The Levelland City Council met Monday night for a regular meeting.
The council after some discussion approved the budget for 2017-2018 as presented in past meetings. The budget is a heavy Capital Expenditure budget, however, it has been noted many times that over one million dollars of the Capital Expenditures are required to comply with state regulations. Some of those expenditures include updating to the water treatment system as well as renovation to water storage tanks to comply with Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. The budget also includes the purchase of 2 fire trucks to replace aging pumper trucks. City staff has said repeatedly that the budget is a tight budget and has many capital expenditures in it but everything in the budget is necessary in order for the city to maintain the same level of service. The budget was approved on a split vote with Billy Youngblood and Joe Bill Vardeman and Mayor Barbra Pinner voting in favor of approval while Jim Myatt and Max Ledesma cast the dissenting vote.
Following the approval of the budget council then moved towards discussion of the tax rate to fund the budget. Immediately, Councilman Jim Myatt made a motion to adopt a tax rate of 72 cents per $100 property value and Max Ledesma seconded the motion. The motion failed with Myatt and Ledesma voting in favor and Billy Youngblood, JoeBill Vardeman and Mayor Barbra Pinner voting against it. That tax rate would be a 6 cent reduction in the current rate and would not adequately fund the city. City staff had said in previous meetings the city would have to cut services if that rate was adopted. Councilman Myatt said that he was against the proposed 77 cent tax rate because the city has been over budget for the past three years, it is important to note that city staff stated that department heads had allowed the city to come in under budget this year. Councilman Ledesma said he had heard from many citizens that they did not want a tax increase. After some discussion the council approved on a split vote the proposed tax rate of 77 cents per $100 property value which is one cent less than the current rate. It was noted that most citizens will still see a higher property tax bill because property values were increased, however, taxing entities do NOT sit property values they are set by the appraisal district board of directors.
The council also approved a 5% increase in water and wastewater rates and a slight cost of living adjustment to the garbage rate which is required by the contract with Republic Services. The average homeowner will see a $5.67 per month increase in their utility bills. The increase passed on a split vote with Billy Youngblood, Joe Bill Vardeman and Max Ledesma voting in favor of the increase and Jim Myatt casting the dissenting vote. It was noted that the increase is partly due to capital expenditures cost to satisfy state and federal regulations. It was noted that even with the increase, Levelland remains the third lowest rate in the region.
The council also approved an event application for the Falladazzle Festival to be held in downtown Levelland on October 13 and 14. It was approved with little discussion. It was noted that since alcohol will be served at the event by a licensed vendor of the TABC and in compliance with TABC guidelines, the council must approve the application.
The council also approved a proposed cost of $52,699 from Panhandle Recreation to replace the playground systems at LG Griffin and Kauffman Park.
The council also approved applying for a grant through Texas Parks and Wildlife to replace the aging playground system in place at the Sherman Park. They are applying for a $75,000 grant and the Levelland Community Development Corporation has agreed to provide the match for the grant.
The council also approved suspending a rate increase request from Southwestern Public Service Company and to have it negotiated through a West Texas Steering committee made up of representatives of all of the cities in the service area of SPS.
The council also approved two ordinances governing the placement of wireless communications equipment on city property and right of ways. The ordinances were approved on the final reading.
The council also discussed an ordinance to amend the requirements of accessory buildings on property in Single Family 1 and 2 Zones in the city. The ordinance was approved on a first reading.
During the public forum portion of the meeting three people spoke, mostly concerning taxes and utility rates. Michael Wiiest spoke first saying the “cities services are excellent.” He said “If I am going to pay more for it, he knows it will be managed well.” In conclusion he said “I live in Levelland because I want to live in Levelland.”
Manuel Mendez then spoke saying “when we raise taxes we have to think of the elderly and those on fixed income.” He also noted, “Republic Services has done a poor job this year.” He said “a performance index needs to be in contract, we have to hold them accountable.”
David Dunn then spoke saying that members of the city council “choose to be on council.” He also said “every year, you raise taxes-you don’t try to live within a budget.” He said “the council is elected to represent the people, so that people don’t need to show up at meetings.” He ended by saying, “I don’t think you try.”
The council also received a report from City Manager Rick Osburn who noted, that throughout all of 2015-2016 and through the first half of 2016-2017 sales tax collections was down every month. Since March of 2017, collections have been up and has shown significant growth over a year ago. With the strong growth sales tax collections will actually end the 2016-2017 fiscal year up 9.6% from 2015-2016. He said, as the Council adopted the new budget it is worth noting that when the fiscal year is closed out later this month the sales tax collections will have exceeded budget by 10%. He did say, while this is good news for the future recovery of the future recovery of fund balences, he said it will take two years to fully recover the losses. He urged the council to adopt the budget presented by city staff during budget work sessions.