GALVESTON — Interim City Manager Brian Maxwell has not included an expansion of the island’s police force in his initial draft of the city’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
During a council workshop meeting Wednesday, Maxwell presented the city council with a budget that would result in a 2.5-cent property tax rate decrease.
“In the spirit of giving you guys as early input as I can, I wanted to get this out there,” Maxwell told the council members.
Maxwell said the rate decrease, as proposed, would not result in the elimination of any city programs. It does, however, include cuts to things such as overtime in some departments.
“At this point in time, I’m not contemplating any elimination of any services,” Maxwell said. “There may be some curtailing of productivity in some of these services, like animal control.”
Maxwell could not provide a direct accounting of what the proposed cuts would mean for city departments. In the draft budget, the police department would receive $204,960 less than it did in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The public works department would receive $80,693 less. However, other departments, including the fire department and the general government offices (a category that includes the city manager, finance department and human resources) would receive more.
Maxwell attributed some of the discrepancies in increases and decreases to funds being moved into accounts that are more appropriate for their use. For instance, the general government account will receive a new budget line of $1.8 million for the creation of a facility maintenance budget line. That money comes from revenue that was in other places in the budget.
Wednesday’s draft is not the final word on what goes into the budget for the year. The council could decide to add the police force increase, or other requested items from various departments, back into the budget. However, doing so could shrink the size of the proposed tax rate cut or even lead to a tax rate increase.
After the meeting, various council members said they had, at the very least, an interest in funding some of the departmental requests.
District 1 Councilman Tarris Woods said he would push for 2 percent cost of living increase for civilian employees.
“The city should not have people working in poverty,” Woods said. “We should lead by example.”
District 5 Councilman Norman Pappous said he had interest in finding money to put toward the demolition of vacant and condemned houses.
“Everybody is going to have their own things,” Pappous said. He said he believed the council members, as they consider their budget priorities, should consider what spending would do the most to attract middle-income families to the island.
The council also has the option of funding some, or all, of the 12 staff position that police department requested this year. During a public meeting in June, the department said the positions, which include four new officers, were needed to address a growing drug problem in the city.
Adding the four officers would add $211,388 to the budget and decrease the tax rate cut by half a cent, according to the draft documents.
Even without changes ordered by the council, there are still more changes to come to the budget. The city is still waiting for the property tax rolls to be certified by the county. The city is estimating that property taxes will provide $21.2 million in fiscal year 2015. That amount could be higher or lower depending on how many property tax appeals are upheld by the county tax assessor’s office, however.
Other issues will influence the proposed budget going forward, including the outcome of the city’s collective bargaining negotiations with the police union and changes that might be made to city pension funds.
“It’s going to change,” Maxwell said.