College Station City Council and staff completed three days of workshops delving into the fiscal year 2021 proposed budget this week and will soon give the public a chance to weigh in on the matter.
The $312.6 million proposed budget — a $28.5 million decrease from the FY20 adopted budget — is a result of across-the-board spending cuts as the city contends with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the three days, leaders addressed expenditure cuts, the 55- to 60-position flexible hiring freeze, changes to capital project plans, how the drop in hotel occupancy tax and sales tax revenues will affect the budget and more.
Director of Fiscal Services Mary Ellen Leonard said the city likely will hear back about the no new revenue tax rate and voter approval tax rate late next week. Once the numbers are in, council can have a special meeting where they will decide how the rest of the budget process will unfold. Despite the delay in getting information from the tax office, Leonard said that the city is still looking to adopt the budget at the end of the month after public hearings are held.
Sales tax revenues are projected to be down between $1.7 million and $4.6 million, and the proposed budget is based on the worst-case scenario projection, which assumes there would be no football season, limited students returning or some form of shutdown.
The proposed property tax rate remains the same at 53.4618 cents per $100 assessed valuation. There are no utility rate or fee increases included in the proposed budget.
About $5 million of the budget decrease comes from the flexible hiring freeze and other expenditure reductions in overtime, supplies, travel and more. On the first day of budget workshops, Leonard outlined the type of changes departments could see, and she said that they are all items that the department leaders themselves felt they could handle throughout the upcoming year.
The budget is made up of $265.9 million for the operations and maintenance budget, and $46.7 million in the capital budget. The capital budget is a decrease from FY20 of about $24.4 million or about 34.3%. This means that some key projects, such as the new city hall building that already has debt issued for it, will continue while others will be delayed.
The Southeast Park project, which is going to be a baseball facility on Rock Prairie Road, is proposed to be deferred until FY23. A second phase of Veteran’s Park that would have cost $5 million is proposed to be defunded. The Central Park Pavilion and restrooms, the Bee Creek concessions and restrooms and the Memorial Cemetery maintenance shop will be completed in the upcoming fiscal year.
Several council members stressed that they want the Thomas Park project to be focused on. City staff is working to decide whether the park or the roads surrounding the area will receive attention first.
The city plans to install and deploy smart meters, or Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI), throughout this and next fiscal year. The Utility Service Center design is projected to be done next fiscal year.
Hotel occupancy tax revenue is projected to be 73% below FY20’s budgeted revenue. The city’s new tourism efforts have a $2.2 million budget and a $1.1 million grant program. In past years, the city has put forward about $1.9 million toward Experience Bryan College Station and about $650,000 for a grant program.
Outside agencies including the Arts Council, B/CS Chamber of Commerce and Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial receive funding from the city’s HOT fund, but due to the decrease in revenue they will all see a 10% decrease from FY20.
Agency leaders, including Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Glen Brewer, spoke at the workshop meeting saying they understood the reason for the reductions and will do what they can to help the city move forward.
“We really do understand the challenges that you guys are going through in this time,” Brewer said. “We want you to know how much the business community is behind you and how much we appreciate what you are trying to do for us.”
Of the agencies that receive money from College Station’s general fund, several could see a 5% reduction from the current fiscal year. The Brazos County Health District, which staff proposed to receive a 10% increase in funds, is the only one that will not be dropping or remaining the same.
At the end of the final workshop, Mayor Karl Mooney thanked city leaders who put together a proposal with tough changes and encouraged everyone to be optimistic about the future.
“I didn’t hear a single complaint,” he said. “It was apparent to everyone that the only way we were going to get through this is to work together. Let’s just hope we aren’t looking at a similar scenario when we meet again at this time next year.”
Bryan city staff presented their proposed budget to council this week. The $415.6 million proposal, which is larger than this year’s but still had a drop in the general fund caused by the pandemic, was posted to the city website on Friday.
Visit bryantx.gov and click the “Budget: Fiscal Year 2021 (Proposed)” link at the bottom of the page to learn more.
Go to blog.cstx.gov/2020/07/24 to see a city blog post about the budget and access links to the full proposal and this week’s workshop presentations.