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It’s Emergency Preparedness Month: Are you ready?

September is Emergency Preparedness Month and the perfect time to make sure that you and your family are ready for whatever Mother Nature sends your way.

Over the years, Central Texas has witnessed the devastation that storms, flash floods and wildfire can cause. It’s time to take stock and ensure that if a weather event occurs here, everyone is ready. Knowing the risk and staying informed are two of the most important steps that can be taken in the preparedness journey.

Here are a few tips to help get started:

If we can’t reach you, we can’t alert you – register today for local alerts through WarnCentralTexas.org.

Blog: How we pay for basic city services may surprise you

fiscal 2020 budget graphic
The Round Rock City Council will vote Thursday, Sep. 26, on a slight increase in property taxes this coming year. While no one likes paying more in taxes, the increase is needed to ensure the City has the budget necessary to deliver the high-value services our citizens expect and build the infrastructure necessary to keep up with a growing population. 

While it’s easy to target property taxes as evidence of government spending run amok, consider this: For every $1 of residential property tax, the City uses another $4.36 from other sources to fund the $121 million General Fund budget, which pays for core services like Police, Fire, Library, Transportation, and Parks. Let that sink in a minute. 

Property taxes comprise just 35 percent of our General Fund. So where does the rest of the money for the General Fund come from? Sales taxes make up the largest source of revenue at 43 percent, with other fees and service charges covering the remaining 22 percent.  

Back to property taxes. Consider this: Even though single-family homes make up 92 percent of the properties in Round Rock, nearly half of all property tax revenues are paid by owners of non-single family property.  

Single-family homes will contribute $23 million — about 19 percent — of General Fund revenues forecast for fiscal 2020.  

What’s really interesting is that commercial properties (which includes multifamily) makeup just 8 percent of the real estate parcels, but are responsible for 46 percent of the $14.7 billion of the taxable value in Round Rock. That’s why the City works so hard with our partners at the Round Rock Chamber to attract businesses like Kalahari Resorts and Conventions and UPS to locate here. They’re capital-intensive businesses that contribute significantly to our property tax base. 

Think about it this way: If all the City had was property tax revenue to fund general government, we could only afford Police and the Library, with $5 million dollars left over for everything else – Fire, Parks and Recreation, Transportation, General Services and support services like Finance and Information Technology.   

To drill down even further: If all the City had was single-family property tax revenue, we couldn’t cover the Fire Department’s $24 million budget.  

Property tax proposal  

Let’s look at the proposed property tax rate. The City Council is considering a property tax rate of 43.9 cents per $100 of valuation, an increase of 3.7 cents above this year’s effective tax rate of 40.2 cents. The effective tax rate takes into account the 5 percent growth in existing property values from last year. The increase allows the City to fund one-time public safety equipment replacements (.5 cent), debt payments for a five-year road improvement program (1.5 cents) and to keep up with rising operating costs of public safety and city services, including 10 new employees, six of whom are needed for public safety (1.7 cents). 

At the proposed rate, the owner of a median value home worth $255,198 will pay $93 per month in City property taxes next year. That’s an additional $8.84 per month compared to this year. You can use our handy calculator to determine what your property tax will be based on the value of your home. 

Still, City property taxes could be a lot higher.

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 15 cents on the property tax rate. That saves the median value homeowner $372 a year on their City tax bill. (That’s a really great reason to Shop the Rock.) 

Bringing in more sales tax revenue is a primary goal of our Sports Capital of Texas tourism program. Visitors who come to play here also shop and dine here, which helps pay for basic City services and takes upward pressure off the property tax rate.  

Strong sales tax revenue and a successful tourism program are big reasons why Round Rock’s property tax rate compares favorably in Central Texas and beyond. 

 

Your total property tax bill 

Of course, the City is only one entity which you pay property taxes to. Other taxing entities are Round Rock ISD, Williamson County, Austin Community College and the Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District. 

