City mulls boosting event center fund; Harlingen passes $48.6 million budget

HARLINGEN — The city might pump money into an account used to cover the Harlingen Convention Center’s deficit.

Under an agreement with BC Lynd Hospitality, which operates the convention center, the city was required to set aside a $500,000 so-called working capital fund to cover deficits during the first two years of operation known as the “ramp-up” period.

After dispersing money to BC Lynd, $113,000 remains of the original $500,000 as the convention center, which opened in May 2019, prepares to close its first full year of operation at the end of the month.

On Thursday, Mayor Chris Boswell said officials will meet with BC Lynd to discuss the matter.

“I think we’re going to look at a budget for the convention center,” Boswell said, referring to next Tuesday’s special meeting.

Earlier this week, resident Ron Lozano questioned whether the city would boost the convention center’s working capital fund to cover deficits during the upcoming fiscal year.

“So $113,000 is maybe what’s going to carry over this entire year starting in October,” Lozano said during a Wednesday meeting public comment period. “Is there not going to be a stipend for BC Lynd during this upcoming fiscal year?”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the convention center’s bookings have plunged as a result of federal guidelines and state and local orders capping gathering sizes at 10 to limit the virus’ exposure.

City passes $48.6 million general fund budget

During Wednesday’s meeting, city commissioners approved a $48.6 million general fund budget that comes with a $17.6 million cash reserve fund — enough to operate the city for 132 days in case of an emergency.

Meanwhile, commissioners ratified the property tax rate at about 0.619 cents per $100 valuation.

While the city’s property tax rate stands at about 63 cents per $100 valuation, the city’s “voter-approval tax rate” dipped to about 61 cents as a result of newly appraised property values.

This year, a new state law caps increases in local property taxes at 3.5 percent unless voters approve further increases.

Newly appraised property values coming in at $3.6 billion, compared with the current $3.4 billion, are boosting taxes across town, residents argued.

“ he commission that’s voting on these tax increases is out of touch with the community,” former City Commissioner Robert Leftwich told commissioners during the meeting’s public comment period.

Last year, commissioners passed a four-cent tax increase, the city’s first tax hike in 14 years which boosted the property tax rate from 58 cents to about 63 cents per $100 valuation to generate about $1.3 million this year.

Pandemic helps lower sales tax projections

This year, the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on consumer spending muddled budget projections.

Nearly every year, officials project as much as 5-percent increases in sales tax revenue — which makes up 40 percent of the general fund budget.

But amid economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic, City Manager Dan Serna didn’t propose an increase in the city’s current $19.3 million in sales tax collection.

$2.49 million in proposed expenditures

This year, the proposed budget comes with $2.49 million in one-time expenditures.

As part of the proposed police public safety budget, Serna is planning expenditures to include $210,000 for body cameras, $510,000 for 10 Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs, a $37,000 back-up server and $77,515 in 911 recording equipment upgrade for the police department.

For the fire department, the proposed budget includes $96,000 for 12 air packs, a $45,000 extractor, $10,000 for 10 self-contained breathing apparatus air cylinders and $12,000 for six automated external defibrillators.

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.

Other proposed expenditures include a $117,000 roof repair for the library; $17,700 for an animal shelter parking lot overlay; $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.

The proposed budget also includes $300,000 for a pedestrian bridge and sidewalk along Palm Boulevard, a $269,000 street sweeper and $738,000 for 315 mobile and portable radios.

Meanwhile, Serna’s proposed budget points to deficits at the Tony Butler Golf Course, projected to run a $209,351 shortfall while carrying a $1.46 million deficit fund balance.


Riding out the Virus: Convention center’s bookings plummet amid pandemic