Tax rate increase easier to stomach when you realize you voted for it


The property tax rate proposed in the City’s $330 million fiscal 2018 budget is higher than last year’s. Lest you think we’re on a feeding frenzy of spending, know that most of the increase is needed to support bond projects voters approved in 2013.

The proposed rate is 43.000 cents per $100 of valuation. That’s an increase of 2.7 cents over the effective rate, which is the rate that generates the same amount of revenue as last year based on the new year’s total value of taxable properties.

Let’s dig into that 2.7 cent increase:

  • 1.2 cents is for debt payments on voter authorized bonds from the 2013 election
  • 0.9 cents is for new operating costs associated with those bond projects
  • 0.6 cents is for additional operating costs to keep up with rising costs and growth

So 2.1 cents is related to bonds voters approved. That’s a little more than three-quarters of the increase. (Wondering about progress on the bond projects? For your eyes only, watch this Bond-inspired video to get caught up.)

Bottom line to you: The owner of a median value home ($227,714) in Round Rock will pay $7.58 more per month in City property taxes compared to last year.

While the property tax rate gets a lot of attention — and rightly so since it determines what you’ll pay each year — it’s not the largest revenue component of the proposed budget. Property tax revenue makes up 16 percent of the $330 million budget. By comparison, sales taxes make up 19 percent (more on that below).

We promised we’d slice and dice the tax rate for you in the last Budget Bite post, so here are some more tidbits.

Here’s a tasty morsel you might not be aware of. In the 1980s, Round Rock voters approved increasing the sales tax rate by a half-cent. The revenue from that half-cent is dedicated to reducing the property tax rate. The impact of that reduction is 14.063 cents. In other words, without it we’d be looking at a total tax rate of 57.063 cents.

Another way to look at it: That half-cent for property tax reduction saves the median value homeowner a rather tasty $26.69 a month.

The half cent for property tax reduction is different from the half cent dedicated to transportation and economic development we talked about in the previous Budget Bite.

Sales taxes are obviously a key ingredient in funding City services. We project $64.3 million in sales tax revenue next year, compared to $53.7 million from property taxes. That’s why we encourage residents to Shop the Rock, and why we promote tourism so seriously. (Though we’re not always super serious in how we explain it.) (We’re more serious about explaining sales taxes.)

The tax rate is divided into two components: the rate needed to pay debt and the rate needed for maintenance and operations (M&O). Here are those numbers:

Debt rate14.214 cents
M&O rate28.786 cents
Total43.000 cents

 

For our next Budget Bite, we’ll review staffing changes in the proposed budget.

Key dates

  • Aug. 10 — City Council vote to publish and propose maximum tax rate, set public hearings
  • Aug. 22 — City Council packet briefing and work session on proposed budget and tax rate
  • Aug. 24 — Regular City Council meeting
    • First tax rate public hearing
    • Budget public hearing
    • First reading vote to adopt tax rate and budget ordinances
  • Aug. 31 — Special called City Council meeting for second tax rate public hearing
  • Sept. 14 — Regular City Council meeting
    • Final adoption of tax rate and budget ordinances
    • First reading of utility rate ordinances
  • Sept. 28 — Regular City Council meeting for final adoption of utility rate ordinances.

 

 

Roadfood: How we feed the Transportation beast


If you were to ask residents what leaves a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to local issues, traffic would certainly be the most common response. We get it. We drive in it, too. The good news is we have a veritable smorgasbord of resources to address this vexing problem. Mix them all together and it amounts to $53 million on the menu for transportation spending next year. That’s a lot of dough.

The most plentiful ingredient is the half-cent sales tax Round Rock voters approved in 1997 to fund transportation improvements. That half-cent is projected to generate $17.3 million in Fiscal 2018. And we leverage those dollars with cheddar from partners like Williamson County and the Texas Department of Transportation, as well as bond debt, to get as much mileage as possible from that vital funding source.