The City takes up about 19 percent of your total tax bill. RRISD accounts for 56 percent, Williamson County is 18 percent, and ACC and the WCID make up the final 7 percent. So out of a total tax bill of $5,900 for the median value home, you’re paying about $1,100 toward City services. Again, we think we offer amazing value for your property tax dollars here at the City.  

 

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. Providing remarkable value to our property taxpayers has been a foundational element in Round Rock’s future focus for many years, and this year’s budget and tax rate are no exception. 

Sports tourism provides a win-win for Round Rock

Sports tourism has been a home run for the City of Round Rock, which has built a variety of first-rate indoor and outdoor athletic facilities. These sites host national tournaments as well provide outstanding venues for our hometown athletes. It’s a true win-win for our community, especially when you consider the economic benefits.

From the Dell Diamond to the Round Rock Sports Center and Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, the City’s investment in top-notch facilities pays off in a number of ways. 

Total direct travel spending in Round Rock for international and domestic travelers totaled $319 million in 2017 (the most recent year for which figures are available). State and local tax revenues directly generated by travel spending were approximately $29 million in 2017. 

The local tax revenue generated from visitors helps to improve infrastructure, add services and keep property taxes low. The money spent by visitors helps employ residents, pay their salaries and keep the local economy strong. Total direct employment in Round Rock for the travel industry in 2017 was 3,250 jobs and $114 million total direct earnings.  

When it comes to usage of the facilities, we get the best of both worlds. Local folks use the outdoor Multipurpose Complex at Old Settlers Park about 50 percent of the time, with 26 percent being used by visitors for tournaments. (About 24 percent of the time the fields are resting or not booked.) At the indoor Sports Center, locals book about 43 percent of the available time, with visitors utilizing the facility about 50 percent of the time. 

The Sports Center was built using mostly hotel occupancy taxes (HOT), a revenue stream generated by overnight visitors to our hotels and motels. For the Multipurpose Complex, about one-third of its construction costs were paid for by HOT revenue. Operating costs for both facilities are 100 percent paid by HOT revenue. 

Our tourism efforts will pay off more significantly when Kalahari Resorts and Conventions opens its flagship facility in Round Rock in late 2020, bringing an expected 1 million visitors to town annually. We project the Kalahari project will generate $4.7 million a year in net revenue to the City.  

What makes all this winning even sweeter is the fact the services provided by the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau come at no expense to local taxpayers since it is funded entirely by hotel occupancy taxes. 

Tourism creates a diversified economy, which lays a solid foundation for Round Rock’s future growth. It also attracts business and encourages entrepreneurial opportunities. From softball to soccer and scoreboards to stadiums, Round Rock is playing the long game to ensure a winning economy for years to come. Go Round Rock! 

Mayor Morgan: Dell, Round Rock mark 25 years of successful partnership

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN

Round Rock has a long, storied history of welcoming economic development, and its most well known success story is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Leading up to the 1990s, Round Rock was in serious danger of becoming a bedroom community, which is defined as a “small community that has no major industries and that is lived in by people who go to another town or city to work.” Many people were choosing to live in Round Rock for its affordability and schools, and driving down Interstate 35 to work in Austin.

Although small town comforts tend to be associated with bedroom communities, the truth is suburbs without their own commercial development tend to fall victim to traffic, lack of amenities and higher tax rates as they continue to grow. Our city’s leaders saw the benefit of choosing another future for our community.

Following a surge in commercial and industrial activity in the mid-’90s, Round Rock’s leadership successfully recruited a little company you may have heard of from Austin in 1994. Dell Technologies’ relocation to Round Rock was the beginning of our city as we know it today, spawning homes and businesses catering to thousands of local Dell employees.​

It’s easy to see Dell’s direct economic impact in the form of jobs and contribution to our community’s financial well being after all these years. Dell is the city’s largest sales tax generator, contributing to our public safety, transportation network, parks, library and more.

