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Round Rock set to host one of the largest cake shows in the nation

That Takes the Cake Sugar Art Show & Cake Competition is one of the largest cake shows in the U.S., and much to our sugary satisfaction, it’s back in Round Rock again in 2018.

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.

More information on the event can be found online at:


Round Rock first responders honored by “Good Morning America,” country superstar Dierks Bentley

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.

Hurricane Harvey recovery: How can Round Rock help?

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 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, 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 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.   

Austin Disaster Relief Network

ADRN is taking donations and helping groups to set up fundraisers to meet the immediate emergency needs of survivors and help fund the long-term repairs/rebuilds of homes. Taking community volunteer sign ups.

Salvation Army

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

Central Texas Blood Bank

Donate blood

American Red Cross

Encouraging people to donate money on its website or to text 90999 to donate $10.

Diaper Bank

Diaper Donations being accepted for babies and adults. More information:

United Way

Houston’s chapter of community support organization United Way has set up a Harvey recovery fund. Donate online and choose to send the money to specific counties or let the organization decide.

Food banks

The Houston Food Bank is at 1-832-369-9390; its website also offers instructions to people willing to donate food and organize food drives, and takes monetary donations of as little as $1.

Traveling to Houston to Volunteer

Register through the disaster portal of Volunteer Houston or All Hands Volunteers, which are coordinating help.

Animal Assistance

Williamson County Animal Shelter is seeking foster homes and donations.

Austin Pets Alive! is seeking foster homes and donations of top current needs:

  1. Large plastic or metal bins with lids so we can safely store food and goods in dry places.
  2. Leashes + Martingale Collars (any size)
  3. Cat Litter – Clumping preferred, but non-clumping needed, as well.
  4. 6 full-size indoor brooms
  5. Cat Beds (not regular bedding)
  6. Liquid laundry soap

Other important needs include: 

  • Dog Treats* – Chew Toys/Rawhides, Treat Logs, Peanut Butter and Milk Bones for Kongs for all of our stressed and crated pups!
  • Paper or Styrafoam Bowls* – For feeding cats.
  • Kitten and Puppy Formula
  • Flea + Tick Prevention
  • Canned Wet Food and Tuna – Now only needed for cats!
  • Litter Boxes – 12×10″ or smaller
  • Large Metal Dog Bowls
  • Large Trash Bags
  • Updated Cleaning Supplies List – Bleach, paper towels, general purpose cleaner, latex gloves, dish soap, sponges.

*Most urgent need

Base ingredient for success is Strategic Plan

As noted in our first budget blog post, the base ingredient in Round Rock’s recipe for success is the Strategic Plan. The plan is updated and reprioritized annually by the City Council, and serves as the foundation for all City initiatives. Here’s how the proposed 2018 budget feeds the plan’s strategic priorities.

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.

We’re also proposing funding parks improvements like the Round Rock West Park greenbelt ($575,000), Frontier Park ($300,000) and the Meadow Lake Park pavilion ($136,000).

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.

A new playground for Memorial Park is planned, at $195,000.

And we’ll continue with our award-winning Downtown marketing initiatives, which are funded by the Type B sales tax for economic development.

















Would you like to supersize that? Uh, no

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.

General Fund

Thirteen are for public safety (Police and Fire); three for General Services (building and grounds maintenance); four for Parks and Recreation; five for Planning and Development Services; and four for Transportation. Note: Ten of the new Fire staff and one Parks staff are to operate projects voted for in the 2013 bond election. The General Fund is fed by sales taxes, property taxes and some fees.

Utility Fund

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 transferred two 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.

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 rate 14.214 cents
M&O rate 28.786 cents
Total 43.000 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:

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