There’s no place like home for the holidays, and Round Rock is offering plenty of very merry activities to help you get in the spirit of the season.
Take a stroll through Downtown Round Rock’s winter wonderland.
Downtown will be brighter than ever this winter! Downtown Round Rock’s Hometown Holiday light extravaganza will begin twinkling to life starting Saturday, Dec. 1 and last through Dec. 31. Trees draped in the warm glow of lights will guide your path to perfect selfie spots including larger than life ornaments, gift boxes and archways.
Burn some calories with the family (to make room for more pie, of course!).
Round Rock Parks and Recreation and Rotary Club of Round Rock Sunrise invite you to take a break between holiday meals with the Reindeer Run 5K and Family Fun Run at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Williamson County Old Settlers Association. This year’s run features several new light displays and a snowy starting line. Runners are encouraged to dress in festive clothing and costumes, and will receive light-up reindeer noses after registration while supplies last. There will be plenty of fun activities for the whole family and Santa photo opportunities. Learn more and register
Leave any stress of the holiday season behind at a Christmas carnival.
Watch Santa Claus and Mayor Morgan light the iconic water tower and Christmas tree.
Starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, join us for Christmas Family Night in Downtown Round Rock with activities for the entire family including live music, dancers, candle making, game booths, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus and more. The water tower will be lit during a special ceremony with Mayor Craig Morgan. Children should bring their “wish lists” for Santa Claus and parents are encouraged to bring their own cameras for pictures with Santa. Plus, enjoy free hot dogs, popcorn, hot chocolate, and other refreshments, activities and snacks.
Get into character at one of the Round Rock Library’s seasonal puppet shows.
Join the Round Rock Public Library, 216 E. Main St., for one of seven free performances of the puppet show, “Jingle Elf’s Gingerbread Man.” This silly and fun show will take place multiple times on Dec. 7, 12 and 13 in Meeting Room C, and is best enjoyed by families with children ages 1-7. For a full schedule, check out the show’s Facebook event page.
See model trains come to life through the eyes of a child.
All aboard! Bring your family to ArtSpace, 231 E. Main St., to see miniature landscapes and cityscapes come to life in the Holiday Model Trains exhibit. Hosted by Round Rock Arts, this event is free and open to the public through Dec. 31. Trains will operate from noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays.
Give back to others by donating gifts through Blue Santa.
Round Rock Operation Blue Santa is a non-profit organization established in 1978 by the volunteers and employees of the Round Rock Police, Fire, and Parks and Recreation Departments. The program has grown to serve more than 1,600 individuals annually and is supported entirely by the community in the form of donations. Round Rock Operation Blue Santa accepts new, unwrapped toys and wrapping paper. Look for donation sites around town (including the Police Department and all fire stations) or donate online.
More than 1,000 volunteers joined forces with the City of Round Rock to “Love the Rock” on Oct. 27.
Round Rock’s annual Love the Rock volunteer event kicked off at Stoney Point High School before volunteers from 40 different churches came together for a single day of volunteer service in our community.
Volunteers performed voluntary fire safety inspections and smoke detector installation, neighborhood cleanup assistance and curb address painting in the Mesa Ridge and Mesa Village neighborhoods.Using tools from the City’s Tool Lending Center, volunteers mowed and weeded lawns, trimmed trees and bushes, hauled heavy items and more.
So how did we do this year? Here’s the total impact, by the numbers:
The City’s current methods of funding the transportation infrastructure needed to keep Round Rock moving do not provide enough capital to meet the increasing traffic demands we face. The Transportation Master Plan adopted by the City Council in October 2017 determined $1.2 billion in new infrastructure is needed to accommodate Round Rock’s ultimate population of 250,000. Property tax and sales tax revenues, along with state and federal funds, are our present funding sources. But those aren’t enough. So, beginning in January 2018, the City of Round Rock began the process to explore Roadway Impact Fees as an additional source of funds.
Impact fees are a mechanism for funding the public infrastructure necessitated by new development. When a new residential subdivision or business park is proposed, we can determine how much new traffic those projects will create based on their size and use and charge a fee to the developer to help pay for improvements needed to accommodate that increased demand on our roadway system.
In short, impact fees help growth pay for itself.
City staff and consultant Kimley-Horn have had several meetings with developers over the past 10 months to discuss the fee. A primary concern we heard was the new fee would render projects unaffordable, and drive development to neighboring communities. We understand that concern. We have researched other Texas cities that have implemented roadway impact fees and there has not been any conclusive impact on the pace of development.
