Long-term approach to finances keeps City affordable yet awesome

Note: Success doesn’t happen by accident. For the City of Round Rock, it’s been a decades-long process of strategic planning and methodical execution. The Future Forward series highlights our efforts to manage Round Rock’s rapid growth. 


Taking the long view on finances helps keep Round Rock one of the best, most affordable places to live in the United States. We ranked No. 4, in fact, in a study done a couple of years of ago that looked at the most affordable places that you’d actually want to live in.

Every year, prior to the Council’s annual budget deliberations, the City Council takes a hard look at our long-term financial planning and five-year outlook. The City CFO reported in June that Round Rock’s financial outlook remains strong and stable.

The City’s recent business recruiting successes, along with sales tax growth and a long-term approach to strategic planning are key to ensuring financial stability.

Our Strategic Plan provides a north star to guide City planning and budgeting. The City Council reviews and updates the Strategic Plan annually, at a retreat in February. Round Rock’s strategic priorities are:

  • Financially Sound City Providing High Value Services
  • City Infrastructure: Today and for Tomorrow
  • Great Community to Live
  • “The Sports Capital of Texas” for Tourism and Residents
  • Authentic Downtown — Exciting Community Destination
  • Sustainable Neighborhoods — Old and New

Knowing where we’re going in the future makes today’s spending decisions that much more effective.

Here are the assumptions going into our five-year forecast:

  • Population growth continues in the 2.5 percent to 2.8 percent range, which means a population of 128,000 by 2023
  • Local development and economic growth continue, estimated at 20-25 percent over five years
  • Stable state and national outlook
  • Current Council goals continue as guiding direction (business friendly, family focused, sports tourism, strong public safety)
  • Kalahari Resorts will open as expected in FY 2021

So what are we doing with that forecast information? One of the most significant is working toward a more balanced mix of General Fund revenue (the General Fund is what pays for basic services like Police, Fire and Parks). Currently, the General Fund is comprised of 45 percent sales tax revenue, 32 percent property tax revenue, 23 percent other taxes and fees. By 2023, we project a balance of sales tax and property tax at 40 percent.

The balance means more stability for the City, since sales tax is a more volatile source of revenue. The forecast assumes modest growth in sales tax revenue over the next five years. The projection still maintains the City’s position as having one of the area’s lowest city property tax rates.

But as we noted up top, Round Rock’s not about being the cheapest. It’s about creating a community where you actually want to live, that’s safe, with great parks, a dynamic library and well-maintained streets. Where we implement the long-term plans for water and transportation that will ensure its livability for generations to come.

It just makes cents.

Focused on the road ahead

Note: Success doesn’t happen by accident. For the City of Round Rock, it’s been a decades-long process of strategic planning and methodical execution. The Future Forward series highlights our efforts to manage Round Rock’s rapid growth. 


It should surprise absolutely no one who’s lived here more than 5 minutes the issue most vexing to Round Rock residents is traffic. We get it. We drive in it every day, too.  

The problem, in a nutshell, is too many vehicles for not enough lanes of pavement. Duh, right? So how do you solve that problem? Simple: Create new connections and expand the road network. Duh, again. (And, yes, there are solutions other than laying down more asphalt, like transit and such. Patience, dear reader.) 

Of course, the create-new-connections and expand-the-roadway-network solution is complicated by the fact that we have an interstate highway and major state roads running through the community over which we have limited to no control. 

And then there’s paying for those new connections and roadway expansions. That’s not complicated, it’s just expensive.  

Back to complicated: Where do those connections/expansions need to be added, and when? 

Those questions are answered the Transportation Master Plan approved by the City Council in October 2017.  The Master Plan’s vision is to improve all forms of connectivity, including roads and public transportation, through planning and policy choices, partnerships, dedicated funding and targeted construction so that quality of life, economic opportunity and public safety are enhanced. 

Easier said than done, of course. The plan’s price tag is $1.2 billion. That’s a huge number but bear in mind that gets us to Round Rock’s ultimate build-out, when our population will be 250,000. To put that number into perspective: Since Round Rock’s half-cent sales tax for transportation went into effect in 1998, more than $533 million worth of projects have been completed. Of that, $203 million in funding came from the half-cent sales tax. The City used the sales tax revenue to leverage county, state and federal funds, as well as tapped private development contributions, to get to the total. (More perspective: Round Rock’s population was 61,212 in 1998.) So $1.2 billion is doable, over the long haul.  

