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College Station pay hikes in proposed budget

By SOMMER HAMILTON

Eagle Staff Writer

College Station employees could receive raises averaging 3 percent — with a 5 percent pay hike for police officers and firefighters — in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

And from 2006 to 2009, the city’s 800-plus employees could get an average 2.5 percent increase in salaries and benefits, according to financial forecasts.

The City Council will get its first look at the proposed budget for fiscal 2005 at a special meeting Aug. 9. From there, the council will schedule several workshop sessions to review the budget and make changes.

Public hearings on the budget also will be held before final approval in late September.

City Manager Tom Brymer said the city’s property tax rate is not expected to increase for the next fiscal year. The rate is 46.53 cents per $100 of property valuation, which is about $465 a year on a $100,000 home.

Although the proposed budget won’t be complete until sometime next week, Brymer said he expects the city to dedicate $2.2 million to pay raises. The raises will help equalize College Station’s pay rates with those in other Texas cities, he said.

Because College Station competes statewide for police and fire employees, the city must pay them more to meet average salaries, he said. Workers in other positions, such as secretaries, are drawn from a local pool that isn’t as competitive, so the pay increases will be lower.

The budget also has room for performance raises for salaried staff and skill-based pay increases for hourly employees, Brymer said.

City employees received a 1 percent raise in the current fiscal year, but that was just enough to cover a percentage-point increase in the amount taken out of each employee’s paycheck for retirement benefits.

The city has a $160 million total budget for fiscal year 2004, which ends Sept. 31. Of that, $35 million was in the city’s general fund, which pays for such items as police and fire services.

Brymer declined Friday to release financial wish lists for each department, saying he wanted to wait until the City Council had a chance to view the documents.

Financial forecasts shared with the council in June detailed rate increases beginning Oct. 1 for water, wastewater and sanitation customers.

The average monthly wastewater bill is expected to increase 8 percent in fiscal year 2005. Future rate hikes will raise the bill for a customer who uses 10,000 gallons of water a month from $33.63 today to $40 by 2009.

Water and wastewater division manager Dale Schepers said the increases will help fund $6.1 million in sewer collection and system rehabilitation projects in 2005. That includes $250,000 to help developers build sewer collection lines large enough to service projected future growth when they build a residential or commercial area.

The increases also are expected to cover such items as a $1.3 million replacement of sewer lines along Luther Street between Wellborn Road and Fairview Avenue.

Small rate increases now help avoid bigger increases later by funding maintenance of current lines and expansion of the water and sewer systems as the city develops, Schepers said.

“ If you’re maintaining as you go, that’s a whole lot less impact on rate-payers,” he said. “It’s like a car: You can buy oil and filters now or wait and buy a whole new engine.”

Water customers could pay higher rates beginning in 2006. Customers currently pay $28.60 for an average 10,000 gallons a month. That amount could be 5 percent higher, or $30, in 2006, and by 2009 the rate is expected to be $33.

Schepers said the city should spend $9.5 million in fiscal 2005 on distribution, rehabilitation and production projects for the water system.

Sanitation rates are expected to increase by 5 percent, or 60 cents, in 2005. That would fund the purchase of two new garbage trucks at $224,000.

• Sommer Hamilton’s e-mail address is shamilton@theeagle.com.

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