Long range planning effort
Citizens advise City on service levels, spending
In summer 2005, the City of Round Rock embarked on a long-range financial and service planning effort. The 10 Year Comprehensive Operational Plan was necessitated by the revelation at the City Council annual retreat in August 2005 the City faces potential budget deficits if expense and revenue trends are left unchecked.
We saw the financial challenge as an opportunity to ask our citizens about their preferences for how the City spends their tax dollars. We had never asked citizens to look at the big picture of all the Core Services the City provides and give us input on what Levels of Service we should provide among those Core Services. Service Level discussions in the past have typically focused on single issues.
More than 500 citizens weighed in on the 10 Year Plan by attending a series of public meetings in January and early February 2006, as well as going online to give us input.
Citizen comments by meeting date
Citizen comments by category
In summary, you indicated:
- The City should stay the course on levels of service
- A preference for increased levels of service in public safety and maintenance of urban infrastructure
- A preference for user fees to pay for services
- The City should continue to operate efficiently and aggressively implement cost controls
In all, 575 citizens provided their advice on the Plan. The results were presented to the City Council at a Feb. 22, 2006, work session. The Council weighed the input as it made budget and policy decisions over the spring and summer.
The Core Services we sought input on were: Library Services, Maintain Order and Enforce Laws, Fire Response, Emergency Medical Response, Parks and Open Space, Recreation Activities and Maintain Urban Infrastructure.
We’ve used a car analogy to describe different levels of service. Cars with more features and a more complex design tend to cost more. The upper end is a Lexus, the midrange a Camry and the lower end a Corolla. This does not mean the Corolla is a poor choice. It simply has fewer features and thus costs less. What’s appropriate – Lexus, Camry or Corolla – is a decision for the purchaser based on their needs, preferences and budget.
Five of the seven Core Services are currently at a Camry level. Fire Response and Urban Infrastructure were slightly below a Camry. At the Open House meetings, citizens learned about our current levels of service and what it would mean to have, say, a Lexus police department or a Corolla library. We also showed the annual cost associated with the three levels of service.
After completing a tour of the Open House information and talking with staff about the service level options and costs, citizens sat down to fill out an “Advice Scorecard” to record their preferences. For each Core Service, they would choose Corolla, Camry or Lexus – and the associated tax rate impact. For example, choosing a Camry fire response would add 3 cents to the tax rate while selecting a Corolla for urban infrastructure would reduce the tax rate by 1 cent.
When citizens finished making their selections, they could see the financial impact of their choices as far as tax rate, budget and their personal annual property tax payment.
Of the 575 people who provided advice, here are the results of their choices:
• Average tax impact: +8.12 cents
• Average budget increase: $4.04 million
• Average increase to tax bill: $150.73
Note: The tax impact is for a single year. It is not compounded year after year.
We also asked how they wanted to pay for their chosen levels of service.
• 65 percent said they are willing to raise taxes
• 82 percent said they are willing to raise user fees
• 39 percent said they are willing to cut services
The provision of Emergency Medical Services is a responsibility the City shares with Williamson County. The American Heart Association recommends a response time of 6 minutes for 90 percent of EMS calls. Because the City and County share stations, we are not meeting this 6-minute goal. Currently, County EMS units are housed in four of the City’s seven fire stations.
The City’s goal is to formalize an agreement with Williamson County to relocate Williamson County EMS from City Fire Stations to EMS stations. Strategically located EMS stations would enable EMS responders, City Fire or Williamson County EMS, to respond to critical EMS calls within 6 minutes 90 percent or more of the time. A second goal is to establish an agreement with Williamson County so qualified City Firefighters can provide Advanced Life Support, or Paramedic, services.
We asked citizens if they supported those goals, and 74 percent said “Yes” to relocating Williamson County EMS to its own stations, and 93 percent said “Yes” to allowing qualified firefighters to provide Paramedic services.
With this “gut check” on service levels from our citizens, the City will continue to address the budgetary concerns that surfaced last summer. We will continue to aggressively seek ways to control costs through efficiencies, partnerships and careful spending while exploring additional revenue from user fees. The City will also work, though its economic development partnership with the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce, to diversify our economy and expand our sales tax base.
The City has also set up an email box, firstname.lastname@example.org, where you can ask questions or make comments.
Posted: Friday, June 23, 2006