To wit: Last year, we had $625 million worth of completed and planned transportation projects since the half-cent sales tax went into effect. About a third of that — $263 million, to measure it precisely — was funded by the Type B corporation that administers the half cent sales tax.

We’re not saying that’s a water into wine miracle. We’re saying we’ve got some resourceful chefs in the kitchen.

While on the subject of sales taxes, know that some of the 1 cent sales tax revenue that funds general government services also gets tossed into the transportation funding pot. In years when revenues exceed projections, we sock that money away in a larder we call the General Self Financed Construction fund. A heaping helping from that fund has been critical to beefing up our street maintenance program in recent years.

Side dish: Generating more sales tax revenue is one we reason we promote tourism with our Sports Capital of Texas tourism program. Visit old budget video friend Ron Pitchman for a brief (less than two minutes) explanation of the benefits of tourism to funding local government.

Your property taxes, by contrast, don’t come close to matching the $17.3 million the Type B corp will collect next fiscal year. The Transportation Services Department draft budget is $12.4 million. Property taxes cover about a third of that — around $3.7 million.

But let’s get to the meat of the issue: What projects are on the menu for FY 18 funding? Here’s a sampling:

ProjectAmountFunding Source(s)
University Boulevard widening$8.6 millionType B sales tax, Williamson County
Neighborhood street maintenance$7.5 millionStreets Budget, General Self Finance Construction
East Bagdad Ave/McNeil Road extension downtown$3.6 millionType B sales tax
Southwest Downtown improvements$3.3 millionType B sales tax, federal and state grant funds
Gattis School Road widening (engineering/design only)$2.2 millionType B sales tax

Hungry for more? Here’s where you can find the list of our current transportation projects, including those we’re working on with regional partners.

Still not full? Dig into the complete list of projects — there are 28 total — funding sources and totals in our proposed five-year Transportation Capital Improvements Plan.

Got room for dessert? Here’s a map showing the streets scheduled for maintenance next fiscal year.

For our next Budget Bite, we’ll slice and dice the ingredients that go into making up the proposed tax rate.

A great meal starts with the right ingredients

The City of Round Rock is regularly recognized for its outstanding work, including fiscal stewardship. With this year’s budget proposal, we’re sharing the secret of Round Rock’s Recipe for Success — strategic planning fortified by a heaping helping of fiscal responsibility.

Over the next month, we’ll be serving up a prix fixe menu of information about the fiscal 2018 proposed budget and tax rate. The City Council spent a full day reviewing the proposed budget at a July 13 workshop, and expressed its desire to get key information out for public consumption prior to the first reading vote on Aug. 24.

To whet your appetite, we offer up a first course of basic information below.

The foundation

The City’s Strategic Plan, updated annually by the City Council at a February retreat, is implemented through the budget process. Here are the six long-term goals:

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

The measures

Budget Totals for FY 2018$330.0 million
General Fund (Police, Fire, Parks, Library, Planning and Development Services, IT, etc.)$110.8 million
Total Capital Improvement Program (major construction projects)$136.9 million
All Other*$82.3 million

*Includes the City’s water and wastewater utility operations, stormwater drainage operations, the Round Rock Sports Center, tourism related programs and other services  not funded in the General fund and not funded by property taxes.

The proposed tax rate is 43.000 cents per $100 of valuation, an increase of a half cent from the current rate.

FY 2017 ActualFY 2018 Proposed$ difference
Median residential property value$208,906$227,715$18,809
Median annual tax bill$888$979$91

Next on the menu will be a breakdown of the $53 million planned for transportation spending next fiscal year. Spoiler alert: Your property taxes will help fund about $12 million of that total; the secret sauce that makes possible the bulk of transportation improvements is the half-cent sales tax Round Rock voters approved in in 1997.

