Longview City Council members defended budget decisions and a proposal to raise pay for municipal employees during their regular meeting Thursday at City Hall.
Using a question-and-answer-like format, council members publicly answered questions they say they’ve heard from residents ever since City Manager Keith Bonds unveiled a 2019-20 budget plan he said would elevate city employees to market-level wages, incur a General Fund deficit for several one-time expenses and would raise taxes just as voters understood when they approved a bond election last November.
“In my 4 1/2 years here so far, this is the first time that we can do things as a city that we should be doing as a city,” Mayor Andy Mack said.
The conversation arose during discussions about the budget and fee proposals Bonds first unveiled July 26.
Bonds has asked the council to implement market rate adjustments to the city’s 499 general employees, who haven’t seen a raise in six years, he said.
District 1 Councilman Ed Moore asked the most questions of Bonds, including whether the city should consider a property tax rate 1 cent less than what has been proposed. Bonds answered that global economic uncertainty, coming changes in state law and recent flux in sales tax revenue suggest that the city should move forward with a tax rate of 55.89 cents per $100 valuation.
“That question had been posed to me — lowering the tax rate a penny — and that’s the answer that I’m giving to them,” Moore said, adding, “This is the first budget in five years that we’ve had the chance to catch up to the things that the mayor has talked about.”
In a resolution approved Thursday, the city proposed the property tax rate of 55.89 cents per $100 of valuation. The rate exceeds last year’s ad valorem rate by 4.9 cents, but Bonds said the 9.6% increase is entirely the result of a voter-approved bond election in November in which residents were promised that the rate would increase no more than a nickel.
The city also scheduled two public hearings about the tax rate, which exceeds Longview’s rollback and effective ad valorem rates. State law requires local governments to hold public hearings whenever they consider a property tax rate that is higher than either the rollback rate or the effective rate.
Public hearings will be held Aug. 22 and Aug. 29. Both meetings will begin at 5:30 p.m. inside City Hall, 300 W. Cotton St.
Property taxes are a significant source of revenue in the $157 million budget that Bonds has proposed for the 2019-20 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Council members will consider adopting the budget and ratifying the property tax increase during the Aug. 29 meeting.
A vote to adopt the tax rate is scheduled Sept. 12.
“The citizens of Longview should question every move that we make,” Mack said. “The more that people ask questions, the more we can justify what we’re doing up here. … You look at this budget, (and) you’ll have trouble finding things that are faulty.”
In other consent agenda items, the council accepted two grants — $1,584 grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and $15,840 from the Federal Communications Commission — to upgrade the Longview Public Library’s broadband network and improve connectivity speeds.
The grants, which require no matching local funds, will allow the library to make free upgrades to its network and equipment. Library Manager Jennifer Eldridge credited the city’s Information Technology department for “extraordinary efforts” in making the library eligible for the upgrades at no cost to municipal taxpayers.