As recently as 2007, sales tax collections from Dell made up 38 percent of the city’s total sales tax revenues. Just this past year, the City Council created a budgetary policy to limit Dell sales tax collections to just 20 percent of our budgeted general fund sales tax revenues, while depositing any remainder in our general self finance construction fund for one-time capital expenditures to benefit our community.

Dell has an impact far beyond Round Rock city limits. For each of the approximately 16,000 employees working for the company in Texas, another 3.5 jobs are supported across the state. The company spends $3 billion with Texas-based suppliers, supporting more than 71,500 jobs.

In addition to the direct economic benefit to Round Rock and Texas, Dell is well known for its social responsibility in the Central Texas region.

Technology programs led by Dell have helped educate approximately 2,194 underserved youth at the Boys & Girls Club of the Austin Area, and more than $13.4 million and 200,000 hours of volunteer time have been donated across the state supporting initiatives like environmental protection, youth education and disaster relief.

We have confidence to say our community has also been a good choice for Dell. The company’s headquarters-related business in Round Rock has earnings of $9.9 billion, making up 29 percent of Dell’s overall U.S. revenues.

Economic development wins are an important part of Round Rock’s success story, and we are excited to see how these projects continue to benefit our community. Our successful partnership with Dell paved the way for future agreements with Round Rock Premium Outlets, IKEA, Emerson Process Management, Bass Pro Shops, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions and more.

Twenty-five years later, Dell remains a major driver to our economy. As the company continues to make its mark on the state of Texas and beyond, Round Rock is proud to be the home of this stellar organization.

Craig Morgan was elected mayor of Round Rock in May 2017. He has served on the City Council since May 2011.

Cervantes: How do you want to be remembered?

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.


What do you want to be remembered for?

I was sitting in an executive book briefing session a few weeks ago when this question was asked. I’m a believer in timing and things happening for a reason, and the timing of this question coincided with two other events.

It was around the time of our mid-year performance evaluations at the library. It also coincided with the one-year anniversary of my Uncle Marcos and our dear retired library staff member, Elaine, going home to be with our lord and savior.

I wanted to know how other people close to me would answer this question. But how would I answer?

At the beginning of the year, I asked staff to create a vision board. On the board posted in the break room were words and images representing goals that we wanted to achieve this year and for the future.

I selected the words “kindness” and “courage” — two qualities I will need on my journey to Uganda. I am excited about my upcoming adventure to restock 13 libraries around the east African country. Thousands of books and hundreds of children are waiting for me and my team from Libraries of Love.

On the vision board I also posted an image of a groundbreaking, along with the words “perseverance” and “patience.”

In August 2018, the library bond project was put on hold while the City Council decided on a new location for the library. If you haven’t heard the news, we have a new location one block north of the current library building. The project reboot will begin this summer.

The design team is taking all the work that we did last year and moving forward on the new site. This will be a great location for the residents of the city and the library will continue to be an anchor for the community in the downtown area.

More good news I am happy to share is that we have selected an artist for our mural project. Local artist Melissa Fontenette-Mitchell will soon be installing her original photography, which is being made possible through a generous donation from Dr. Paul Jones. He was one of our regular customers and will be remembered for his humility, generosity and love of art.

With everything happening personally and professionally, I want to be remembered for being a positive influence, setting a good example and not letting fear get in the way. I want to be remembered for shattering stereotypes, breaking down barriers and, most of all, lifting people up.

What do you want to be remembered for? It’s not too late to rewrite your autobiography and the library can help you get started. You can make a difference in your community by volunteering at the library or with one of the many nonprofits in Round Rock.

Need some inspiration? Check out one of the many books that have inspired me. Here are a few recommend reads:

• “Becoming a Person of Influence,” by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan.

• “Unexpected: Leave Fear Behind, Move Forward in Faith, Embrace the Adventure,” by Christine Caine.

• “Circling the Sun,” by Paula McLain.

 

See Round Rock from a new perspective — hop on a bike!

Remember your first bike ride? The freedom, the fresh air, the cards in the spokes going “thwak, thwak, thwak?” Maybe it’s time to consider riding your bike again.

