El Campo residents will likely see a higher utility bill this fall as staff looks to increase fees on water, sewer and road usage, city council learned Monday night.
Whether tax rates are recommended to change as well, they were told, depends on property evaluations that won’t be released until later this summer. In general, however, when overall property values rise, tax rates fall. If those same values fall, the reverse is true. Right now, the city is projecting values to increase.
Interim Finance Director Brittni Staff presented the information during a workshop session Monday. “This is very rough at this point. We are still working with preliminary tax numbers,” she said.
The proposed budget includes a 3.5 percent raise for all staff (2.5 percent straight raise and an additional 1 percent to offset the cost for increasing employee retirement benefits).
Public Works, police and EMS staff are recommended for step or market adjustments as well. These raises boost the overall pay of positions with $64,272 budgeted to increase public works starting pay, $98,000 for the police department and slightly less than $11,000 for EMS.
Capital item requests, a lengthy equipment wish list by department, was also presented. This includes everything from police cars to a turbo washer for sewer lines.
The proposed increases to citizen water bills drew the most concern during the session.
The base bill city of El Campo users is recommended to go from $50.25 now to $54.35. That’s a recommended 60-cent climb in water/sewer rates “to avoid rate shock in the future,” Staff said, adding rates had not changed in four years.
Mayor Randy Collins said, “Nobody likes a rate increase, but I don’t know anything that doesn’t go up in four years.”
The Transportation User Fee, also part of the utility bill is recommended to rise from 43 cents to $3.93. The proposed hike would generate about $173,000 for road repair, Staff said, funds which would be used in addition $400,000 already designated in the General Fund or to offset a portion of them.
“That’s a big jump for a water bill. $4,10 that’s a big increase. I would like to look at less,” Councilwoman Gloria Harris told Staff.
Mayor Pro Tem Philip Miller said he was concerned over the proposed staff raises. “I’ve never been a fan of COLA (Cost Of Living Allowance) raises. People with the higher salaries get the greater percent – and it’s there for life. I’d rather see it as a stipend ... If something happened to the economy, we don’t have to have it in the budget (the following year),” he said.
City workers have received 5.5 percent in raises over the last two years, he added.
Expenditures in the proposed budget include $10,000 for improved park walking trails and $30,000 for better sound at the Civic Center.
Other capital fund requests, typically prioritized with council approved top items paid via excess sales tax revenue, include new police vehicles, a new fire command vehicle, a new ambulance, a street sweeper and a sewer jet.
Three new posts are recommended: one dispatcher and one maintenance worker each for streets and parks.
Monday’s session was for discussion only. Budget talks will continue throughout the summer.