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By Scott Mills and Jackie Zimmerman/The Red River Sun—
CHILDRESS – In a 4-1 vote, the Childress City Council, in a special called meeting Friday, approved a lower tax rate for the upcoming year.
The only item on the agenda, the council approved the 2020-21 tax rate at .807 cents per $100 property valuation, a drop of .026488 from the current tax rate of .833488.
Mike Dietrich, Alderperson 2, voted against the lower tax rate.
During its Aug. 24 regular meeting, the council approved, with a 4-1 vote, the 2020-2021 city budget of $7,524,503 in total revenue and $7,523,565 in total expenditures.
Dietrich was the dissenting vote.
City Manager Kevin Hodges highlighted the budget planning process, noting the council held workshops and the city staff worked to reduce the initial $644,000 deficit.
The budget is $938 in the black.
The final budget includes one position each in the police and fire departments that are frozen. The positions are funded and are being held open due to the uncertainty of the future because of the coronavirus, Hodges said, adding if an employee becomes ill and cannot work, there is money in the budget to pay for a person to fill in. This is needed, he said, since the sick employee would still receive pay.
“In planning, we kept the positions in the budget with the coronavirus in mind based on what we have seen since March,” Hodges said. “We have had to send at least four personnel home on a 14-day quarantine. They were still paid.”
Hodges said it has been his intent with this budget to ensure payroll is covered. There will instances in which the city needs employees to fill in, and when they do work overtime they are paid time and a half, he said. He told the council during a recent water leak an employee from another department had to be pulled in to assist and was paid time and a half.
Hodges said if they do not have the extra in the budget and something happens, one option is to use the savings the city has in the bank. “But once that is exhausted, the other option is getting a loan. My goal is to protect payroll. That is the whole purpose of covering each department.”
Councilman Dietrich said he did not understand when he voted on the first reading of the budget during the Aug. 10 council meeting that the two frozen positions were being left in the budget. He said he opposed that option.
“If you budget at this higher amount and something happens, it’s difficult to request funds (from the federal CARES act),” Dietrich said. “I think it makes more sense to request funds if we need them. I don’t want to budget for it. If something happens, and we have to hire someone, we get refunded from federal funds.”
Hodges said federal funds from the CARES Act are dedicated to direct work with the coronavirus and will be refunded to cities for expenditures made directly on coronavirus needs.
According to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, cities can receive payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to cover expenses that 1) are necessary due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease; 2) were not accounted for in the budget; and 3) were incurred between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 30, 2020.
Hodges said it’s his understanding, based on discussions and meetings with other cities and officials with the Texas Municipal League, that the city will not receive CARES Act funds for a hiring a person to replace an employee who is sick with the virus. The CARES Act funds are to reimburse cities that spend funds on direct virus expenses, such as personal protective equipment or an employee solely devoted to coronavirus needs.
Mayor Carey Preston said since Hodges is the one who interacts with the department heads and the budget daily that he prefers to support Hodges’ budget suggestions. The mayor called for a motion on the budget. With no further discussion, the vote was taken to accept the budget Hodges presented to the council.
Also during the meeting, the council discussed the tax rate with Hodges explaining the city is able to receive more revenue from property taxes, even with the lower tax rate, because of a significant decrease in debt for the City as well as higher property values as determined by the county Appraisal District.
The city has budgeted about $50,000 in additional funds due to the increase in property values, Hodges said.
A homeowner with a $30,000 home, whose property value did not increase, would see a decrease by about $9 per year with the lower tax rate.
In other city business, the council approved new water rates for commercial users outside the city limits and those who purchase water from the fire department.
The new commercial rate for businesses outside the city limit is $90 per month for the first 5,000 gallonsß and $4 per 1,000 gallons after the 5,000.
The new cost to purchase bulk water from the fire department is $20 per 1,000 gallons.
In a unanimous vote, the council accepted a bid of $55,000 from Bushell Lawn Services for lawn services at the cemetery for 2021.