Kilgore City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year as well as a city tax rate which is unchanged from last year.
A breakdown: $16,850,367 will be appropriated out of the general fund for the payment of expenses of the city government; $9,350,407 will be appropriated out of the water/ utilities fund for the operation, maintenance and construction of the municipality-owned water works and sanitary sewage facilities; $3,982,539 will be appropriated to fund various city events and programs including drug abuse prevention; $536,003 will be appropriated from the Meadowbrook Municipal Golf Course fund for the maintenance and operations of the municipality-owned golf course; and $10,105,000 will be appropriated from the Utility Capital Project Fund for various utility capital projects and $5,200,000 of new utility debt is anticipated.
Several changes were made to the city’s budget in an effort to keep the tax rate unchanged, said Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck. Due to various factors, including COVID-19, the city’s revenues were down – city leaders had less funds with which to plan the budget.
“There is one tax rate that is necessary to fund this budget and that is the same tax rate from last year,” Selleck said.
The property tax rate of 53.9 cents per hundred dollars of valuation is based on a budget which anticipates sales tax revenue of $4.7 million, down from $6.7 million in 2019 and from the $6.2 million included in the 2020 budget. Selleck also projects property tax collections of $6.2 million – essentially unchanged from 2019 but $140,000 less than collections so far this year.
Selleck said care had been taken to continue funding necessary city services and payroll while making calculated cuts in order to balance the budget. Council members had previously agreed to some cuts in the event of financial shortfalls.
Street and maintenance projects, including filling potholes and routine street work, will continue, but the city will not elect to take on projects with outside contractors in order to keep costs down and non-essential maintenance work will be postponed.
Crafting the budget began with cutting some large, long-term infrastructure and maintenance projects. These maintenance projects, according to Selleck, were those which can be funded and progressed during financially good years and, in lean years, the progress and funding can be scaled back.
The budget also required the postponement of funding changes for some city employees. Rather than taking place as originally planned, some pay increases will be considered at a point early next year.
The city is freezing seven payroll positions, which are now vacant. City departments and staff won’t see pay cuts, rather; their standard tenure and merit-based raises will be postponed until February or March 2021. At that time, Selleck said, “if our economy recovers to where it looks like we can fund these, we’ll fund them.” However, if the economy still has not recovered from the blow dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic, city council can move to deny those regular pay increases.
Kilgore Police Department officers will still receive their standard raises and the budget also includes an additional $25,000 to fund the department’s new Watchguard body cameras and accompanying software over the next three years. Selleck stressed this was a vital investment, as errors in body camera footage collection and storage can lead to problems attaining criminal convictions.
Selleck added the city is still committed to working towards pay increases for Kilgore Fire Department staff and firefighters, who currently receive pay rates which are comparable to starting rates at nearby fire departments but are outpaced over the course of a career. In order to retain experienced firefighters in Kilgore, the city is working on plans to increase firefighter compensation.