CAPCOG‘s Air Quality Program is promoting May as Bike Month, encouraging Central Texas residents to celebrate the power of the bicycle and rediscover the many reasons to ride. Whether you bike to work or school; ride to save money or time; pump those pedals to preserve your health or the environment; or cruise to explore your community, it all adds up to cleaner air.

Hike and bike trails are one of the top services Round Rock’s residents expect our Parks and Recreation Department to provide, according to a recent survey, making trails an integral part of the City’s infrastructure. There are over 20 miles of hike and bike trails currently in Round Rock, expanding to 26 miles in the coming years with an eye toward linking trail segments together to provide more connectivity for residents.

Residents can easily learn more and discover Round Rock’s growing trail system by participating in the 2019 Round Rock Parks and Recreation Department’s Trails Challenge! This is a self-guided program to complete on your own schedule and you can start at any time. You can take part on your own, with your dog, with family, with friends and with co-workers. The challenge is designed for all ages and fitness levels. Download your 2019 Trails Challenge Scorecard, track your progress and complete the challenge to get great prizes!

If you’re the planning type, the City of Round Rock partnered with Google Maps to map its trails so that you can check out potential routes from the comfort of your screen. So what are you waiting for? Jump in the saddle and enjoy some fresh air!

The next chapter

 

Planning for a growing community like Round Rock isn’t just about roads and water supplies. It’s just as much about quality of life amenities like parks and trails.

Smack dab in the middle of the many things that make Round Rock such a special place is our Public Library. Located in the heart of Downtown, the library is a hub of learning for Round Rock. With programming designed for kids to adults to small business, the library stays on the cutting edge of information sharing and is an incredibly valuable part of the community.

Don’t take our word for it. The Library recently received the 2018 Texas Achievement of Library Excellence Award from the Texas Municipal Library Director’s Association. Only 51 libraries out of 548 public libraries in Texas – less than 10 percent – achieved this recognition. And the Library’s Biz.ability workshops have been recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration for helping local entrepreneurs.

It’s not just luck or the waving of Harry Potter’s wand that have created such a forward-focused institution. The Library follows a Strategic Master Plan and is well-prepared for Round Rock’s growth. After a longer-than-anticipated search for a site for a new, larger library, the City Council in April purchased property just north of the existing library for its new home.

The new, expanded library will offer much needed space to grow the Library’s many popular programs and growing collection. How popular? Here’s some data from the recently-released Library 2018 Annual Report.

Summer Reading Program

  • 166,055 books read
  • 51,794 hours read
  • 11,591 attended programs
  • 217 meals fed
  • 178 programs held

Adult Services

  • Adult Programs – 646
  • Attendance Adult Programs – 6,601

Reference

  • Research transactions – 34,086
  • Public Internet Computer Use – 61,728
  • Technology training – 13,130
  • E-Resources Use – 23,906

Collection

  • Print Volumes Added – 20,913
  • Number of Print Books in the collection – 225,903

Check-Outs

  • Interlibrary Loan – 3,673
  • Circulation Total Digital Formats – 96,831
  • Circulation Total – 1,229,141

Speaking of value, the community receives a return of $8 for each dollar invested in the library. If you think that’s impressive, check out the table below. It shows the retail value of the services provided by the library, based on a calculator developed by the Massachusetts Library Association. Check out that bottom line – it shows the incredible value for the many services provided by the Library based on its budget.

UseLibrary Materials, ServicesValue
324,056Adult Books, Movies, CDs Borrowed$5,939,188
782,946Childrens Books, Movies, CDs Borrowed$13,310,082
3,673Interlibrary Loan Requests$91,825
96,831Digital Books, Audiobooks Downloaded$1,452,465
21,708Music Downloaded$21,708
6,601Adult Program Attendance$99,015
1,167Young Adult Program Attendance$14,004
38,469Childrens Program Attendance$269,283
61,728Computer Use (per session)$740,736
23,906Database Searches$476,924
34,086Reference Assistance$238,602
 Total Value$22,653,832
 Total Expenditures, Fiscal 2018$2,747,477

Responding to the future

As Round Rock continues its rapid population growth, we have more citizens who want to “age in place.” While we love having these citizens in our community, the reality is that many of our older adults or disabled are left without support in their declining years. Our first responders respond to a high number of non-emergency calls for help that are misdirected, unheard and often ignored by “the system.” We are finding this small population of citizens account for a large percentage of call volume for these low-acuity calls, and cause delays to other emergency calls.

