Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.
Local government touches our lives every day, often in ways that we take for granted.
First responders and building inspectors keep us and our families safe. Engineers design essential infrastructure, including the roads we travel and the pipes that bring water to our homes.
Planners help envision and shape city growth while maintaining the uniqueness of Round Rock. Parks and Recreation provides ways for us to connect with each other and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Employees across several departments maintain our existing infrastructure to keep our investments in working condition. Our city managers work with stakeholders from across our City to make the goals we set on City Council a reality. In addition to these necessary services, the City of Round Rock persistently works to meet changing citizen demands, advances in technology, and new federal and state mandates.
Our residents have a unique opportunity to learn more about how their local government works in UniverCity, the City of Round Rock’s citizen education class. Initially implemented by Community Engagement Administrator Joseph Brehm, UniverCity allows participants to experience firsthand the work it takes to run a city department. City staff hosts presentations to discuss operations, budget and challenges, and leads the class on tours of City of Round Rock facilities such as the Police Department, fire stations, park facilities and our sign shop. City Council members also attend portions of the class for question-and-answer sessions with participants.
Our first class graduated in December and was comprised of several community leaders from diverse backgrounds and interests. UniverCity received excellent feedback, and graduates said they felt much more knowledgeable about City services. Due to the popularity of the program, staff plans to conduct the classes twice per year, with one in the spring and one in the fall. At this time, applications are based on referrals from community leaders and those who have been through the program.
Most importantly, UniverCity provides useful experience for anyone who has considered serving on a City of Round Rock commission or taking another leadership role in our community. In an era of low voter turnout, we are constantly looking at ways to better engage citizens so that our City can continue to count on having informed and engaged leaders to continue Round Rock’s successes in the future.
Even after serving on City Council for almost seven years, I can tell you that there is always something new to learn about the way our City government functions and plans for the future. It is my hope that our graduates leave feeling as inspired as I do every day by all that our public servants do to make our community a great place to live.
To inquire about the nomination process for upcoming classes or other questions about UniverCity, please email Neighborhood Services Coordinator Katy Price at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The show is set to take place at the Round Rock Sports Center Feb. 23-25. It will feature competitions with more than 300 works of sugar art, informal demonstrations, full in-person classes taught by sugar artists from around the country, speciality vendors and more.
Hometown heroes. They are the men and women who risk their lives day-in and day-out to keep our local communities safe. And when disaster strikes hundreds of miles away? They again stand tall in the face of adversity, proud to serve their neighbors in need.
As Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Texas coast, Round Rock first responders quickly came together to answer calls for assistance. They said goodbye to their own families and worked to help save the lives of others, reconnect loved ones and began the long road of working to rebuild communities devastated by the storm. They, like they do all so often, put the lives of others before their own, without hesitation.
Often lost in the shuffle of the next big story, the effort of these men and women is many times overlooked. But not today.
This morning, country superstar Dierks Bentley and the folks from “Good Morning America” invited local first responders, including those from Round Rock who were part of the Hurricane Harvey response team, to a surprise block party where they received a very special “thank you.”
So how did our local first responders help during Harvey rescue and relief? Here’s a quick rundown:
Round Rock Police Department
We had three police officers respond personally in the first day or two using their own or friend’s boats
Our police department and Police Officers Association collected $4,600 in cash and filled up a trailer full of baby wipes, beef jerky, bug spray, hand sanitizer, Gatorade, and numerous other non-perishables to provide to first responders in Sugar Land as well as their families during this difficult time
At the request of the State Operations Center, we sent five officers to assist the Houston Police Department for seven days, pulling 14-16 hour shifts, to cover neighborhood checkpoints and conduct criminal apprehension patrols
We also sent five officers to Vidor, to assist with crime suppression and apprehension. These officers worked 14 days straight, pulling 14-16 hour shifts
Round Rock Fire Department
An Engine Company of five firefighters deployed to Bacliff to fight fires and perform low water rescues
A boat team with five firefighters deployed to Montgomery County, and performed many water rescues
A second boat team with five firefighters deployed to the Port Arthur area, and performed many water rescues
A tanker crew with two firefighters responded to Beaumont to assist with firefighting capabilities
Two elite personnel who serve on Texas Task Force One deployed to Rockport and later to Rosenberg, conducting search and rescue operations
Four command staff served 12-hour shifts at the State Operations Center in Austin to fill emergency management positions
Two logistics staff assisted at a state warehouse in San Antonio to assist statewide operations
One firefighter was part of the Texas Task Force One crew that was among the first search and rescue teams to deploy to Puerto Rico
To say we are extremely proud of our public safety team would be an absolute understatement.
