The annual budget hurricane is blowing strong at Kilgore City Hall, and council members were doused with information during their late-July budget workshop.
Considering it all, however, the community’s elected officials are looking to clear skies ahead.
“It was a lot of information for us to digest,” Mayor Pro Tem Harvey McClendon allowed. “We’ll have a couple more meetings, workshops, before we finalize.
That said, “I think we’re ahead of the curve on it. I think we’re in good shape this year to do some positive things.”
In particular, for Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, the city’s economic recovery puts a silver lining to the yearly discussion of revenues, expenses, ongoing projects and spending priorities. Fiscal Year 2019-2020 launches Oct. 1.
“It is such a contrast and such a relief to go into a budget where you’re not having to do a hatchet job to balance and not contemplating shortfalls of income,” Spradlin said. He’s not expecting a tax increase this fall: “I think we’ve entered a point where our economy has recovered and things have stabilized at a sustainable rate. Even with the same tax rate, we’re still able to maintain an increased street repair and capital improvement budget for water and sewer.”
Among priorities, there’s no single project that stands out to council member Merlyn Holmes. Instead, she’s pondering an accumulation of ongoing tasks and the desire to see them completed.
“My biggest (goal) for this next year is not to add more projects. I want to complete the ones that we have on the board,” she said, such as road, water and sewer upgrades underway. “We just have a lot of things in the works right now – what a great, great thing that we can say. A lot of cities can’t say that.
“I want to get those off our plate so we’ll be able to start that next year with new projects. We need to be right where we are, but we just have a lot of projects that are still hanging and that we’re trying to get finished and completed.”
Get them off the table, Holmes added, then decide what to tackle next.
For council member Mike Sechrist, “The review of the plan that’s been put in place relative to improving infrastructure appears to be moving along as it should be. One of the goals will be to continue to provide funding to step up to the infrastructure improvements that are required.”
That’s progress, he said, and the city appears to be in good shape.
Everything’s in a good light, council member Victor Boyd agrees, to such a degree that no single priority stands out in his mind either.
“I can’t say anything particular that I want to see more because everything that we’re doing is going to benefit everyone,” he said. “As far as what we’re trying to do for the future of the city, I feel good about everything we’ve accomplished and where we’re going with the process of rebuilding, renewing our infrastructure. I feel comfortable about the way we’re going about it.”
Once the economy is truly stable, “We can focus on some of the bigger things after we get our infrastructure and our streets done.”
McClendon is glad for a year with no anticipated tax increase.
“I think we’re looking at a flat tax rate,” he said. “Low- to no-utility increase, depending on who you’re talking to. Our sales tax revenues are up – that helps sustain us. Net property values have been better; they’ll be up a little bit.
“It’s a good position. We just have to decide which programs we want to do with the set amount we’re willing to dedicate to each.”
Without a pressing need for additional revenue, Sechrist is looking forward to other projects in the works for future fiscal years.
"We're getting an opportunity to maybe tackle some amenity-type things to improve the quality of life in Kilgore but not at the expense of continuing our plan for infrastructure improvement," he said. There are major projects down the road – such as “pressing needs” related to police and fire facilities.
“We’re getting better equipped to understand what their needs are so we can take information to the cityfolk.”
There are numerous projects on the drawing board, Spradlin said, things being studied but not bound to a timetable.
Meanwhile, “A whole lot of money has been spent on some non-visible, ongoing projects that will really take us into the next generation. At our water treatment plant and our sewage treatment plant, it will make them good for another generation.
Looking further ahead, Spradlin says Kilgore is in a better position than in years.
“The council’s goal for, I don’t know how long it’s been, is not to look at next year or the year after but to look at 10 or 20 years down the road. We’ve finally got there, and we’re looking for the generation after us. A lot of things depend on Kilgore’s growth and direction.”