City’s revised budget adds $330,000 for streets

HARLINGEN — Officials have tacked a bigger street program to the city’s proposed $41 million general fund budget.

Last night, City Manager Dan Serna presented a revised proposal that would boost the price tag of next year’s street program to $830,000.

That’s $330,000 more than Serna planned to set aside for street repairs before meeting with city commissioners at last month’s budget workshop.

After discussions early this month, the proposed budget would come without a property tax increase.

Originally, Serna planned to pull $500,000 from cash reserves to fund street repairs.

But commissioners asked him to boost funding for streets.

As part of the proposed budget, $37,000 would be used to buy two dump trucks for street projects.

Still, next year’s street repairs appear to fall short of the current program.

This year, the city funded a $1.5 million street program after taking $500,000 from cash reserves.

Serna proposed a $41 million general fund budget with a $15.1 million cash reserve that would allow the city to operate for 138 days in case of an emergency.

The proposed budget would earmark $461,500 to help fund two all-inclusive playgrounds focusing on children with special needs.

As part of an agreement, the Harlingen school district would provide about $400,000 to help build the playgrounds at Lon C. Hill Park and Pendleton Park.

At the Harlingen Public Library, the proposed budget would earmark $90,000 for new furniture.

Serna also proposed two staffing changes.

At City Hall, two part-time computer specialist jobs would be combined to create a full-time position.

Meanwhile, Serna proposed merging two part-time human resources positions to create a full-time secretary’s job.

The proposed budget would come with a property tax rate of 58 cents per $100 valuation — the tax rate the city’s maintained for seven years.

During the upcoming fiscal year, the tax rate is expected to raise an additional $707,000 as a result of increases in assessed property values.

In a public hearing, resident Yolanda Shoffeitt was the lone citizen to speak out against the tax rate, arguing she didn’t want a property tax increase.

Mayor Chris Boswell told the small audience the city didn’t plan to raise taxes.

For more than 10 years, the city’s tax rate has hovered between 58 and 59 cents.

In 2002, the city raised its tax rate from 54.1 cents to 57.9 cents.

Two years later, the City Commission cut the rate from about 59 cents to 58 cents.

Early this month, commissioners discussed the possibility of raising taxes by as much as 4 cents.

Last week, commissioners came out against raising taxes, while Commissioner Michael Mezmar asked Serna to “look at numbers” in case officials consider a possible tax increase next year.

During discussions, Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn called on Serna to find a “permanent way” to fund street repairs, requesting he “bolster” the street program.

Last month, Uhlhorn expressed concern the city stopped funding the replacement of patrol cars and other vehicles.

In 2010, the city scrapped a general fund account used to replace patrol cars and other vehicles, Serna said.

So during the next fiscal year, Serna said, he doesn’t plan to buy squad cars, describing the police department’s fleet as “in very good shape.”