Police Department improves safety measures during encounters with canines

The following article was written by Angelique Meyers, Public Information Officer for the Police Department, and published in by the Department of Justice’s e-newsletter, Community Policing Dispatch.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have been under high criticism from the public for negative and sometimes fatal outcomes when police encounter dogs in the community. In a few previous incidents, officers with the Round Rock [Texas] Police Department have been involved in fatal dog shootings, even after completing the online COPS Office Dog Encounters Training. In response, Round Rock Police Department leadership decided to take action and implement new training and tools.

The Round Rock Police Department, in collaboration with the Animal Control Unit, created a new community-based initiative called B.A.R.K.: Be Aware of Residential K9s. The B.A.R.K. Alert Program is designed to improve officer safety and empower citizens by alerting first responders to the presence of animals at a residence. Community members voluntarily register their pets and service animals with the program. Officers are forewarned of the possibility of an animal encounter, and are able to bring the necessary equipment to handle that encounter in a way that is safe for both the officer and the animal.  The program is free for residents and all owners, but especially those with large-breed dogs, are   encouraged to participate.

Advertising the B.A.R.K. program was initially challenging, and citizen registration was lower than expected. However, the program was successfully promoted by local vaccination clinics, the Williamson County Animal Shelter, and pet-related businesses in partnership with the Police Department. A B.A.R.K postcard was distributed to residents that resulted in a significant increase in registrations, and the department’s public information specialist was also able to raise awareness for the program through social media. Currently, there are 945 Dog on Site registrations at residences in Round Rock, and the program is expected to keep growing as information spreads.

Residents with ‘Dog on Site’ registrations are given BARK Alert stickers, which alert officers and has the added benefit of deterring burglaries. The cost of printing the alert stickers was minimal and has the added benefit of improved trust between police and the community.  Further, the B.A.R.K program has had a dynamic impact on the community and on the police department’s public relationships. It has provided the department opportunities to speak with pet owners about animal and officer safety, as well as increased the police department’s support from the local businesses, clinics, and shelters that advertise the program.

In addition to the community-based B.A.R.K program, Round Rock sworn police personnel have completed over 700 total training hours in dealing with aggressive animals, including interactive training with canine expert Jim Osorio. This ongoing training reminds officers to seek out signs of aggression for animals.  Officers now use treats and other tactics to interact with animals in the field and are generally able to deescalate situations. Officers have also been issued and trained on animal catchpoles, a tool that allows officers to humanely restrain an aggressive animal. Previously only animal control officers had this tool. These actions were implemented prior to the Texas state mandate for Texas law enforcement officers to undergo canine encounters training.

The result of these changes was recognized when a local citizen sent a letter to the department commending an officer for not shooting his dog even though the dog bit the officer. Officer Randall Frederick’s actions in that encounter were honored by the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse in 2015.

One neighboring police department has already implemented the B.A.R.K. program in its community, under a different name and many more departments can benefit from replicating either the program or any of its component parts: registration of household animals, the now-mandated training, and the use of catchpoles by police officers. Together, these changes increase public and officer safety and improve community relations—changes law enforcement agencies across the county would find highly valuable.

A simple google search of the terms “police dog shooting” will reveal the nationwide extent of the issue of fatal dog shootings. We truly believe that any department willing to take action on this issue can experience a noticeable change in how their officers interact with animals during calls for service.

The Round Rock Police Department will continue to explore new ideas and advertise at special events to increase participation. The program is expected to continually grow as the information reaches more residents in the City of Round Rock.

Cool spots in Round Rock to beat the summer heat

Looking for the perfect spot to cool off with the kids on these hot summer days? We’ve got you covered with a waterpark, pools and a hometown splash pad!

1. Rock’N River Waterpark (3300 Palm Valley Blvd.; inside Old Settlers Park)

The Rock’N River Water Park went through a multi-million dollar renovation in 2016! The park more than doubled in size, with exciting new for the entire family like a huge sprayground play area called “Splashville” that includes 51 play features, “The Quarry” adventure area featuring a 12 foot Jumping Platform and Rock Climbing Wall with waterfall, cabanas, swim-up concession lagoon and food truck circle.