To each and every member of those teams: You are truly deserving of the word hero. Thank you for keeping our hometown safe and thank you for making Texas, the United States, and our world a better place to call home.
Let’s take a moment to think about the Houston area and all those along the coast who have been crippled by Hurricane Harvey. Our community has been spared the worst. We are a city that works together with great success day in and day out, so today, let’s take a moment to send positive thoughts to the fellow Texans to our south. This storm has devastated communities and some families have a long, long road to recovery.
Looking for information about how you can help? Here’s a list of local and national organizations who are working tirelessly to help those in need:
Texas Fire Chiefs Association
The Texas Fire Chiefs Association is dedicated to assisting the citizens of Texas and victims of Hurricane Harvey. Over the next several months their focus will be specifically geared towards recovery for the first responders who may have lost their homes and fire departments who may need help getting back on their feet.
A website has been set up to collection donations. Please visit www.texasfireservice.org or click here to donate. Additionally the TFCA is collecting gift cards that can be distributed to the first responders. Those can be mailed to: TFCA, P.O. Box 66700, Austin, Texas 78766
United Way of Williamson County United Way of Williamson County will collect items and monetary donations to help meet the immediate and long-term needs of individuals and families in nearby communities affected by the storms. It has set up two options for Williamson County residents to partner with us to provide help and hope in the areas closest to home.
Financial contributions: Monetary donations can be made online at www.unitedway-wc.org, or by texting the word WilcoCares to 91999, or via check. All checks should be made out to United Way of Williamson County-Hurricane Relief Fund and should be mailed to P.O. Box 708, Round Rock, TX 78680. One hundred percent of donations will be directed to hurricane relief efforts. United Way of Williamson County will not be collecting administrative fees for this fund. Monetary donations are tax deductible. United Way of Williamson County is working closely with the network of United Ways across Texas to identify the areas in most critical need of resources.
#WilcoCares Supply Drive: From Wednesday, Aug. 30 through Sept. 15, United Way of Williamson County is coordinating the collection of cleaning supplies and personal care items at locations in Cedar Park, Georgetown, Round Rock, and Taylor. Accepted items include bottled water, cleaning supplies, contractor grade trash bags, mops and buckets, heavy duty work gloves, hand sanitizer and more. Absolutely no clothing or bedding will be accepted due to a lack of time and resources available to sort and store those items. A detailed list of accepted donations can be found at www.unitedway-wc.org. The collection location in Round Rock is at 1111 N. IH-35, Ste. 220. Hours are Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The organization says it prefers monetary donations to food or other goods, as it can use the money to provide exactly what’s needed. It’s taking donations through the website, as well as by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY. It accepts checks, “Hurricane Harvey” should be written on them.
Register as a volunteer with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster at nvoad.org.
Financially Sound City Providing High Value Services
The objectives to this goal are: Diversify City revenues; Expand the City tax base through economic expansion; Maintain financial reserves consistent with City financial policies and national standards; Hire and retain top quality, diverse City workforce dedicated to serving the Round Rock community; Maintain City facilities, equipment and apparatus; Deliver cost effective City services in a customer friendly, pro-business manner; and develop, update and use long-range organization and strategic master planning.
In the proposed budget, to achieve this goal we are adding four staff to Planning and Development Services to ensure timely processing for development applications and inspections. The quicker businesses can get through the development process, the sooner the increased property value can be added to tax rolls and the sooner sales tax revenue can be generated.
We set aside $750,000 every year for facility maintenance and repairs, which is needed to keep facilities from falling into disrepair and requiring more expensive replacement. We also fill up a funding bucket with $750,000 for technology expenditures.
The budget also includes $2.3 million for increasing health insurance costs; $2 million for pay increases to keep public safety salaries competitive; and $942,000 for salary increases and market adjustments for general government employees.
Finally, we’re working with our partners at the Round Rock Chamber on strategies to reinvigorate aging commercial and retail centers.