Round Rock is not alone in dealing with this issue. About one in 11 Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, partner or living child, census figures and other research show. What we have found in Round Rock are growing unmet needs such as lack of medical assistance and non-functional smoke alarms.

When analyzing the problem, Fire Chief Robert Isbell saw an opportunity to partner with the City’s Neighborhood Services team to reach this growing demographic though its annual Love the Rock event. At this event, the City partners with neighborhoods and dozens of churches for a single day of service to help neighborhoods. The churches supply more than 1,200 volunteers of different faiths to work on service projects. Fire Department staff are actively involved in identifying and addressing fire safety issues.

A key element of Chief Isbell’s Community Risk Reduction Program is connecting with members of our community who have the most urgent need in order to provide risk assessments of their home environment. For the 2018 version of Love the Rock, two neighborhoods were selected based on high call volume from the Fire and Police Departments.

“That area stood out when analyzing calls and overlaying disabled or veteran tax exemptions, and property age,” Isbell said. “We knew we could reduce the likelihood of having a fire through a home safety survey. With that, we can provide tools like kitchen fire extinguishers to help them deal with the most common fire and, with working smoke alarms, quickly alert anyone in the home so they can exit and call for help. We believe this combination of resources allows us the best opportunity to save a life from a fire.”

During Love the Rock, volunteers are trained to test and install smoke alarms and log any apparent needs on inspection forms, which are returned to the Fire Department for follow up. Chief Isbell says the volunteers do more to help prevent problems on that day than the entire Fire Department could do in a year.

Sharon, an older, disabled resident who lives alone, had her smoke alarms serviced and volunteers also cleaned her yard – abating a code violation. Sharon’s stress reduction was visible to the volunteers, whom she tearfully embraced.

“It’s like a gift better than money, better than jewels,” Sharon said. “As a woman trying to keep up with all the things, it can get overwhelming. It just took weight off my shoulders. I feel so blessed and I feel so honored.”

Since the 2018 Love the Rock event, Chief Isbell said there has been one home where working smoke alarms installed by volunteers alerted residents to a fire. Firefighters were able to respond to the call in a timely manner, and property damage was minimal. Most importantly, no one was injured or killed.

“As well-trained and professional as our firefighters are, we’d much rather not have to make a run to put out a fire,” Chief Isbell said. “We can’t prevent every fire, but through our Community Risk Reduction efforts we can improve the odds in favor of our residents, particularly those most at risk.”


“We knew we could reduce the likelihood of having a fire through a home safety survey. With that, we can provide tools like kitchen fire extinguishers to help them deal with the most common fire and, with working smoke alarms, quickly alert anyone in the home so they can exit and call for help.”

 

—Fire Chief Robert Isbell

 

‘Unhealthy Air Quality’ on your weather app? What it means

This blog was updated at 8:47 a.m. March 2 to reflect that the Air Quality Index is no longer in the “Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups” range in Round Rock.

A weather app message about “Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups” could be found on iPhones of Round Rock residents and Central Texans this morning.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) listed the Austin area’s Air Quality Index (AQI) at 115 around 7 a.m. Saturday, March 2, landing it in the 101-150 AQI range at which this alert occurs. After 8 a.m., the number had already dropped down into the “Moderate” range, which is between 51 and 100. An AQI above 150 is listed as “unhealthy” for the general public.

According to AirNow, “sensitive groups” include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teenagers. These groups are advised to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors when an “Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups” alert is in effect.