  • Daily Admission
    $8: Youth (17 years & under)
    $10: Adults (18-49 years)
    $8: Senior (50 years & over)
    $5: Kids (2 years & under)
  • Twilight Admission (5pm to Close)
    $4: Youth (17 years & under)
    $5: Adults (18-49 years)
    $4: Senior (50 years & over)
    $2: (2 years & under)
  • Season Passes
    $60: Youth/Senior Pass
    $70: Adult Pass
    $225: Family Pass (4 people). Add additional family members for just $10 each.
    Valid at Rock’N River Water Park only.
  • Regular Hours
    June 2-August 20

    Open Daily (CLOSED WEDNESDAYS) 12:00pm-7:00pm

  • End of Season Weekend Hours
    Sat. Aug. 29, Sun. Aug. 27, Sat. Sept. 2, Sun. Sept. 3, Mon. Sept. 4
    Open 12:00pm-6:00pm

More details on the Rock’N River Waterpark are available online at: https://www.roundrocktexas.gov/river

2. Micki Krebsbach Pool (301 Deepwood Drive)

Micki Kresbsbach Pool features multiple interactive features including: a pirate ship, crate walk, and large slide (for guests 48″ or taller), along with multiple lanes of swim area. Wait, what? There’s a pirate ship? Got that right! It’s a twenty-six foot long and twenty-three feet high water adventure for all ages! The ship includes wet and wild climbing angles, 2 slides and water cannons for major family fun.
  • Admission
    $2: Youth (17 years and under)
    $3: Adult (18-49 years)

    $2: Senior (50 years and over)

  • 2017 Recreation Swim Schedule
    Open Daily from 1 to 7 p.m.
    Closed Tuesdays

3. Lake Creek Pool (800 Deerfoot Drive; located in Lake Creek Park)

  • Admission
    $1: Youth (17 years and under)
    $2: Adult (18-49 years)

    $1: Senior (50 years and over)

  • 2017 Recreation Swim Schedule
    Open Tuesday through Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m.

    Open Friday through Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. (contingent on lifeguard availability)

4. Prete Main Street Plaza Splash Pad (221 E Main Street in Downtown Round Rock)

Bring the kids and let the fun begin! While you’re on Main Street, why not try one of our restaurants and make it a day or evening of fun. Prete Plaza is a 14,000-square-foot plaza with a 610-square-foot performance stage, 1,075- square-foot interactive water feature, and features plenty of seating for picnics and playtime.

The fountain schedule can be viewed online at: https://www.roundrocktexas.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/facilities/downtown-plazas/

 

Round Rock listed among most family-friendly cities in Texas

Photo Credit: Rock Studios


Safe neighborhoods, great schools, Friday night fireworks, splashing good times, splurge-worthy shopping, and a one-of-a-kind hometown downtown are just a few of the reasons Round Rock has once again found itself being talked about as one of the most family-friendly cities in Texas.

Round Rock’s recent ranking by Smart Asset as the No. 9 “Best Place in Texas to Raise a Family” continues to back of what we’ve known all along… this place Rocks!

Here’s what the article had to say about our community:

“If you are looking to raise your family in the greater Austin area, it is hard to beat Round Rock. This city is known for having a strong education system and our data backs that up. Round Rock graduates 94% of its students and has top five scores in both percent of students taking AP exams and percent of students who score well on AP exams. Round Rock is also relatively affordable compared to other cities in our top 10. The median monthly housing cost is $1,250, the second-lowest in our top 10.”

Looking for more? You can read the full article online here: https://smartasset.com/mortgage/best-places-in-texas-to-raise-a-family

We’re an open book: Your City government, by the numbers

In late April, the Texas Comptroller awarded the City of Round Rock a Transparency Star in recognition that we provide easy online access to spending and revenue information.