In Round Rock, we’ve had utility impact fees since 1989, and the City certainly hasn’t seen any discernable negative impacts on development. Utility impact fees have helped Round Rock build one of the strongest utility systems in the state – it is one of only 10 cities in Texas with an AAA utility credit rating, the highest possible – and our water and wastewater rates are among the lowest in the region.
Our current plan is to phase in the Roadway Impact Fee, to give developers ample lead time to plan financing for their projects while still providing a critical funding source for the City to help pay for much-needed road improvements.
According to our capital needs study, the maximum fee the City could impose is $2,511 per base service unit. Our proposal would assess 30 percent of that maximum for residential development and 20 percent of that maximum for non-residential development in 2019. The fee would ramp up to 60 percent for residential and 30 percent for non-residential by 2022.
The City Council, which has held multiple public hearings on the issue, will discuss roadway impact fees at a workshop on Dec. 6. The plan going forward is to adopt an ordinance this spring, with an effective date of Oct. 1, 2019. To provide input to the City Council, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you a fan of stories that pull at your heartstrings and make you proud to call your community home? Good news: we’ve got one that’s sure to brighten your day!
Mayor Craig Morgan recently received a letter from local six-year-old, Davey Kapur, thanking him for his service to Round Rock. The young boy also noted his potential interest in public service.
“Thank you for your service in Round Rock and I lived here my hole life,” he wrote. “I might be mayor one day.”
This, of course, prompted a response from Mayor Morgan, who invited him to meet personally for a tour of Round Rock’s City Hall and to discuss the future. The two talked about what it’s like to be mayor of a city, and discussed the importance of working hard in school and always doing your best.
Just one more reason we’re proud to call this place home!
Central Texas received an immense amount of rain on Tuesday, and forecasts predict that this is only the beginning. Here’s what you need to know:
RRFD performed swift water rescues in Kingsland on Tuesday.
1. Devastation hit close to home. Pictures of catastrophic flooding saturated social media and the news as nearby communities were hit hard by flooding along the Llano River. Round Rock Fire Department mobilized a boat crew early Tuesday that headed down to Kingsland, working side by side with Williamson County Emergency Services and Austin Fire Department to perform swift water rescues. Our thoughts continue to be with those affected by the storms.
2. More rain is expected for heavy-hit areas. “The region remains very sensitive to additional rainfall and a Flash Flood Watch will remain in effect for parts of South Central Texas through Thursday evening,” according to the National Weather Service (NWS). One reading posted by the NWS showed that Round Rock received 6.12 inches over a 48-hour period as of Tuesday morning.
3. Turn around; don’t drown. While the amount of rain wasn’t catastrophic, it definitely resulted in the closure of some low water crossings in Round Rock, and City crews had to close the Chisholm Trail crossing to clear debris this morning. Even our namesake rock was struggling to stay above water. Be sure to stay up-to-date on the latest low water crossings by visiting atxfloods.com. Round Rock Police Department also released a very timely video earlier this month about the importance of paying attention to low water crossings:
4. There are plenty of resources to make sure you’re prepared for future emergencies. With such devastating flooding happening so close to us, it makes one wonder — am I prepared for something like this? Now’s as good a time as any to brush up on the ways you can prepare for a flooding incident. A great source of information for emergency preparedness, including for floods, is available at ready.gov.
Ironically, a Flash Flood Training planned for Round Rock on Wednesday evening has been postponed due to the weather — stay tuned for future updates on a new date. The training sessions focus solely on flooding issues of the region and discuss the meteorology behind the record flooding that Central Texas can receive.
5. Well, at least the rain’s been good for one thing. After a lengthy summer of dry conditions, our primary source of drinking water, Lake Georgetown, received some much needed help from Tuesday’s downpour.
Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.
MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN
There’s an old saying among municipal planners that the best time to build a road is 10 years before a study says you need it.
Transportation and traffic are big issues in Round Rock, and the solutions are never cheap and never seem to come fast enough. Our 2017 Transportation Master Plan determined we need $1.2 billion in new roadway capacity to accommodate growth over the next 20 years in the City of Round Rock.
The good news? We’ve been able to employ a variety of funding sources to make a real difference over the past several years and are looking at ways we can speed up our efforts to tackle this mammoth of a challenge.