City Infrastructure: Today and Tomorrow
Objectives for this goal are: Have responsible potable water use by City customers, City facilities and parks; Invest in City infrastructure to support future community growth and economic development; Expand water reuse system serving Northeast areas and parks (where applicable); Improve mobility throughout the City and the region; Upgrade and expand roads; and upgrade and expand drainage and stormwater system
There are always some big ticket items for this goal in a fast-growth community like ours. Building and maintaining the infrastructure that keeps things running doesn’t come cheap. To that end, there’s $42.9 million for roads and streets; $23.8 million in the Water and Wastewater Capital Improvement Plan (CIP); and $6.3 million for the Drainage CIP.
We’re also adding 10 new staff in this area. There’s four in Transportation for an additional street maintenance crew; two in general services for custodial services at the Police headquarters and a facility tech for the Clay Madsen Recreation Center; and four additional employees to take care of our growing water and wastewater utility systems.
Sports Capital of Texas for Tourism and Residents
Objectives for this goal are: Expand sports facilities to support tourism; Increase number of tournaments, regional and national; Develop/maintain additional sports fields – practice, games, sports tourism; Develop partnership with Round Rock ISD for joint use facilities and programs; Upgrade the quality and maintenance of current City sports facilities; Increase revenues from sports tourism/convention for benefit of residents and the local economy; and expand conventions/conferences.
Our sports tourism program is growing with the opening of the Multipurpose Complex at Old Settlers Park; and non-sports tourism will also get a boost when Kalahari Resorts and Conventions opens, which is expected in 2020. The tourism program is designed to bring in sales tax revenue from non-residents, as Ron Pitchman explains. We’re adding two staff to our Sports Management and Tourism team, one for operations and one for marketing; and beefing up the marketing budgets for sports tourism and the convention business.
On the sports facilities front, there’s $850,000 in this budget for converting the Dell Diamond stadium lighting to LED — that will be paid for out of hotel-motel tax revenues. We’re also earmarking $740,000 to cover operating shortfalls when Forest Creek Golf Club closes for much-needed major repairs this fall. We have already set aside $3.5 million for golf course repairs out of our General Self Finance Construction fund.
Great Community to Live
Objectives for this goal include: Expand and diversify the local business and job opportunities for residents; Expand education campuses and programs; Expand/maintain quality of life amenities for residents; Build a community where people prefer to live; Diversify housing opportunities; and redevelop older commercial areas and corridors.
Public safety is fundamental to this goal. To that end, we’ve got 13 new positions planned for Fire and Police. Nine firefighters are needed to complete staffing at our new stations, and there are also funds to upgrade response capabilities at Station 3 and $750,000 for an additional engine. We’re adding two detectives and a crime specialist to the police staff.
Of course, parks are integral to quality of life, and $12.6 million of bond-funded construction will start on expansions to the Brushy Creek trail system. There’s $730,000 in bond funding for a new Adult Sports Complex at Old Settles Park. There’s also a parks maintenance worker included to help at the soon-to-be-expanded Play for All Park. Parks is also requesting $29,000 for adaptive and inclusive recreation programming for the park.
We’re planning to use $2 million in bond funds for siting and design of the new library. We’re adding half an FTE at the Library in the Adult Services area.
Sustainable Neighborhoods — Old and New
Objectives for this goal include: Maintain reputation as the “safest large city”; Upgrade older housing stock, exterior and interior; Ensure homes and commercial areas complying with City codes; Increase neighborhood connectivity through streets, trails and bike lanes; Increase effectiveness of homeowner associations; Repair, upgrade neighborhood infrastructure: streets, sidewalks, utilities, fences, streetscapes; and upgrade neighborhood parks and open spaces.
Neighborhood street maintenance is the largest total here, with $3 million added to the $13.5 million set aside in the current fiscal year.
Last but certainly not least is an additional Code Enforcement officer. Strong, consistent code enforcement ensures safe and desirable living and working environments, and helps maintain property values.
Authentic Downtown — Exciting Community Destination
Objectives for this goal include: Increase public and commercial use of Brushy Creek; Expand housing opportunities: townhomes, apartments, condos; Develop “Gypsum Site”; Increase number of entertainment businesses and venues consistent with City code; Increase Downtown connectivity; and provide safe, convenient, lighted parking.
Road and streetscape improvements continue in our historic downtown, with $3.7 million for the East Bagdad Avenue extension and $3.3 million for southwest downtown.