We’ve got a one-stop shop on our website for basic financial data and reports. You can find links to detailed information on things like quarterly investment reports or simply check out a bar chart showing how the City property tax rate has changed from 2012 to 2016. (Spoiler alert: it’s less than a half cent.)

If you’re really into numbers, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is a detailed report of the  City’s finances and includes the independent auditors’ opinion. (Spoiler alert:  the City always receives an unqualified or “clean” opinion.) Auditors spent nine weeks on site – a total of 1,051 hours – and evaluated hundreds of transactions. This report provides a quantitative look at the operating success, financial health, and compliance of the City. It includes a Statement of Net Position, Statement of Activities, Balance Sheet, a Statement of Revenues, Expenditures, and Changes in Fund Balances, and a comparison of budgeted to actual expenses and revenues.  The Statistical Section near the back of the document provides a treasure trove of additional financial and statistical comparisons on the City, many showing ten years of history.

If that’s too much detail, then check out the quarterly Round Rock by the Numbers. This two-pager is a snapshot of quarterly information on key indicators like sales tax collections (actual vs projections), utility revenues, hotel occupancy rates and the like. There’s also fun facts like Top 10 Property Taxpayers and which departments have the biggest piece of the budget pie. (Spoiler alert: it’s the Police).

One of the City Council’s top strategic goals is a “Financially Sound City Providing High Value Services.” Have a look at the wealth of financial information on our website, and learn more about what makes Round Rock such a well-run City.

Cervantes: Finding a new home for main Round Rock library

Michelle Cervantes, our Round Rock Library Director, pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of her most recent feature.


In November 2013, the majority of citizens approved the use of $23.2 million in bond proceeds to build a new main library and renovate the existing library or build a new branch library.

With additional space, the library will expand its core services to children, teens and adults, as well as technology and more types of meeting spaces and program rooms. The proposed branch could include the same services as the main branch, with the exception of genealogy and local history.

The community is very fond of our historic building and location on Main Street. Based on feedback from the community, there is strong support to locate the main library as close to downtown as possible.

With that in mind, we have good news to share. We may have found a premier location in downtown Round Rock.

The city and the Round Rock school district are working together to secure a location next to CD Fulkes Middle School, located at 300 West Anderson Avenue. We are still working on the details, but we hope to secure the site by the end of summer. Once the location is secured, it could take about three years to complete the project.

Since the bond passed, the City Council and city administration have been actively searching for a location for the new main library. Selecting a site in downtown Round Rock has been a challenge. You can’t just pick anywhere to build the new library.

There are specific criteria that we need to follow to ensure we find the best possible location for our growing community. Architect Lisa Padilla identified 14 top-site evaluation criteria in a handbook, “Site Selection for Libraries,” published by the American Institute of Architects, which you can find on the library’s website.

Although the bond was approved in 2013, the city has a long list of projects in addition to the library to complete. Parks, fires stations and the police and fire training facility are the other bond projects that were approved by voters.

In January 2014, $1.5 million was issued for land, design and engineering for the main facility. Then in February 2015, the Council announced its unanimous decision to wait on selecting the site for the new library.

At the time, Assistant City Manager Brooks Bennett said, “The Master Plan identified a few premier locations, and the Council has opted to see if one of those locations become available in the not-too-distant future. Money for the new library was slated for the second issuance, which would take place in 2017 at the soonest, so opting to not rush into a location gives the Council the ability to secure a premier location, as identified in the Master Plan, if it becomes available.”

As of right now, we don’t have any forums or focus groups scheduled to gather your feedback, but when we do, the schedule will be posted on our website, Facebook, utility bill newsletter, eNewsletters, NextDoor and other media.

You are always welcome to call or email Michelle Cervantes at 512-218-7010 or mcervantes@roundrocktexas.gov.

Visit roundrocktexas.gov/library for updates and to find Padilla’s site evaluation criteria.

