By Joe Reavis
In a workshop held during the afternoon of Aug. 3, Princeton City Council discussed funding growth in city services through a 20.2 percent increase in property values and savings gained through refinancing a portion of debt.
The workshop was conducted at City Hall and was followed by a council meeting during which the council proposed a 2015 property tax rate of 69.18 cents per $100 assessed valuation, less than the 2014 levy.
General fund expenses proposed for fiscal year 2015-‘16 total $4.24 million, and enterprise fund expenses are $3.36 million. The general fund is financed through taxes and fees, while the enterprise fund receives its revenue from water, sewer and trash service charges. Revenues are pegged at the same numbers in both accounts.
Princeton property values increased about $70 million over the past year to $413 million, of which $27.5 million came from new property added to tax rolls. With that growth, city services must increase.
“We are a big melting pot and it’s going to do nothing but get bigger,” Councilman Bill Glass, Place 2, said.
The proposed tax rate is less than the 2014 levy of 72.18 cents and equal to the rollback rate. The effective tax rate, the levy that raises the same amount of revenue as in the prior year, is 64.2774 cents.
Bond expert Boyd London of First Southwest in Dallas made a presentation explaining plans to refinance a 2007 series of municipal bonds, $3.48 million, to get a lower interest rate and realize savings over the life of the series. The bonds are currently issued with an interest rate of about five percent and refinancing this year should lower that to about 3.36 percent, saving $865,966 in interest payments over the next 35 years.
“The interest rates we have used are conservative in today’s market,” London said.
To raise instant cash, the city is looking to issue certificates of obligation up to the amount of the proposed savings.
City Manager Derek Borg gave the council an overview of the proposed budget, highlighting five priority projects for the upcoming fiscal year. Those projects are continuing to replace ageing streets and related water and sewer infrastructure, increasing the number of police officers, increasing the number of career firefighters, increasing public works employees and budgeting resources to construct a new public works facility.
Public works personnel would be increased by a full-time and a part-time employee, plus better utilization of employees with a program to replace water meter transmitting equipment. Public Works Director Tommy Mapp reported that upgrading water meter transmitting equipment will cut the number of employees needed to take water use readings each month.
About 1,000 water meters must be manually read each month, owing to older transmitting equipment that is no longer accurate and meters that are not outfitted with transmitters.
“We are effectively shut down for a week when we read meters,” Mapp said.
The city has $300,000 already set aside to buy and install new transmitting equipment that sends signals to a central receiver, eliminating the need for workers to drive by each meter to collect a transmission, the current method of taking monthly readings.
Funds will be budgeted this year to start designing a new public works building of about 16,000 square feet on the grounds of the new water tower. The current building is about 4,000 square feet and does not allow for storage of all equipment indoors.
“The current public works building is actually fairly deplorable,” Mapp said, pointing out that it leaks and recently had to be rewired.
Estimated cost of a new building is $500,000 to $700,000.
To upgrade the fire department, the city is looking to hire three supervisory firefighters which Fire Chief Tom Harvey believes is the best way to effectively utilize a mostly volunteer department. The department consists of 40 members, of which 34 are volunteers, and is transitioning to a paid department.
“In Collin County, the Princeton Fire Department is the busiest single station out there,” Harvey said.
On his wish list is a fire truck that would allow overhead access to a fire.
The fire chief reported that PFD answered 1,600 calls last year and that the insurance rating for the city improved from a four to a two, a move that lowers property insurance premiums.
The 13-member police department may add two officers, an increase directly tied to growth in the area. Police Chief James Waters reported that the department answers about 1,200 calls per month and recently started its first full-time night shift.
Proposed general fund expenses by department are city council, $8,579; administration, $371,155; finance, $148,926; library, $118,735; community relations, $124,321; municipal court, $268,607; development, $394,237; code enforcement, $81,046; parks and recretion, $381,082; streets, $296,403; municipal storm water system, $8,500; emergency management, $9,800; police, $1.26 million; police SRO, $151,974; fire, $562,347; and fire marshal, $55,440.
Department expenses in the enterprise fund are proposed as water, $3.36 million; wastewater, $935,539; and utility billing, $692,845.
The proposed budget and tax rate will be filed with the city secretary for public viewing on Aug. 13, public hearings on the tax rate are set for Aug. 17 and Sept. 8, and the budget and tax rate are slated for adoption Sept. 21.