To keep all the improvements to the streets and sidewalks looking good, we’re adding a maintenance tech dedicated to downtown, and also contracting out landscape maintenance services. Those two items total $178,000 for the fiscal year, and include equipment for the maintenance tech.
Round Rock is a fast-growth community, and has been for decades. To keep pace, we regularly need to beef up spending for core services such as public safety, parks and transportation. But we’re not building a Dagwood, mindlessly adding extra layers of cold cuts and cheese slices … just because. Before we add new positions we evaluate whether we are utilizing current resources efficiently.
For an appetizer, we’ll cover the staff additions in fiscal 2018 budget proposal. For the main course, below, we’ll share ways we’ve cut calories by working with what’s already in the cupboard.
For starters, the budget proposal contains 35 new full-time employees (FTEs), broken down below by fund type.
Four for maintenance and inspections; and a quarter FTE to cover additional hours for a part-time customer service representative. Utility Fund revenue comes from water and wastewater customers.
Hotel Occupancy Tax Fund
Two total, a marketing and advertising coordinator, and an operations and events assistant coordinator. HOT tax revenue comes from folks staying in Round Rock hotels and motels.
Now for the meat of this post. Here’s the sampler platter of ways the City has kept a close eye on its fiscal waistline in recent years.
Rethinking service strategies
Construction of two Fire stations to replace Station No. 4
We took the two companies (three firefighters apiece per shift, 12 total) from the old Station 4, and put one company at each new station. That addressed our response time needs in the east part of town without adding new staff. That results in a savings of $1.6 million per year
Repurposed a single-family home to use as Fire Station No. 9, saving the cost of demolishing the existing structure and building a new station. The renovation cost $250,000. Building a new station would have cost more than $4 million
Contract right of way maintenance (mostly mowing of medians and the like) instead of having Transportation and Parks and Recreation staff do the work. That reduces the need for additional FTEs and equipment, and offers more flexibility for economic and weather changes
Repurposing of existing staff, positions
Repurpose of Database Administrator position in Information Technology to meet a greater need in General Services for a Superintendent for Building Construction
Due to the decline in Municipal Court workload, we transferredtwo positions to other divisions or departments, and shifted another position to Police records support
Finance and IT are refining processes and utilizing cloud-based services and other innovations to eliminate need for new staffing as other departments grow. We’ve added no new IT staff in five-plus years. A half of a Finance FTE moved to Planning and Development Services. And the efficiencies gained by automatic meter reading implementation means we were able to freeze 1 current meter technician in fiscal 2017
In Transportation, we repurposed four FTEs for growth and project needs
Redefining support services
Consolidation of citywide inspections function in Planning to increase efficiencies
We deferred the purchase of a $1.3 million Fire apparatus into FY 17 to allow replacement of overdue Police vehicles without adding to budget
By switching to a new model for Police vehicles, we’re saving $5,600 per vehicle, with $240,000 saved to date
Shift to standard designs for new Fire stations — $94,000 savings realized to date
In-house expertise and planning for facility projects has reduced architect fees by approximately 2 percent — $710,000 saved to date
Re-evaluate funding sources — grants, outside funding and volunteers
The Library‘s effective use of volunteers offset staffing costs by $125,000 per year
Of the $110 million spent on roads in past five years, $36 million came from other agencies. More tasty details here
Restructuring administrative focus
Implemented a more robust investment management program to improve interest earnings without increasing risk. We estimate annual interest return improved by $125,000 per year
Consistently look for ways to reduce debt expenses. In FY 17, we refunded Type B sales tax backed bonds to realize $90,000 in annual interest savings. In FY 16 we completed four bond refinancings resulting in $927,000 in annual interest savings
In the next Budget Bite, we’ll dish on the key ingredient to our recipe for success — the Strategic Plan.
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 operatingcosts 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 reductionsaves 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:
For our next Budget Bite, we’ll review staffing changes in the proposed budget.
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.
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 millionworth 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.
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 thirdof 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:
University Boulevard widening
Type B sales tax, Williamson County
Neighborhood street maintenance
Streets Budget, General Self Finance Construction
East Bagdad Ave/McNeil Road extension downtown
Type B sales tax
Southwest Downtown improvements
Type B sales tax, federal and state grant funds
Gattis School Road widening (engineering/design only)