Back to the question of precisely where the new roads need to go and when to build them. The Master Plan features a list of projects, ranked from 1 to 55, that are also segmented into short-term (2017-2020), mid-term (2020-2030) and long-term (2030-2040). The rankings are prioritized by the following measures: Safety and mobility (45%), connectivity (25%), environment (15%) and cost (15%). 

Work is currently under way on 8 of the top ten projects. Why not all 10? That brings us back to limited resources. We only have so much funding at the present time. There’s $53 million allocated in the City’s current budget for all things transportation. That total includes a mix of General Fund revenue, Type B revenue (that’s the sales tax we referenced two paragraphs ago) and our General Self Financed Construction Fund, which is fueled by excess General Fund revenues or unspent General Fund budget.  

The City has also submitted nearly $40 million in grant applications to CAMPO earlier this year for transportation funding.   

The Master Plan calls for finding new, sustainable sources of funding. A new method the City is considering is Roadway Impact Fees on new development. Roadway Impact Fees are one-time costs assessed to developers in order to improve roadway capacity. Public input is scheduled to occur this summer, and a draft ordinance is expected to be presented to City Council this fall. 

The City Council has had early discussions about a possible bond election for road projects, something it is likely to discuss in more detail at its budget retreat on July 12.  

Yes, dear and patient reader, we are also working on public transportation solutions. You can learn more about current transit services here, which grew from the Transit Master Plan we completed in 2015.  

We didn’t even get into other transportation options, like hike and bike trails, but we’ve got a plan for those as well, along with $21.6 million in bond funds targeted for four trail projects that will make staying off those frustrating roads a lot easier. 

Throw all those plans and options together, and you can see Round Rock is built for less stop and more go. 

Our water runs deep

Note: Success doesn’t happen by accident. For the City of Round Rock, it’s been a decades-long process of strategic planning and methodical execution. The Future Forward series highlights our efforts to manage Round Rock’s rapid growth. 


“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”
– Sylvia Earle, marine biologist 

Hard to state it any more simply than that. Water may very well be the most important service provided by the City of Round Rock.  

So we take it seriously, and have for the past 40 years. That’s why the City is so well positioned today to have enough water when Round Rock reaches its projected ultimate population of 250,000. That’s decades away, but when you’re talking about planning a water utility, that’s the kind of time horizon you look at. 

That doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t worry about conserving water. By all means, take advantage of the City’s many conservation programs and educate yourself on how you can lower your bills by watering wisely. 

But one of the key elements in Round Rock’s ability to manage its inexorable growth is a forward-thinking utility that delivers reliable, affordable water.  

Long story short, Round Rock pretty much ran out of water in 1978. The combination of a prolonged drought, sole reliance on the Edwards Aquifer and rapid residential development meant folks went without water for a short period of time. City leaders vowed then to never put the community in that kind of situation again, and that led to the development of the strong, stable water utility we have today. 

How strong? The last round of debt issued by the utility, in December 2017, earned an AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s, the highest possible. Round Rock is the only Central Texas city with this rating for its utility.  

That rating was the culmination of four decades of hard work. After the wells went dry in ’78, the City contracted with the Brazos River Authority (BRA) to purchase water from Lake Georgetown. The City built a plant on the north end of town to treat that water. As growth continued, the City acquired future water supplies from the BRA, and ultimately partnered with other utilities to build a 28-mile pipeline to Lake Stillhouse Hollow near Belton.  

The forward thinking continued in 2006, when Round Rock partnered with Cedar Park and Leander to create the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority to treat and deliver water from Lake Travis. (There was no more future water to be acquired from the BRA.) Phase 1 of the regional project was completed in 2012, and Cedar Park and Leander have been utilizing the system for their customers since then. Round Rock isn’t expected to need Lake Travis water until 2020. 

So the water is there, and the infrastructure is in place, when we do need it. And will continue to be, even when our population more than doubles. That’s what Future Forward is all about.