In 1997, residents voted to assign a half-cent of our sales tax revenues, meaning 50 cents per $100 spent at City of Round Rock retailers, toward transportation. To date, that small portion of money spent by visitors and residents alike within our city has raised $293 million. That number wouldn’t be near as high without economic development efforts to bring businesses like Dell, Round Rock Premium Outlets, Emerson and IKEA – which bring huge sales activity to our community. By combining that $293 million with county, state and federal funds, we have completed $533 million worth of road projects.
This year, the City was able to secure $27.6 million in federal funding through our partnership with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) for three significant road projects: Kenny Fort Boulevard from Forest Creek to SH 45; University Boulevard from A.W. Grimes Boulevard to County Road 110; and Gattis School Road from Via Sonoma Trail to Red Bud Lane. These projects are estimated to cost $61.5 million altogether, meaning these dollars will help cover a third of the cost of these roads.
We enjoy a great working relationship with our state partners at TxDOT, which is critical considering an interstate runs right through our community. TxDOT has recently completed or is still constructing a total of five projects on I-35 in Round Rock that have a total cost of $73.5 million. The braided ramps south of U.S 79 and associated improvements alone are valued at $28.1 million. Now that’s some serious investment in our community!
We’ve certainly chipped in our share of City funding to tackle road concerns, and one of our biggest concerns is maintaining the roadway network we already have in place. We’ve invested roughly $25 million in neighborhood street maintenance over the past five years. For the new fiscal year, 71 percent of our 1.4 cent increase over the effective tax rate this year will go toward maintaining our residential roads.
As we look toward the future, we are investigating two additional sources of funding for road projects: traffic impact fees and certificates of obligation.
State law allows cities to issue either general obligation bonds, or certificates of obligation, to finance long-term public works projects. Certificates of obligation (COs) allow us to take advantage of favorable interest rates and get projects started on a shorter timeline than general obligation bonds, which could help us gain some ground on our transportation needs.
The Council approved $28 million in COs in 2014 to help fund multiple projects that have since come to fruition: the Creek Bend Boulevard extension, improvements Downtown to Mays and Main streets, Phase 2 of Seton Parkway and Phase 2 of La Frontera street maintenance work.
The City is also currently evaluating Roadway Impact Fees, which are one-time costs assessed to new developments. This type of funding could be used to help accommodate growth across our entire transportation system in accordance with state law. Roadway Impact Fees are used by many cities across the state as a way to have new growth contribute to needed transportation system expansion.
The truth is there is no simple answer to our traffic problems. Addressing it takes a combination of approaches and is something we will continue to seek creative solutions for moving forward. But one thing we have learned is that taking advantage of Round Rock’s unique, growing economy and maintaining regional partnerships will continue to be keys to our future success.
We direct significant resources at our transportation problems in Round Rock. From lots of sources — not just local taxpayers. There are many paths to paying for what’s needed to address the City’s No. 1 problem — traffic congestion.
The fiscal 2019 budget includes a little over $41 million for transportation. That covers everything from the crews needed to fill cracks in pavement to widening University Boulevard.
The transportation funding bucket includes some property tax revenue, certainly, but nearly half comes from the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 1997. Add in funding from state and federal sources, as well as the private sector, and you’ve got a potent mix of revenues to deal with the City’s most pressing problem. And we’re looking at a couple of new funding sources to add to the mix — more on that in a minute.
That half-cent sales tax goes a long, long way
Since Round Rock’s half-cent sales tax for transportation and economic development went into effect, we’ve collected $293 million. Those dollars have been leveraged into more than $533 million worth of projects as we’ve tapped county, state and federal funds, as well as private developers, to maximize the impact of this key funding source.
That half-cent is one reason the presence of Dell is so important to Round Rock, along with destination retailers like IKEA, Premium Outlets and Bass Pro Shops. Anytime Dell sells a good or service to a Texas-based customer, it generates local sales tax revenue to the City. And those hundreds of thousands of visitors from out of town who shop here are helping pay for transportation improvements here. Those are dollars we don’t collect from local taxpayers.
Collecting visitor sales tax revenue is also a driver behind our Sports Capital of Texas tourism program. We fund our operations at the Round Rock Sports Center, Round Rock Multipurpose Complex and City costs at the Dell Diamond with Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue. That’s the tax paid by folks staying in our hotels. When you see some of your favorite restaurants around town full of kids wearing the same jersey, you can smile knowing they’re contributing to the funding of City services, including major road projects in Round Rock.
