George West City Manager Sandra Martinez said, “Raising taxes by two cents would give the city a $21,000 surplus. However, I just learned on Thursday (Sept. 16) from County Attorney Gene Chapline that he wanted to be on the agenda to ask the council to pay $6,000 for the emergency management coordinator. Plus, the fire truck repairs were not allocated in the budget and they are estimated to be $37,000. All of that would cut into the surplus.”
According to Martinez, Live Oak County allocated $18,000 for the emergency management coordinator and is asking that George West and Three Rivers each pay $6,000 toward the cost and they will pay the other $6,000; in essence splitting the cost three ways. She went on to say that the state now requires reporting from each entity and that Chapline would do the reporting for the city.
“I know it is not an item on the agenda but I am mentioning it because we are trying to approve the budget,” Martinez added.
Councilman Tom Iley said, “I was concerned about the surplus we had but there are a lot of expenses compared to last year’s budget. I talked to Chris Caron (TxDOT area engineer) on Friday to discuss the city’s obligation as far as absorbing the cost of moving utilities and that is a big question mark to me. I was not in favor of this surplus ($21,000) until I found that we have many obligations not considered in the budget and we have to make a decision tonight.”
Councilman Jim McGee asked, “Do we have any other choice?”
Martinez replied, “As far as this budget is concerned, we did not overinflate. We only projected a little bit more on our sales taxes and fees. In my opinion, it is a pretty minimal budget. I have a situation right now to pay a little more attention to animal control and infrastructure is going to be an important part of our city growing. Plus, in the last couple of weeks, I have had people coming in complaining of raw sewerage. We have to have a plan to get infrastructure where it needs to be with the amount of money we have and concentrate on providing better services. Yes, we are receiving revenue from utilities but we have to maintain city services. I think this is a pretty reasonable budget we are presenting to the council. We did work out two different budgets. The first budget which gives us a $21,000 surplus is two cents and the other budget calls for three-cent rise in taxes, giving the city a $27,000 surplus.”
She continued just because money for employee raises has been allocated, it does not mean the money has to be used. Martinez has implemented criteria for raises. “I am asking each department head for their standard operating procedures (SOP) and job descriptions. The supervisor and department heads will bring me the employees’ evaluations and at that point we look at the plan we have. For example, if we have a street laborer that has taken the initiative to take the wastewater class we can justify a raise. From now on, raises are not going to be ‘automatic’.”
Iley asked, “A two-cent increase is going to give a $21,000 surplus and three cents yields a $27,000 surplus? I was leaning toward two cents because we already have a pad built in at two cents.”
McGee then added, “The three cents would give us a better cushion and we haven’t had a tax increase in several years.”
Following comments from Iley and McGee, the council voted to raise taxes by three cents. All councilmen were in favor of the tax hike except for Iley.
Subsequently, Mayor Sylvia Steele went on to the GW Volunteer Fire Department equipment agenda item.
“Now we need to look at the fire department budget. They are asking for money for gear, gas, training and pagers. We also need to consider the repairs of one truck for $37,000. What is the fire department doing to look for grants?” Martinez asked.
Fire Chief Lloyd Clifton, Assistant Fire Chief Lloyd Wientjes Jr. and Lee Wallek addressed the council regarding equipment. “With the new four-story hotel coming in (Holiday Inn Express), we are going to need an aerial ladder fire truck for tall buildings. Right now a ‘plain Jane’ fire truck is $750,000. For the plain truck with a 75-foot aerial ladder, it is $780,000. Plus, you have to have $2,700 inspection certification every year. We are not even allowed to change the oil in these things so the maintenance is huge. The only reason we need this is because we have a four-story building coming into town. Technically, you don’t have to have it but if something happens, that will open up a big can of worms” Wientjes said.
“In Beeville, they knocked a story off the Holiday Inn Express so that they wouldn’t have to buy a new fire truck. Plus, if we buy the truck, each fireman will need a 40-hour course and that is $1,000 per person for training. Beeville asked the hotel developers to make their hotel only three stories high,” Clifton added.
Wientjes rejoined, “If we have a four-story building and do not go with an aerial truck, it will raise the Insurance Service Office (ISO) ratings for surrounding residents. Insurance companies’ rates are based on response time. The ISO rating is used by insurance companies to define the risk factors of your property. That will make individual homeowners’ insurance rates go up. ISO ratings are per town, not individuals. If we don’t meet the requirements, the ISO rating for the city will go up, which will basically double insurance rates for residents here.”
Mayor Steele said, “Well, we need to contact Holiday Inn Express and see if they can help us with a fire truck.” Following more discussion, councilmen decided to table the agenda item.
In other news, the City of George West is accepting applications from nonprofit organizations for the purpose of allowing two organizations, in addition to the fire department, to be placed on the utility bills. This is a voluntary donation. Customers may choose to donate to one or more of the organizations. Organizations wishing to plead their case must do so within a five-minute time frame and meet certain eligibility criteria, including having a tax-exempt status under IRS Section 501(c)(3). Applications are due by Oct. 13 at noon at the city offices.
During public comments Becky Allen, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, addressed the council. “This year Sandra [Martinez] asked for our profit and loss statement and a copy of our budget. It is in your packet and I will be happy to answer any questions you have. I would also like to take this opportunity to say we really appreciate all the help we receive from the city and working with you guys on all of projects. If there is anything else you think we should be doing, let us know. I would also like it on record, these are the fewest words you ever heard from me,” Allen said with a smile.
Next, Mary Margaret Campbell, executive director of the George West Storyfest Association, thanked the city council for its time and said, “We have some top-notch entertainment scheduled this year; some familiar names and some new ones. Also the Texas Junior Anglers will provide catch tanks so that youngsters can catch and release fish. We have resurrected the 5K run this year. There will be the usual storytelling contests as well as a group of youth storytellers. Finally, the Pear Ratz have been booked for the street dance. Once again, thank you for the support.”
With regards to Storyfest, the council voted to temporarily close a portion of U.S. 59 from Frio to Colorado streets from 6 a.m. Nov. 6 to 2 a.m. Nov. 7 for the festival.