City tax rate set to jump 5.3 cents

7-percent increase likely for water and sewer customers

Rockdale City Council members tried to get into a budget-cutting mood this week and, as a result, a potential 6.7-cent tax hike looks like it will be reduced to 5.3 cents.

But hikes of close to 7-perent look likely in both water and sewer rates, as the city attempts to make some long-term headway on improving aging infrastructure. It also appears the sanitation fee will go up two percent.

Mayor John King broke a 2-2 tie Tuesday and voted with council members Doug Calame and Nathan Bland to propose the 5.3-cent hike.

Voting against were council member Joyce Dalley—who on the previous evening had voiced concern that taxpayers were being hit too hard from all directions— and Willie Phillips.

Colby Fisher abstained from the vote and Melody Dawson was not present. Rockdale’s mayor votes only to break ties.

The council made budget and tax rate decisions in meetings Monday and Tuesday evenings. Scheduled meetings for Wednesday and Thursday have been canceled.

This week’s meetings are only to propose budget figures. The budget and tax rate won’t be adopted until Aug. 29, following two public hearings the previous week.

TAX RATE—After the second session Tuesday at City Hall, council members trimmed the proposed tax rate to 76.286 cents, up 5.286 cents from the current 71 cents.

On Monday, City Manager Kelvin Knauf had introduced the general fund budget for study, saying it was based on a 6.7-cent tax hike, from 71 to 77.7 cents.

CUTTING—Knauf kicked off Monday’s first session by noting that the 2013-14 document would be a “very difficult” one filled with hard decisions.

Knauf said the (fee-supported) enterprise fund portion of the budget was calculated on a 7-percent increase in water rates, 7 percent in sewer rates and 2-percent on sanitation rates.

Dalley then set the tone for the remainder of the sessions. She began by pointing out Rockdale residents have recently dealt with utility rate increases, fee increases and Milam County is proposing a 3-cent tax hike.

“We just keep going to the citizens for more money and more money and more money,” she said. “They’re the ones who can least afford it. We really should start at how we can do some cutbacks and control our finances.”

Knauf pointed out a section of the budget was tagged “discretionary items” for just such decisions by the council.

A budgeted $15,000 incentive program to retain firefighters was cut to $10,000, legal administrative fees were cut, GREAT (public computer service) was found to have been listed twice and was adjusted.

VEHICLES—The biggest discretionary items in the draft 2013-14 budget, three vehicles, one SUV patrol car for the police and two pickups for public works, were retained.

In fact, the price estimate for the two pickups was increased from $36,000 to $40,000 after council member Nathan Bland, who is employed at an auto dealership, said the $18,000 per-vehicle figure was low.

Price for the 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe patrol vehicle was estimated at $28,000.

Police Chief Thomas Harris said his department tries to purchase one vehicle a year and pointed out, “If you wait (on purchases) you get in a situation where the whole fleet gets dilapidated and then you end up buying four or five at a time instead of one.”

“ That’s kind of where we’ve gotten into in the utilities department,” Knauf said.

Scooter Lindholm, public works director, said the department faces a constant struggle keeping vehicles running and at the time of the meeting three trucks were down.

WATER RATES—The enterprise fund (water-sewer rates) includes $525,000 in certificates of obligation to repair water lines, mostly in the area of the Texas Street water plant.

That’s part of a long-range effort by the city to improve water issues in Rockdale.

The 7-percent rate increases are “ballpark figures” with more exact numbers due later as water usage figures are compiled.

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