Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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June 16, 2014

Council gets first look at budget planning process

Corsicana — Streets, code enforcement, the city’s appearance, and public safety topped the list of priorities aired Monday by members of the Corsicana City Council as it met following a joint gathering with county leaders Monday to begin budget planning.

City Manager Connie Standridge asked each council member to share their thoughts ahead of preparation of the city’s spending plan for the coming budget year, and presented them with some preliminary budget numbers and a list of requested capital expenditures.

Standridge said the city expects to end the current budget year “in the black” and with a fund balance $4.86 million — approximately 102 days of operating income, exceeding the amount that is generally recommended by $598,021.

Spending down that extra money in the general fund — should the council decide to do so — could go a couple of different directions. It could either be used to help cover the increased costs of debt for more street construction from the idle bond program, or tackle a number of smaller projects that need attention.

That decision also includes whether to move forward with more elements of the previously approved street bond issue. Standridge said this year, she’ll recommend issuing $4.1 million in long-term debt and $2.7 million in short-term debt to work move forward with improvements on 24th Street, Dobbins Extension, the replacement of culverts on Roane Road, and work on Second Avenue. The bond issue would add 4 cents to the debt tax rate, she told council members.

The project to rebuild 24th Street, a heavily-traveled north/south route through the city, will take at least three years to complete, said Terry Franks, director of public works. The work will be done in sections, Standridge said, and include a lot of utility relocation.

In addition to the major projects, the city would continue to take on smaller projects in each of the city’s four precincts.

Franks was also quizzed about working on South 15th Street — a project he said would cost about $2.6 million to do right, but wouldn’t provide long-lasting results, due to the nature of the soil in the area. Standridge said because the roadway would likely have to be rebuilt in 10 years or less, it would be better funded by cash as opposed to bond money.

The city’s utility department is expected to be in the red when the current budget year ends, and council may have to consider a water rate increase, Standridge said. Water sales are expected to come in almost $700,000 under budget in a fund that was already expected to have a $632,729 deficit, she said. Higher than expected costs for line repair and maintenance and replacement of water meters are also among reasons for the shortfall, Standridge said.

All four council members and Mayor Chuck McClanahan mentioned beautification and enhancing the appearance of the city as things they want to see focus on. Council members asked about how code enforcement is administered and scheduled, and heard about difficulties encountered in trying to enforce some codes, including a law against parking in the front yard of a home. Who to issue the citation to, and having to involve police officers in the process, were cited as “challenges” in trying to enforce the ordinance. Councilman Tom Wilson suggested a possible council “ride-along” with the code enforcement officer to share problem areas that council members have been told about.

Council also heard a list of capital purchase requests that are being considered, but not yet officially requested. Vehicles, equipment, needed upgrades to utility and sanitation department facilities, parks and recreation improvement projects, and public safety requests will be reviewed over the next month before a preliminary budget is presented to council members on July 31, Standridge said.

The council also heard results of a salary survey conducted by the city, comparing starting salaries in Corsicana to a half-dozen similar cities — Athens, Waxahachie, Palestine, Ennis, Greenville and Lancaster.

The survey showed starting salaries of several city positions ranged from 14 percent to as high as 43 percent below similar salary structures in the surveyed towns. Those differences were said to be a key factor hurting the city’s ability to attract and keep new employees, said Pam Gibson, the city human resources director.

“Some of our salaries are below the poverty level,” Standridge said, adding “they can go into the oil fields and make more money.”

Standridge provided information on the cost of salary increases of 1, 2 and 3 percent to council, prompting a discussion of whether or not that was the best approach to the problem.

Wilson suggested every employee should receive the same dollar amount raise, as opposed to a percentage raise, which he said would benefit those with higher salaries more than those on the lower end of the salary scale, who needed it more.

Standridge asked council members to provide her with feedback on the preliminary discussions to aid her in preparing the preliminary budget she’ll present on July 31.

—————

Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com

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