By Betsy Dolan
Referring to it as “cautiously optimistic”, Sugar Land City Manger, Alan Bogard, gave the City Council their first look at the $181.6 million budget for Fiscal Year 2013 on July 17. Sugar Land’s fiscal year 2013 begins October 1, 2012 and ends September 30, 2013. The budget includes all funds, a five-year financial plan and five-year capital improvements program.
“We are very pleased to have seen a return of economic growth to the area this year,” said Bogard. “The budget was based on conservative revenue estimates for both sales and property taxes but will allow us manage existing service levels.”
Bogard told the council that the city will end fiscal year 2012 with a $16.4 million dollar surplus, largely the result of sales tax collections coming in 5.5 percent above expectations.
In addition, he said, the city has seen an increase in residential development after experiencing a decline over the last few years and strong commercial growth is expected in Telfair and Imperial in fiscal year 2013.
The proposed budget, Bogard said, is based on a 3 percent increase in property tax revenues over fiscal year 2012. In addition, Sugar Land residents’ utility bills will increase by about 3 percent, or $2.12 a month, because of the City’s conversion to surface water and the current construction of a surface water treatment plant. There is no change proposed for water and sewer rates or for trash collection.
The five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP), totals $129 million, with the first year of funding, $27.1 million, included in the proposed 2013 budget. Bogard, who referred to the CIP projects as “pay as you go”, told the council that proposed projects focus on maintaining existing infrastructure such as sidewalks, streets, facilities, water distribution and well rehabilitation and wastewater projects.
“32% of the CIP budget, a huge piece, is earmarked for street reconstruction and rehabilitation,” Bogard said. “Wear and tear, age and weather have really taken a toll on our pavement so we’re going to need to spend some money fixing and taking care of what we have.”
Bogard called attention to the “tiniest piece of the pie” just 3% of revenue projected to be spent on parks acknowledging that the city is not making progress on the parks master plan or on the hike and bike plan. Bogard said that while the council has plans to study the parks plan and the finance committee is working on ways to get some projects funded, nearly $55.16 million in projects have not been started.
In the new budget, the City of Sugar Land will be able to create 13.5 new positions, including two public safety dispatchers and three employees for the new surface water treatment plant. The airport budget, a self-sustaining operation funded by fuel sales, includes 8.5 new positions. The proposed budget also includes funding for an average 3 percent merit increase to employees based on annual performance evaluations.
The budget will be discussed in more detail with City Council during a series of budget workshops beginning later this month. Public hearings will also be scheduled on the budget starting in late August.