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Local News

June 11, 2014

Council talks about proposed budget, YMCA

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council had a chance Tuesday to discuss City Manager Massoud Ebrahim’s proposed “pay as you go” budget for next year.

However, most of the comments came not from the council, but from two members of the audience, who spoke on an item which as of now is not included in the Fiscal Year 2014/15 budget, the YMCA/event center.

Ron Rogers stressed the council is not obligated to issue $15 million in bonds to pay for the project.

“What we voted on last May was a non-binding resolution,” Rogers said. “It did not mandate it.”

Rogers and Ron Chetlin both argued that the city’s support of the YMCA violated religious freedom principles in the Texas and United States constitutions.

Chetlin, who is Jewish, said Greenville needed an athletic center, but not a taxpayer supported YMCA.

“To use a facility that we need, that the taxpayers paid for, they’d need to join a religious organization,” Chetlin said.

Ebrahim presented the council with the preliminary budget estimates during the May 27 work session and invited the council to give him feedback during Tuesday’s work session.

Ebrahim’s proposed budget calls for about a 1 cent increase in the property tax rate, to help pay for the rebuilding of streets approved by local voters in May 2013.

“That is just for the first phase,” Ebrahim said Tuesday. “The second phase will come the next year and the third phase will come the year after that.”

Each phase will likely require an additional one cent tax increase.

Ebrahim said all of the current services provided by the city would be paid for under the current tax rate, and would also include $150,000 toward a new fire truck sinking fund, $420,000 toward the replacement of Fire Station No. 1, increasing the Street Improvement Program budget from $1 million this year to $1.2 million next year and $240,000 for employee pay raises.

Ebrahim explained putting some toward major projects each year is better than having to sell large bonds all at one time, adding to the city’s ongoing debt.

“We are proposing to pay as we go, so we do not borrow money,” Ebrahim said.

The Street Improvement Program, which covers maintenance needs to about a dozen streets a year, would see annual increases.

“We are proposing to increase that in five years to $2 million,” Ebrahim said.

The figures in the proposed budget is based on the city’s preliminary appraised property value of $1.483 billion from the Hunt County Appraisal District. Ebrahim said the final numbers will be out by late July or early August.

“That number is more likely to come down and will have a domino effect on everything I have told you here,”

During the work session Council member Dan Perkins asked what the tax impact would be if the YMCA project — which was not included in Ebrahim’s proposed budget — moved forward.

Ebrahim said the city could proceed with the initial steps of the effort under a reimbursement resolution passed by the council last year, which would authorize up to $2.5 million in spending before the bonds are issued, adding up to about another two cent tax increase next year.

“We would need to start selling bonds in the second quarter of 2015,” he explained. The bonds would add another 4 to 7 cents to the tax rate, depending on the total amount of the bond package sold.

Chetlin and Rogers spoke during the Citizens To Be Heard section of the regular session, both objecting to the religious implications of the city’s involvement with the project.

Rogers said Article 1, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution, “Freedom of Worship”, says no man will be compelled to attend any place of worship or maintain any ministry against his consent.

“I’m not giving you my consent and you are violating the Texas Constitution,” Rogers said.

Chetlin objected to the city financially supporting the establishment of a new YMCA building.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t want to do that,’ he said.

Chetlin said he had no difficulty in the city building an athletic or activity center for use by the public.

“We need the facility, but it needs to be the Greenville activity center,” Chetlin said. “What we don’t need is the city building the YMCA.”

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