Round Rock water treatment staff help elementary student with science fair project

You know those local stories that give you the warm, fuzzy, my-hometown-is-pretty-much-the-best-place-to-live-ever type feeling? Yeah, us too. And we’re so, SO proud to have another feel good, Round Rock-has-my-heart-style story to share with you here today!

Last month, Round Rock Mayor Alan McGraw received a letter from local elementary student, Tasnim Aliyu, thanking City staff for helping her with a science fair project. As it turns out, workers at one of our local water treatment plants had taken the time to sit down with the student and helped her use laboratory tools so that she could learn and present about water filtration systems. Staff even took time on the weekend to meet with the student to help make sure her project was top-notch (going above and beyond is kind of our thing here in Round Rock)!

Cherry on top? The student ended up winning first place in both her school and regional science fairs, receiving a special award from Dell Children’s Hospital along the way. Pretty awesome if we do say so ourselves!

Here’s some of what Tasnim had to say about the experience in her letter to the Mayor (it’s also attached in full below, and worth the read, because it’s so darn cute, y’all):

“If they hadn’t helped me in my science fair project, I wouldn’t have won school science fair nor science fair regionals. They even helped me on their free day – Sunday. I was amazed by their willingness to help students like me. They are my models and they motivated me to add more complicated things in my project and to motivate me to drink clean water. I can’t thank them enough so I ask you to help me. That would be most grateful.”

Smile. It’s not every day there’s a story floating around to warm your heart, but here in Round Rock (and maybe we’re just a tad bit biased), we think those days are more frequent than anywhere else on earth. We love this town and can’t imagine spending our days anywhere else.

Huge shout out to the staff in our Utilities and Environmental Services Department on being completely awesome. You rock!!

Round Rock ranked No. 3 best city in America to start a family


One kid might be cryin’ and one kid screamin’, but at least when you’re in Round Rock, you’ve got the peace of mind that you picked one of the best places in America to raise that crazy family of yours! Yep, that’s right. Round Rock has once again found itself atop a city ranking, and this time, it’s for something that’s near and dear to our hometown heart – family.

In its latest study, LendEDU ranked Round Rock the No. 3 best city in the nation to start a family.

The study was based on a unique ranking system that took into account several factors deemed important to those looking to make the big move of establishing a household and starting a family. These factors included:

  • quality local education system
  • comparison of median household income to average cost of initial home purchase
  • crime statistics
  • population of young families in the area

Here in Round Rock, we’re proud to be a family-friendly destination for folks looking for great schools, neighborhoods, parks, employment, shopping, dining and so, so much more.

From the stellar Round Rock Independent School District to acres and acres of parks and trails to our Rock’N River and the so-many-we-can’t-even-begin-to-name-them-all-here family-friendly events, we’ve got something for just about everyone. Oh, and if you haven’t experienced Friday Night Fireworks with the Round Rock Express at the Dell Diamond, you’re missing out on a hometown homerun of epic proportions.

So, who else made the cut? Check out the top twenty-five below or view the full ranking, including a more detailed explanation of study methodology, here: https://lendedu.com/blog/best-cities-start-family/

  1. Frisco, TX
  2. McKinney, TX
  3. Round Rock, TX
  4. Olathe, KS
  5. Plano, TX
  6. Gilbert, AZ
  7. Cary, NC
  8. Naperville, IL
  9. Centennial, CO
  10. Carrollton, TX
  11. Murrieta, CA
  12. Aurora, IL
  13. Overland Park, KS
  14. Broken Arrow, OK
  15. Richardson, TX
  16. Sterling Heights, MI
  17. Chandler, AZ
  18. Elk Grove, CA
  19. Grand Prairie, TX
  20. Peoria, AZ
  21. El Paso, TX
  22. Rochester, MN
  23. Temecula, CA
  24. Orem, UT
  25. Clarksville, TN