 million worth of bonds for early work such as engineering and design services, as well as acquiring land.
The entire project is expected to add a total of 3 cents to the city’s tax rate. The remaining 2 cents are projected to be added to the tax rate beginning in fiscal year 2019-2020.
Police to get 10 new officers — The appraisal creep and new construction will give the city $2.8 million more in the general fund. A portion of that, about $712,000, is going to fund 10 new police officers. Police Chief Greg Stevens said they're adding six patrol officers, two desk sergeants and two detectives. This will increase the authorized level of staffing to 453 officers, which is still less than the goal of two officers per 1,000 city residents.
The airport is finally going to update its terminal building — This is many years in the making. The airport is budgeting for a nearly $35 million project to update the terminal building that was built in 1976. Airport Director Kelly Campbell said this project could start in spring 2019. It will include modernizing the building, modifying screening and exit points, improving plumbing and PA system and updating security and operational needs.
The airport is self-sustaining, meaning it doesn't use tax dollars. The project will be paid for through various grants and bonds.
The city may build a car wash — A project that got brought up a lot was a $250,000 city car wash. Mayor Dan Pope said when he thinks about projects that didn't get put into the budget compared to projects that did, he tends to wonder about this one. The thought is that the city spends a lot of money on car washes (about $200,000, according to the budget), and it would be cheaper in the long run to build its own. The city says a return on investment would be seen in 2-3 years after it's built.
Citibus costs taxpayers $3 million a year — That's more of a statement than a notable change in the budget. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said federal funds for public transportation aren't what they used to be, and the transfer from the general fund to help Citibus operate will be $3 million. Passenger levels are expected to remain fairly constant next fiscal year, about 3.8 million, with the majority being Texas Tech students who use the campus buses.
This will likely get approved, but Pope said he wants to take a deeper look into the future of Citibus ahead of the following year's budget. He said a council meeting will be scheduled in October, after this budget gets passed, to discuss large issues to come out of budget discussions, including the future of Citibus. Pope said $3 million is unacceptable, and went on to suggest routes or times need to change, that vans can be used instead of expensive buses, and he referenced some cities trying more of an Uber model for public transportation.
Several members of the council pushed back, and said Citibus is necessary. But those same council members agreed some routes need improvement. Citibus does wish to complete a comprehensive operational analysis in the coming years if it's awarded a state grant.
Does Lubbock need four libraries? — Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Griffith asked this question when discussing libraries, and he suggested the topic of libraries be added to that October brain session. Materials circulated and library attendance have dropped in recent years. In FY 2014-15, attendance was 513,500, and in 2017-18 it was estimated at 412,000. Griffith said libraries need to be more attractive, and suggested more of a focus on technology. He said maybe there needs to be one large, central library instead of four across the city.
Mayor Pope has questions about City Marshals — Pope asked what they do, why do they have different vehicles and why have they been seen pulling a vehicle over? Municipal Judge Jorge Hernandez said City Marshals serving as bailiffs and security at the court and serve subpoenas. Hernandez said they have different vehicles so as not to confuse them with LPD, and their records show Lubbock Marshals have pulled five vehicles over in the past two years, which is far from a common occurrence.
Pope said he thinks these services can be provided better - another topic for the October meeting.
Municipal court is creating a juvenile case manager — Hernandez said municipal court is working with the county and school districts to set up a juvenile case manager, which he hopes will come this year. Hernandez said this case manager will specifically work with the youth to keep them from becoming repeat offenders or criminals as adults.
No rate increase at LP&L — Lubbock Power & Light is not proposing a rate increase for the first time in five years. LP&L’s increases to the base rate began in 2014. Originally the rate program called for five years of 5.75 percent annual hikes to fund capital improvements, but the municipal utility has fully funded its proposed infrastructure program after four prior years of increases.
Debt is still draining the budget — One of the few times members of the council got visibly upset was when talking about the debt payments. Pope said bluntly that it's hurting the city. Members of the council and city staff talk about reducing debt, and they have — the street maintenance program is paid with cash, the vehicle program is trending in that direction and projects where debt payments exceed the life of the project are being put off until cash becomes available.