Of course, the 600-pound gorilla in the room when talking Round Rock traffic is I-35. Our friends at the Texas Department of Transportation have multiple projects under way to tame that beast. There are five projects either under construction or completed in recent years, valued at a whopping $73.5 million.
Ramp reversals between U.S. 79 and FM 3406 — Completed in December 2015, this $6.7 million project helped alleviate a bottleneck on the northbound mainlanes of the interstate.
Widening the FM 3406 bridge — Scheduled for completion this fall, the $12.4 million project will add two U-turn lanes and increase capacity.
Braided ramps, U.S. 79 intersection — This $28.1 million project includes constructing braided ramps to remove merging conflicts on the I-35 northbound mainlanes between Hesters Crossing and RM 620. The northbound extended entrance/exit lane will allow drivers to match travel speeds prior to merging. The improvements to the northbound and southbound frontage road intersections at I-35 and U.S. 79 and a third left-turn lane for westbound U.S. 79 were components of this project. Final completion is anticipated in early 2019 — but the ramps are now open!
Frontage roads between FM 3406, RM 1431 — TxDOT considers this two projects, one southbound and one northbound. The $9.2 million southbound project reverses two ramps on southbound I-35 and improves the southbound frontage road. The $10.4 million northbound project will reconstruct/widen the I-35 northbound frontage road from two to three lanes between RM 1431 and FM 3406, and relocate the exit ramp to RM 1431 and extend the existing auxiliary lane, or extended entrance/exit lane.
New funding sources being considered
The City is in the formal process of evaluating Roadway Impact Fees, which are one-time costs assessed to new developments in order to improve roadway capacity. The funds can be used to help accommodate growth and serve the overall transportation system as allowed by state law. According to the City’s 2017 Transportation Master Plan, more than $1.2 billion in new roadway capacity is needed to accommodate future growth in the City of Round Rock.
The City Council will hold a second public hearing on the fees at its Thursday, Sept. 13, meeting. A decision on whether to implement the fee is expected to occur in November.
That decision will influence how much the City Council will consider issuing in Certificates of Obligation (COs) later this year or early next year to fund planned road projects. The Council approved $28 million in COs in 2014 to help fund multiple projects: the Creek Bend Boulevard extension (completed in January 2017) as well as improvements Downtown to Mays and Main streets (completed in spring 2018), Phase 2 of Seton Parkway (completed in March 2016) and Phase 2 of La Frontera street maintenance work (completed in November 2015).
As emphasized in our first Fiscal 2019 budget blog post, a key element of Round Rock’s “Blueprint for Success” is to diversify how we fund local government. We’re always looking for ways to fund needed projects without putting it all on the tab of single family homeowners. That may be most evident when it comes to transportation funding.
No one likes paying more in property taxes. That’s a given. But sometimes it’s necessary to keep a first-class city running the way it needs to.
In our first blog post on the proposed fiscal 2019 budget and tax rate, we took a deep dive into the incredible value that Round Rock homeowners get for their property tax dollars. To keep Round Rock growing successfully, the City Council is considering a modest tax increase for the median value home – $2.94 per month, to be exact – to pay for increased street maintenance and bond projects approved by voters.
Still, folks aren’t happy to hear the budget proposal includes a tax increase. We get it. But it’s worth mentioning all of the ways that we maximize the use of existing resources before we ask taxpayers to provide more revenue for City operations.
Here are just a few of the ways we’ve saved costs, found new funding sources and increased efficiencies over the past 18 months, and in the proposed budget:
We repurposed a single-family home to use as Fire Station No. 9, saving the cost of demolishing the structure and building a new station. The initial project cost around $250,000, compared to the $2.6 million we spent for Station No. 8
Of the $104 million spent on City transportation projects over the past five years, $11 million came through our partnerships with other agencies. That doesn’t include major projects in Round Rock where the Texas Department of Transportation has been the lead agency, like the $12.4 million new FM 3406 bridge at I-35; the $19.4 million for frontage road improvements both northbound and southbound between RM 1431 and FM 3406; and the soon to open $28.1 million I-35 braided ramps from SH 45 to U.S. 79
We selected a new model of Police vehicle that meets our needs at a lower price – a move that saves $5,600 per vehicle and has resulted in $500,000 saved to date
Our consistent search for bond refunding opportunities during favorable market conditions over the past three years has resulted in annual savings of $1.4 million
For a complete list of cost savings and efficiencies, check out pages 19-20 of the proposed budget.
