SUGAR LAND (Covering Fort Bend News) – Sugar Land City Manager Allen Board recently submitted a proposed $272.1 million budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1.
The proposed budget includes $231.6 million for operations and $40.5 million for capital projects. It follows guidelines in the City Council-adopted Financial Management Policy Statements, maintains existing service levels and seeks to implement the top priorities that have been identified by City Council through a series of discussions and workshops in recent months – with an emphasis on programs and projects that directly benefit residents and enhance the quality of life in Sugar Land.
“The City of Sugar Land has a long history of being recognized as a leader in financial stewardship, with strategies uniquely tailored to our community and designed to minimize the residential tax burden,” said Bogard. “We are proud of our success, which includes the second lowest property tax rate in the state of Texas among similarly-sized cities and one of the lowest residential tax burdens on a per capita basis. As the city approaches its 60th anniversary, however, the strategies that led to success in the past must evolve to ensure Sugar Land continues to be successful in the future – recognizing that the city is aging and changing.”
Some of the factors driving the need for the city’s strategies to evolve include slowing growth as the city approaches build-out, residential value growth outpacing commercial growth in recent years, increasing service costs, aging infrastructure and the volatility of sales tax revenues.
Other challenges include the absorption of budget cuts and constraint in recent years that has left many increasing operational needs and priority capital projects unfunded; the impacts of unfunded mandates and recently passed legislation; and needing to take steps to secure the city’s long-term water supply. Strategies for fiscal year 2020 and the future include:
- consideration of opportunities to rebalance the tax burden to increase the share paid by commercial properties – recognizing residential revaluation has outpaced commercial value growth in recent years;
- consideration of future general obligation bond elections to fund important capital improvement projects such as facilities, mobility and drainage;
- completion of a review of fees and rates – as well as collections efforts – to ensure appropriate recovery of such services; and
- evaluation of innovative service delivery opportunities to provide the same or higher levels of services at lower costs.
“Our residents continue to tell us through feedback such as our most recent citizen satisfaction survey that investments in mobility, public safety and drainage are important to ensure the continuation of the Sugar Land Way, which is a commitment to meeting residents’ expectations – both in terms of the service levels and the value for tax dollar we provide,” said Bogard. “The proposed budget funds the projects that are most important to our residents – all with only a modest increase in the average residential tax bill and a lean but championship workforce.”
The proposed budget includes the following priorities:
- increasing funding for infrastructure rehabilitation – such as streets, sidewalks, facilities, parks and drainage;
- continuing investment in technology to enhance traffic and mobility responsiveness, such as Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) management and an update to the Comprehensive Mobility Plan;
- supplementing traffic safety resources to replace traffic enforcement cameras;
- identifying opportunities to more fully recover certain costs, including increases in emergency medical services fees, to offset revenues that were eliminated as a result of the 86th state legislature; and
- investing in a championship workforce, such as a public safety compensation study and a performance-based merit pool of 3 percent, recognizing the city is a personnel-driven public safety and service provider and does not give cost of living increases.
The proposed fiscal year 2020 capital improvement program (CIP) priorities include the completion of the remaining 2013 voter-approved parks bond projects through a planned tax rate increase of approximately 1 cent and the strategic use of an increase in the homestead exemption from 10 to 12 percent to offset the residential tax bill impact. Other priority projects include Settlers Park drainage improvements, major street rehabilitation and capital projects funded through utility revenues to implement the Integrated Water Resources Plan (IWRP) and prepare to meet additional mandated surface-water requirements.
The proposed five-year CIP further plans for a general obligation bond program of approximately $90 million to address projects that are not affordable within the current tax rate, including drainage, mobility, public safety and a new animal shelter. City Council is in the process of finalizing the projects and amounts for consideration by voters, with projects to be funded in future year capital programs to begin in fiscal years 2021 to 2023, if approved.
Water and wastewater rates – including surface water fees – have not been increased since January 2014, and increases are needed to support capital investment in accordance with the IWRP and in order to meet the upcoming 60 percent groundwater reduction mandate. The fiscal year 2020 budget includes a 5 percent increase to water/wastewater rates and a 10 percent increase to surface water fees to begin investing the funds needed for the projects – equating to only about $5 per month for the average residential utility customer. Residential solid waste collection will increase by 2.5 percent in January 2020 from $18.91 to $19.38 per month, consistent with the city’s solid waste contract.
A series of budget workshops, open to the public, will be held through August, and the budget will be formally considered for approval by City Council on Sept. 17. Public hearings will be scheduled prior to budget and tax rate approval. For more information, visit www.sugarlandtx.gov/budget.