City’s budget deficit swells; Officials plan to ‘whittle’ shortfall by month’s end

Harlingen city limits

HARLINGEN — As the COVID-19 pandemic muddles sales tax projections for the upcoming fiscal year, City Manager Dan Serna plans to balance a newly proposed $48.1 million general fund budget carrying a $481,511 shortfall.

During a workshop Thursday, Serna presented the proposed budget whose deficit has grown by $472,540 since he debuted his projections late last month.

Last month, Serna proposed a $47.1 million general fund budget with an $8,971 shortfall.

Since then, city commissioners have added expenditures including $210,000 for police body cameras, $738,000 for police radios and a $270,000 street sweeper.

But by the end of the month, officials plan to balance the proposed budget, Finance Director Robert Rodriguez said after the workshop.

“ We’ll get some direction from the city commission and whittle that down,” he said, referring to the $481,511 shortfall.

The proposed budget comes along with a $17.6 million cash reserve fund which Serna has described as “a big option” when it comes time to trim the shortfall.

Pandemic sales tax impact

Every year, the city’s sales tax collection grows by as much as 5 percent, pumping new revenue into the budget.

But as a result of government orders that led to a business shutdown aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Serna is not projecting an increase in the city’s $19.36 million sales tax collection next year.

“ With COVID-19 still ongoing, we’re so uncertain about the results that may linger into our next year, we have still kept it conservative,” Rodriguez told commissioners during the workshop, referring to the flat sales tax projections.

But a lingering pandemic could deeply impact next year’s budget, Serna said.

“ If this COVID pandemic continues on, there’s going to be an impact financially,” Serna told commissioners. “These are projections and things can change drastically.”

Meanwhile, Serna pointed to two big expenditures which remain unknown — police salaries amid ongoing collective bargaining negotiations and employee health insurance premiums.

Proposed major expenditures

As part of the proposed public safety budget, Serna is planning expenditures to include $306,000 for six Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs, a $37,000 back-up server and $77,515 in 911 recording equipment upgrade for the police department and $96,000 for 12 air packs, a $45,000 extractor, $10,000 for 10 self-contained breathing apparatus air cylinders, $12,000 for six automated external defibrillators and $29,000 for a Ford Explorer for the fire department.

The proposed budget also includes $52,000 for an Arroyo Hike and Bike Trail parking lot and a $25,000 Ford F-150 pickup truck for the parks department; a $30,000 Ford F-150 pickup truck for the code compliance department and a $25,000 Ford F-150 pickup truck for the health department; a $117,000 roof repair for the library; $17,700 for an animal shelter parking lot; $60,804 for in-house custodial services; $23,000 for two traffic signal cabinets; $25,000 for a Ford F-150 pickup truck for the animal control department; and $15,000 for meetings management software.

Meanwhile, Serna’s proposed budget points to deficits at the Tony Butler Golf Course, projected to run a $266,386 shortfall while carrying a $1.46 million deficit fund balance.