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July 25, 2013

Council receives first look at budget

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council received its first look Tuesday at the proposed city budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

But Interim City Manager Massoud Ebrahim said it won’t be the last time the budget is discussed.

“We are dedicating all of our work sessions between now and the end of September exclusively for the budget, as needed,” Ebrahim said.

The budget includes an increase in the amount to be spent on maintaining city streets, as well as a pay increase for city employees, but does not include a tax rate increase despite a significant shortfall in revenue.

In fact, Ebrahim said the revenue deficit is slightly larger than first thought.

A new city budget and tax rate must be adopted before the start of the next fiscal year on October 1. The current City of Greenville budget is funded through a property tax rate of 69.9 cents per $100 valuation, unchanged from the previous fiscal year.

“We have presented to you a balanced budget,” Ebrahim said, this despite what had been an expected decrease of $350,000 in revenue due to a decrease in the city’s taxable assessed value, according to preliminary numbers from the Hunt County Tax Appraisal District.

“That’s due to Rubbermaid closing and a couple of other factors,” Ebrahim said.

The certified  tax rolls were expected to be issued today, although Ebrahim received the city’s on Tuesday afternoon, which revealed the revenue shortfall had grown to $354,563.

And while sales tax rebate revenue is up for the year to date, Ebrahim said the city will have to send almost $85,000 back to the Texas Comptroller’s Office per year, as a result of a recent ruling by the Texas Supreme Court.

The budget calls for an increase in the amount spent on the annual maintenance program for local streets, from $900,000 this year to $1 million in the coming year, as well as an unspecified pay increase for municipal employees.

Ebrahim did not provide the Council with a definite proposed pay increase, indicating the raise would be based on whatever action the Council decides to take concerning the rest of the budget.

“The pay increase is a fair and equitable pay increase,” Ebrahim said, adding the city’s employees have seen only a 1.5 percent increase in their pay in the past four years.

In preparing the budget, Ebrahim said he cut almost $1.35 million in requests from department heads and has proposed leaving vacant all current open positions, pending evaluations of the positions.

Ebrahim has also proposed eliminating the $50,000 contract with Strategic Government Resources (SGR). Former Community Relations Manager and Public Information Officer Lori Philyaw left her position with the City of Greenville to join SGR in November 2012, but has continued to serve as a public relations consultant for the city.

“We’re going to do it in house, with the present staff we have,” Ebrahim said.

Ebrahim is calling for cutting the $60,000 contract with the Texas Department of Transportation for additional mowing and transferring.

“If our citizens have higher expectations, that state will have to kick in, not the city,” Ebrahim said, also noting he was transferring the $40,000 in costs for lot abatement mowing from the general fund to the solid waste fund.

Ebrahim said he wanted to maintain the current tax rate in order to cushion the blow of anticipated increased in the city’s debt service tax rate — expected to be between 7 and 12 cents through 2017 — to pay for a new YMCA/event center and the reconstruction of multiple streets, both of which were approved by local voters in May.

The total proposed general fund budget of $20.71 million represents a decrease in expenditures from the current $20.83 million budget.

The budget schedule calls for the city to announce the proposed property tax rate on August 9, with Ebrahim to formally present the budget to the Council on August 13.

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