Other endeavors that have added tremendous value for residents at a reasonable cost include:
What our Transportation staff calls Bottleneck Projects. We’ve provided significant traffic congestion relief by adding a turn lane at intersections like Gattis School Road and Mays Street (westbound and northbound) Gattis School Road and Red Bud Lane (northbound and soundbound), Forest Creek Drive and Red Bud Lane (northbound and southbound), Gattis School Road and Rusk Lane (eastbound left turn lane) and University Boulevard and Sunrise Road (eastbound). Total price tags for those projects: $4.5 million, of which $2.5 million was for the big Gattis School Road-Mays Street project. By comparison, the extension of McNeil Avenue will cost $4.25 million.
Transitioning to cloud-based services and improving internal processes means we haven’t had to add any Information Technology staff over the past five years, despite growing demand for improved tech support and services.
The Texas State Library conducted a study that shows a return of $4.64 in benefits for each dollar spent by public libraries.
But the most effective government service in the world may be delivered by the Fire Department. To wit:
You call us and we ask 2 questions: Where are you? What’s wrong?
We show up and fix what’s wrong (without paperwork or applications)
When we’re done fixing, we clean up and go home
We’re the easiest to get hold of and we don’t stay longer than we need to
Of course, there’s an amazing amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make that happen. Rest assured the City is working diligently to ensure we’re not spending more dollars than needed to deliver quality emergency responses – as well as all the other services we provide. Providing exceptional value is an essential component of Round Rock’s Blueprint for Success.
Our Strategic Plan ties it all together to provide a blueprint for sustainable growth. The annual budget ensures funding for what needs to get done over the next 12 months – from police staffing to street maintenance – to keep Round Rock an amazingly livable city.
And the property taxes paid by you and other homeowners funds the whole shebang, right?
Not even close.
Property taxes cover only 33 percent of our General Fund, which includes core services like Police, Fire, Library, Transportation and Parks. And almost half of that 33 percent is paid by commercial and multifamily properties, with the remainder funded by single family property owners.
Put another way, for the $114 million in General Fund revenues forecast for fiscal 2019, single-family homes will contribute $20.1 million, or less than 18 percent.
So, other than property taxes, where does the rest of the money for our General Fund come from? Sales taxes make up the majority of revenues at 44 percent, with other fees and service charges covering the remaining 23 percent.
When you look at those percentages, it’s easy to see just how much economic development and attracting destination retailers like Premium Outlets and Bass Pro Shops helps us reduce the burden on homeowners to pay for basic City services.
To drill down even further: If all the City had was single-family property tax revenue, we couldn’t cover the $22.4 million Fire Department budget.
Property tax proposal
Let’s look at the proposed property tax rate. The City Council is considering a property tax rate of 42 cents per $100 of valuation, which is a penny lower than last year’s tax rate. The proposed rate is an increase of 3.4 percent above the effective tax rate of 40.6 cents, which takes into account the 6 percent growth in existing property values from last year.
At the proposed rate, the owner of a median value home worth $241,538 will pay $85 per month in City property taxes next year. That’s an additional $2.94 per month compared to this year.
No one likes paying more in taxes, certainly, but it might help if you know what that proposed tax increase is paying for: 71 percent is going toward additional street maintenance in our neighborhoods; 21 percent for the 2013 voter-approved bond program; and 8 percent for increased services related to population growth and rising costs.
All told, that median value homeowner will pay $1,014 for City services in 2019.
But wait, you say. My tax bill is more than 5 times that.
Still, City property taxes could be a lot higher. Seriously.
If voters hadn’t approved increasing the local sales rate back in the 1980s, your City property tax bill would be 25 percent higher. A half-cent of the 2 cents in local sales tax that shoppers pay in Round Rock goes directly to property tax reduction. That half-cent is equal to 14 cents on the property tax rate. That saves the median value homeowner $28 a month on their City tax bill. That’s a really great reason to Shop the Rock.
Bringing in more sales tax revenue is a goal of our Sports Capital of Texas tourism program. Those visitors who come to play here also shop and dine here, and thus help pay for basic City services and take upward pressure off the property tax rate.
By no means are we saying quit complaining about property taxes. We’re just offering some perspective on how we leverage property taxes to fund City government in Round Rock at a great value. Providing remarkable value to our property taxpayers has been a foundational element in Round Rock’s Blueprint for Success for many years, and this year’s budget and tax rate are no exception.