But the city has a lot of debt — still over $1 billion. The majority is if for water and wastewater, largely due to the Lake Alan Henry project that the city says will start rolling off around 2025. About 20 percent of every tax-dollar spent goes towards paying off debt. The budget outlines how the city will spend over $800 million - with $160 million on debt payments.
More park projects — The Parks and Recreation Department got funding to build two dog parks, build some pavilions and improve a much used city lake in the last budget. Budgeted projects include golf course improvements, exterior renovations to the Garden and Arts Center, dock and bridge replacements and a walking trail at Jennings Park, located at 73rd Street and Slide Road. The department will also continue to get a "park amenities" fund for repairs and improvements throughout the year.
The camping area at Lake Alan Henry will become RV friendly — The budget includes a $300,000 capital project to add electrical and water hookups to 24 campsites at Lake Alan Henry. The project entails the trenching of electrical and water lines to campsites 1-24.
Talk about Lubbock making a veterans-only cemetery — This is another one of those topics to come out of the work session, not the budget itself. Councilman Randy Christian said citizens have asked him if the city can get an official cemetery for veterans. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said he can look into it if it's something the citizens want. Atkinson, though, said it wouldn't be a city cemetery. He said a veterans cemetery would be set up by the state or federal government. Pope said the council is looking into the possibility.
Lubbock Memorial Civic Center is changing its name to the Lubbock Memorial Convention Center — The name change will reflect a change in marketing and booking policy. The city is trying to book big conventions, and within a few weeks the city manager said he will ask for council approval on a new booking policy that gives priority to these large conventions.
Water meters are going smart — LP&L has talked extensively about installing smart electric meters, and water is getting on board too. The budget includes an $18.5 million project to install advanced water meters. The city's water utilities will need to pay for the communication network to cover the approximately 25 square miles that LP&L does not serve.
Some of the benefits to smart water meters, according to the city, are improved billing accuracy, early detection of leaks and the ability to track usage in real-time. LP&L is planning on a pilot test this summer, and then meters will be deployed later in the fiscal year.
Fees are increasing, most notably for wastewater and solid waste — Many permit fees are increasing, with most applying to a niche group or businesses - like the coin operating machine permit, fire inspection, building permits and tattoo shop permits. Monthly utility bills will increase. The city is proposing $1 increases for solid waste and the wastewater base rate. Council is debating whether to increase the wastewater base rate, or increase the volume charge — to yield the same amount, but having the higher users pay.
The animal adoption fee will be cut in half — One of the answers to come from the public uproar toward the animal shelter because of its kill rate this year was that the shelter needs to make it easier and cheaper to adopt. The shelter has hosted several free adoption events, and the live release rate has significantly risen. The city now is proposing to permanently decrease the adoption fee from $60 to $30.
City employees are getting pay raises — The city is taking a page from the county's playbook by moving toward merit-based raises. There’s a 3 percent salary increase for police and fire, and a 3 percent merit pool raise for all other department. Department leaders will award salary increases ranging from 2 percent to 4 percent based on performance.
LEDA is continuing to focus efforts downtown — The Lubbock Economic Development Alliance is budgeting for a lot of projects and increasing their incentive payments from $1.2 million to $4.1 million, mainly for a road project at Lubbock Business Park and another at 66th Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and South Loop 289. Business incentives will also get placed downtown, and Market Lubbock is increasing it marketing and promotions budget by $98,500, or 106 percent, for greater efforts in marketing downtown investment opportunities.
North and East Lubbock Neighborhood & Infrastructure Fund will continue, maybe expand — Earlier this year the council voted to stop funding the NELCDC, and instead use the funds to assist in the redevelopment and revitalization of homes in North and East Lubbock. According to the city, 90 percent of the city's oil and gas royalty revenue is divided between the North and East Lubbock Neighborhood & Infrastructure Fund (75 percent) for this purpose, and the Downtown TIF (25 percent).
A total of 22 owner-occupied houses have been assisted with rehabilitation through this fund so far. The council this week said it wishes to continue this project, potentially taking the other funds currently going to the Downtown TIF for the North and East Lubbock fund. Some members of the council wish to do that now, while others say it should get transferred slowly — maybe half get transferred the next fiscal year and the rest the following.