Apparently the sky’s not really falling, since the proposed budget FY2020 presented by the City Manager increases expenditures in every major area and includes an extra million dollars so that he can plan the next bond issue. Some takeaways:
Total bonds outstanding at September 30, 2019, will be approximately $123.8 million. With the sale of $6.0 million of bonds from the 2016 bond election and less the $5.2 million of principal repayments, the projected debt total (principal only) outstanding at September 30, 2020 will be $126.6 million. (pgs 156-157)
But that’s not the whole picture.
The $5.2 million repayment figure above does not include the interest FY2020. That’s another $4.321 million. Plus fees. Total debt service in 2020 will cost us $9.7 million dollars! It is a major cause of our funding problem, consuming almost half of the anticipated property tax revenue of $20 million.
Meanwhile the City Manager wants a million dollars of this proposed budget to plan and promote another $40 to $50 million dollar bond issue for 2020! And just how is that million dollars to be spent?
Residents are warned of a shortage of funds by 2024, thus we may see an 8% property tax increase for this year and maximum increases in future years. Water and sewer rates are planned to increase 8% to 10% for the next several years, probable increases in City fees will be studied – by consultants. All on the shoulders of Bellaire property owners.
Council began removing or re-appropriating small amounts from the proposed budget, but cutting costs, starting with a 5 to 10% reduction for every department, from staff to contractors to materials and supplies, doesn’t seem to be an option.
At a personal level it’s called living within our means while saving for the next rainy day. Or possible flood. Apparently that is not a part of this City Manager’s long-term financial planning, and City Council just follows along. Which is why many Bellaire residents are calling for a change in leadership.
City staff has grown by 3.5 employees over the past 5 years, including 2 additional personnel in the City Manager’s office. One recent addition to that office is a Community Relations Administrator, at a salary of $98,000 per year. The City Manager created a new position even as he outsources more City operations.
Finance added one employee and has absorbed the $225K anticipated cost for Risk Management. That cost was originally part of the City Manager’s budget.
Development Services staff declined by one employee. Rather than hire more building officials the City pays outside firms. The City Manager disputed complaints about the number of consultants hired by the City.
In reality, most of our maintenance is outsourced, the City uses consultants and contractors for everything from water line installation and street repairs to lawn mowing and window washing. To my knowledge even our water and tax bills are outsourced.
Regardless of the increase in consultants and contractors, the number of staff has expanded and City salaries and associated costs have risen by almost $5 million dollars (30%) over the past 5 years (see the chart above). In a town of 18,000 residents living within a 3.3 square area. Here’s the staffing list for 2020.
Three (3) years of lease payments at $19,500 for a patrol vehicle will be $58,500. For an aftermarket equipped patrol vehicle the three year cost will be $94,000.
Unlike a vehicle that has been paid for but may have years of service remaining, the City will have to lease the vehicles until they are replaced by the next leased vehicle unless some sort of lease/purchase option is negotiated. No chance to catch up or replenish the Vehicle and Equipment Replacement Fund. How many City vehicles are actually no longer serviceable?
Why would we need an “automated dispatch system” at a cost of $500,000? Another of the City Manager’s proposals for future spending. Will it replace our human dispatchers? Or just pile on another cost? Again – we are a small town with a population of 18,000, living in a 3.3 square mile area.
- Why are the unnecessary seasonal banners, hanging from streetlights along Bellaire Blvd, still included in the budget at $41,000?
- The City pays tens of thousands of dollars in credit card fees so that residents can pay their water bills online. Are there less expensive alternatives?
- Why is the cost of the November election services shown as $40K, but the cost of the special Charter election in May of 202o is projected to be $80K?
- Does our recycling program actually cost taxpayers because Waste Management has to weed out the enormous amount of non-recyclable materials included in the bins?
- Why show a Capital Improvement cost of $250K for a bathroom in Mulberry Park when that facility is only to be built if and when the funds are raised from private sources?
City of Bellaire Budget Workshop #2 is scheduled for August 19, 2019, after the regular City Council meeting. The Regular Session begins at 7 PM. Email comments to the Mayor and City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay tuned for more budget tidbits.
If our finances are so critical why did the City Manager recommend all these items in the past few years? And why did City Council approve them?
- $4 million dollars Council diverted from street and drainage bond funds to build stand-alone sidewalks. Now being used for new water lines.
- $75,000 for a pathways study
- $50,000 for a branding study, maybe more
- Over a quarter of a million dollars has been spent on the Holly Street Trail since 2014
- $4.5 million dollars to Siemens for water meters based on a few low readings from tests handled by Siemens
- $8 million dollars to Siemens for the wastewater plant renovation that our longtime Public Works director Joe Keene felt was unnecessary. It was in compliance with TCEQ. Joe was replaced by Brant Gary in 2016, who worked with the City Manager to promote this project.
- $678K to Siemens to manage the projects
- $2.5 million construction cost for the Spruce/Fifth ‘streetscape’ behind H-E-B, not including the engineering costs. The landscape budget alone is $360,000 plus $50,000 to Centerpoint to move poles and lines. With added cost for engineering and construction, maybe $1,000,000 or more? Promoted by the City Manager and approved 6 to 1 by the City Council. Across from such scenic settings as the H-E-B loading dock and dumpster and the parking lot and side wall of the Bellaire Inn.