City approves ‘challenging’ budget

HARLINGEN — It was a “challenging” budget.

That’s how City Manager Dan Serna describes the city’s new $41 million general fund budget.

After weeks of discussions, city commissioners this past week approved the second and final reading of the budget that comes with $1 million for street repairs, park improvements and employee raises.

“It’s a budget that provides services that our community expects and deserves,” Serna said. “I’m proud of the staff for all their work in preparing and putting together a balanced budget.”

The budget, with a $15.1 million cash reserve fund capable of operating the city for 133 days in case of an emergency, keeps the property tax rate at 58 cents per $100 valuation.

But last month, commissioners appeared to raise the possibility of a tax increase.

After discussions, they agreed not to raise the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.

But Serna was asked to “look at numbers” in case officials consider a possible tax increase next year.

During budget talks, commissioners appeared to put street conditions on the top of their priority list.

Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn asked Serna to find a “permanent way” to fund street repairs.

So Serna boosted a proposed street repair fund from $750,000 to $1 million.

But next year’s street repair fund falls short of the current program.

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

As part of the budget, the city will buy two dump trucks for street projects.

To fund the purchase, officials will take $37,000 out of the general fund and $104,000 out of a vehicle replacement fund. Serna said $2.3 million will remain in that account.

Meanwhile, a $184,000 package will give 2-percent raises to the city’s 325 non-civil service employees.

The budget also paves the way for big projects at two city parks.

Officials set aside $461,500 to help fund two all-inclusive playgrounds aimed at special needs children at Victor and Pendleton parks.

As part of an agreement, the Harlingen school district will provide about $400,000 to help build the playgrounds.

Each priced at about $400,000, the playgrounds will be the “biggest” of their kind in the Rio Grande Valley, said Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director.

The playgrounds are built like whimsical “forts” sporting ramps, slides and other features, Mendez said.

Mendez said he’ll work with Miracle Kids of South Texas to put the finishing touches on the playgrounds’ designs.

“We’re looking at a whole gamut of uses for any child,” Mendez said. “There are different components in the playgrounds that kids could use and enjoy.”

During the next year, the budget will help give the Harlingen Public Library a more high-tech look.

Officials have set aside $90,000 to buy new furniture for much of the library built in 1991.

Director Dauna Campbell said she’ll work with the library board to select the furniture.

“The idea is to replace outdated furniture, tables and chairs in the adult area. Much of it is original to the building,” Campbell said. “It’s something to modernize the building. Now, the way people use the building is different than how the building was designed.”

Campbell said she wants tables with electrical outlets.

“It seems like people are constantly looking for a place to plug their cell phones or laptops,” she said.

At City Hall, Serna made two staffing changes.

While two part-time computer specialist jobs will be combined to create a full-time position, Serna will merge two part-time human resources positions to create a full-time secretary’s job.