The College Station City Council began its first day of budget workshops Monday, with services-level increases across several departments to address the city's growth being a main discussion point.
As in previous years, budgeting for the city's rapidly growing population is again a priority for council members and city staff for fiscal year 2019. In the proposed $360.7 million budget, almost three-quarters of general fund expenditures are planned to go to core services: police, fire, public works and parks. Finance Director Mary Ellen Leonard said growth is the key factor that influences budgeting for all four of those departments.
College Station's population as of the 1990 Census was 52,456. The city's planning and development department estimates that number more than doubled to around 117,000 by the end of 2017. The 2018 population estimate is 118,064, and the fiscal year 2019 budget is planning for a growth factor of about 2.5 percent.
The Texas A&M University student population also is important to consider, Leonard said, and the impact of the Texas A&M University System's forthcoming RELLIS Campus outside Bryan is still an unknown.
That growth will be considered as the council decides how to fund departments that are aiming to attract and retain a well-qualified workforce. About 65 percent of general fund spending is for salaries and benefits, and the budget includes a 2 percent market increase for all city employees and a 1.5 percent pool for merit pay increases for eligible personnel.
The budget aims to address employee retention in the police department -- which continues to experience issues with attrition -- by adding about $824,000 more to its step pay plan. No additional positions or vehicles are being requested for the department, which is seeking about $932,000 in service level adjustments.
The adjustment to the step plan is intended to keep the department competitive in recruitment and retaining staff. Police Chief Scott McCollum said the department usually sees a "predictable" pattern of attrition that can be attributed to officers moving away from the area, seeking a different line of work or moving into federal law enforcement, but last year was an "anomaly."
McCollum said the department saw a larger-than-usual level of attrition, which he thinks is partly due to an "attack on law enforcement." Salary and intensity of the workload in College Station commonly are mentioned by officers who leave the department, he said.
"We felt confident in the fact that we need to pursue a stable, attractive workforce, and to do so, one of those elements is that step plan," McCollum said.
The creation of similar step pay plan structure is also being requested by the fire department for an amount close to $284,000. No additional positions are requested for the department, and the 12 proposed service level adjustments for next fiscal year, which include two vehicles, new equipment and several other items, totals about $887,500.
Fire Chief Jonathan McMahan, like McCollum, mentioned the busy workload for College Station fire fighters. Looking to the future, he said the department will need to start planning for a seventh fire station and securing a grant to hire more fire fighters.
Public safety is the cornerstone for a healthy and safe city, McMahan said, and departments will need to "look at ways to be more efficient and more effective."
Service level adjustments for the public works and parks departments also were discussed Monday. Budget talks continue today, and the council is expected to vote for a tax rate on which to hold its public hearings that are scheduled for Sept. 5 and Sept. 13. The proposed tax rate is 50.6 cents per $100 of assessed taxable valuation, which would be a increase from this year's rate of 49.75 cents per $100 of valuation.
Fiscal year 2019 begins Oct. 1.