"In past budget public hearings, I have seen this room jammed with people who wanted to complain about the budget for one reason or another," Arabie said. "And tonight, there were just two. Only two. That’s amazing and illustrates just how good this budget is."
Mayor Todd Webster and council member Travis Mitchell, a candidate for mayor (but, I hasten to add, not the candidate I referred to in the first paragraph) both expressed their pleasure over the budget during the council’s discussion on whether to amend it at all. One of the ways I could easily measure the council’s affirmative reaction to the city’s proposed budget is that, for the first time since I’ve been in Kyle, not a single change to the budget was recommended during this second consideration of the document. Not only that, no amendments were offered at last week’s hearing either.
The current budget will be the fourth Webster has witnessed since becoming mayor and he went through other budget deliberations while serving on the council between 2003 and 2006. He said his frustrations with those earlier budgets stemmed from the fact "There were so many needs, so many things that we had to get done and we were always having to put off things. The revenues weren’t there. The economy hadn’t grown to a point where we could address very important infrastructure issues. To my recollection I don’t remember us doing anything that was comprehensive in terms of quality of life issues and things that people said that they wanted. Even three years ago, I felt we were still behind the curve.
"For the first time with this budget I feel like we’re ahead of the curve. We’ve addressed the infrastructure needs that really must happen. We’re addressing the water, the wastewater and the stormwater issues. We finally have a street maintenance program. We have so many infrastructure projects in the pipeline we had to add two positions just to inspect them all. To be able to do that and still be able to address a handful of the quality of life amenities and things that people have consistently been begging for over the last two decades and at the same time to offer a tax rate reduction I think is really extraordinary — something I never imagined could have happened during my time up here. I recognize this budget for what it is — a landmark budget for the city. It’s evidence to me that we’ve turned the corner."
Council member Daphne Tenorio mistakenly thought the $14,000 projected cost of relocating an electronic sign from City Square Park to the Public Works Building was an actual budget item, but Sellers corrected her and said it was just that — a projection of something that might happen, but, as it turns out, won’t.
The target of the one of the two speakers at tonight’s budget hearing was the city’s so-called Beautification Plan which Mitchell, "just as a point of clarification," pointed out was just a presentation, but also not part of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
"The Beautification Plan, as originally approved by council a year ago, basically took certain items from the budget that were beautification related and put them in a plan just from a priority standpoint," City Manager Scott Sellers added. "We took items from that plan and helped prioritize some items in this budget and then went back and looked at other priority projects related to beautification and put them in the plan to help shape future budgets. So at this point it really is just picking and choosing.
"One of the big projects of the Beautification Plan, for example, is Center Street widening — sidewalks, etc.," he continued. "We’ve had that in our CIP for quite a while. That’s $5.5 million. Lehman, Burleson, Marketplace — each of those are technically considered beautification. Sidewalk additions, nice pedestrian-scaled lighting, etc. So it was really just helping the council and the staff establish priorities in the future. It really wasn’t intended to set any sort of budget at all.
"Over the last several years and probably even much longer than that the city has been somewhat criticized for spending too much money on the intangibles, the non-visual improvements, which were extremely important because they were infrastructure-related," Sellers said. "But the quality of life initiatives, the improvements to the parks, the visual improvements to walkability and visibility were not prioritized. What the Beautification Plan was intended to do — and I believe doing a good job of — is highlighting those items we actually are working on that fit into that quality of life category and that we will continue to work on over the years."
Mitchell called Sellers’s beautification presentation "a great plan" and objections to it "much ado about nothing."
"It was literally just putting some projects in front of us and giving us the opportunity to provide some feedback for the future on many projects we have regularly put off because they don’t rise to the level of spending city tax dollars on them at this time," Mitchell said. "But they still are good projects that we want to look at for the future and keep them on the list because if the time ever came when we could identify funding or where the funding made sense for us, we could move forward. So it was a great plan.
"It’s pretty incredible just how far we’ve come," Mitchell said. "We’ve had to do a lot of heavy lifting in the past. Just the fact that we’re even able to start to talk about a Beautification Plan and to start to look at some of these projects while simultaneously having a $10 million lighter budget than last year and a three-cent lighter tax rate on citizens after another 1-cent tax rate the previous year means we’re leading Hays County without question over those two years in taxes related to the citizens while still being able to finally look at projects like beautification.
"I couldn’t be happier, "Mitchell added, "I don’t know how we could do a better job at this point of presenting a budget that meets the needs of the community while simultaneously helping to provide tax relief. I think we often talk about those two items being in tension with each other. This is an incredible budget. It’s allowing us to do the impossible — provide both."
In other matters on the agenda last night:
- As expected, Tenorio pulled consideration of the revised Ethics Ordinance off the consent agenda and then announced her appointee to the Ethics Commission, Teresa Tobias, has resigned from the commission. Tobias is a member of the Hays CISD school board and one of the changes in the ethics ordinance forbid elected officials from serving on the Ethics Commission, although the council agreed to exempt Tobias from this provision until her term expired. Webster said additional changes to the ordinance were made on the advice of the city attorney. One prohibited people from suing the city, which Webster deemed unconstitutional and thus was removed from the proposed ordinance. Webster also said the city attorney agreed that a separate attorney, independent of the city attorney’s position, would provide legal counsel to the commission. The council then voted 6-1, with, as also expected, Tenorio dissenting, to adopt the ordinance.
- After revealing the council had, back in January, made a deal with the devil that permits garages on certain homes to project further than any other part of the front of a home (a concept Mitchell said he objected to then and voted against when offered as an amendment tonight) the council ultimately voted to adopt the so-called Design Guide as well.
- In its last decision of the evening (other than deciding to adjourn, of course) the council voted to indefinitely suspend consideration of an agenda item that would have called for another council position to be included on the Nov. 7 election. The council reasoned consideration was unnecessary because no additional council places were vacated.