$324M FY15 budget targets performing arts center, parks projects for Sugar Land

By Betsy Dolan
For the Star

Sugar Land residents can expect to see progress on several quality-of life-projects, a new fire-based EMS service as well as street and drainage improvements if the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget is approved by City Council.

City Manager Allen Bogard submitted the FY15 budget to the City Council July 22.   A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Aug. 19. The City’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2015.

Of the $324.15 million in the proposed budget, $166.32 million is for operations; $144.35 million for capital projects and $13.48 million for economic development.

The operations budget, a 3.8 percent increase over FY14, includes 11 new firefighter/paramedics, two public safety dispatchers and equipment for a new fire-based ambulance transport system starting in January.

Funding is also set aside for a public compensation study that will look at salaries and benefits among public safety employees to make sure Sugar Land is staying competitive.

Capital projects include the 6,500-seat performing arts venue which is set to open in the fall of 2016, the first phase of the Brazos River Park, preliminary work on the festival site and bike trails in Imperial and First Colony.

Preliminary budget estimates show that a 1-cent tax increase is needed to implement the portions of the voter approved bond projects proposed in the FY15 budget.

Pavement and drainage projects include widening of Dairy Ashford from U.S. Highway 90A to Stiles Road; the reconstruction of Lakefield Drive, Williams Trace and Austin Parkway and drainage improvements in Sugar Creek and Covington Woods.

Sugar Land residents will see their trash, recycling and green waste collection fees go up 2.5 percent based on the contract with Republic Waste.  Starting in January, the rate will be $16.81 per month. There are no rate increases for water, waste water or surface water.

The budget also includes funding for an average 4 percent performance-based pay increase for all eligible City employees in January.

Bogard told the council he has budgeted for a modest 2.4 percent sales tax increase in the next fiscal year even though sales tax revenues are higher than projected.

“Even though we have experienced a 10 percent increase in sales tax in the current fiscal year, I want to make sure that the money we budget for this year actually comes in next year.  I don’t want to take for granted that it is going to go up,” Bogard said.

Bogard also praised the return of commercial development, citing recent hospital expansion projects the recent ribbon cutting at Texas Instruments and over $130 million in capital investments from Nalco and a Sugar Land based high-tech company.

“All of that adds up to 1,700 jobs and there are more on the way,” Bogard said. “We may very well have the most successful economic development year in our history.  It is a very exciting time.”

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