Other nearby cities showed similar messages in the iPhone weather app Saturday morning, including Austin, Hutto, Cedar Park, Pflugerville and Georgetown. The National Weather Service had a Dense Fog Advisory in effect for South Central Texas through 11 a.m.

“Ozone season” actually started March 1 in Central Texas, according to Air Central Texas, which is a regional initiative to reduce exposure to air pollution through voluntary actions.

High ground-level ozone concentrations in Central Texas, not to be confused with the stratosphere ozone layer, are the result of a complex interaction of emissions and meteorology. Ground-level ozone can sometimes be referred to as smog, and breathing in high concentrations of it over several hours can cause acute respiratory health effects including decreased lung function and pain with deep breaths and aggravated asthma symptoms.

Summer days in Texas are especially susceptible to ozone formation due to clear, sunny skies and stagnant winds, which allow pollutants to form and accumulate. During these times, residents are encouraged to limit driving and idling in vehicles, and ensure their vehicle and yard equipment are properly maintained, including changing the oil and replacing air filters regularly.

Learn more about air quality at roundrocktexas.gov/airquality.

Artfully planned


‘Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.’ 
—  Albert Einstein

When the City of Round Rock was developing its Arts Master Plan a little over seven years ago, there was limited appreciation – outside of existing arts groups and their dedicated patrons – of the impact arts and culture activities could have on the community. The plan’s vision called out the importance of arts to Round Rock’s quality of life, as well as “strengthening our community, inspiring more investment, and creating a sense of place.”

The plan also called for increasing programming for “hands-on” activities, additional public arts events and building an organizational infrastructure.

With those guidelines in hand, Scot Wilkinson, hired in 2012 as the City’s Arts and Culture Director, has weaved Round Rock’s fledging arts efforts into the incredible fabric of our community. Scot has helped local arts groups with training for board members, financial support through grants, and he’s also helped develop the many well-attended special events like Music on Main, Beaujolais Nights and Chalk Walk.

Scot also recruited Sculptfest, which brings artists from all over the United States to Round Rock for a weekend. This year’s event is set for April 26-28. Just as significant is the Allan Houser exhibit, on display at Centennial Plaza through this May.

We now have 50-plus arts organizations and businesses who call Round Rock home (not including our amazing Round Rock ISD visual and performing arts teachers). We have 300-plus individual arts exhibits and performances happening yearly in Round Rock with attendance exceeding 250,000 patrons.

Wondering where you can learn about the many upcoming arts events, such as a performance by Penfold Theatre Company, or a concert by the Round Rock Symphony or Community Choir? Scot has assembled an Arts and Culture Guide for just that purpose.

What folks outside the “business” of art may not be aware of is the fact there is a significant financial impact the arts has on a community. Here are few examples from Texans for the Arts:

  • Arts strengthen the economy. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports the arts and culture sector is a $699 billion industry, which represents 4.3 percent of the nation’s GDP — a larger share of the economy than transportation and agriculture. The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences) that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.
  • Arts mean business. The Creative Industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies and theaters to for-profit film, architecture and design companies. A 2015 analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 702,771 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 2.9 million people — representing 3.9 percent of all businesses and 1.9 percent of all employees.
  • Arts are good for local merchants. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. Attendees who live outside the county in which the arts event takes place spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($39.96 vs. $17.42)—valuable revenue for local businesses and the community.

How does that translate to Round Rock? Those 250,000 people who attended performances last year spend on average $31.47 per exhibit or performance, which puts $7.8 million directly back into our local economy through restaurants, baby sitters, gas and other items. (That does not include the cost of the ticket.)

Beyond the financial benefits, arts improve academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates — benefits reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Students with 4 years of arts or music in high school average 100 points higher on the verbal and math portions of their SATs than students with just one-half year of arts or music.

“I believe the arts can be the fundamental element to make a community whole,” Scot says. “Plus, the arts are something we all can proudly identify with as we all work together to make Round Rock fun, creative and exciting.”