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Lubbock City Council Fails to Reach Consensus on Budget

Cole Shooter,

The Lubbock City Council began discussing the upcoming budget, and could not come to a consensus on how City staff should begin.

As part of the work session at Thursday’s meeting, the Council discussed the Fiscal Year 2012-13 Operating Budget and Capital Program, with the intention of giving City Manager Lee Ann Dumbauld some direction in the formation of the budget.

City of Lubbock Chief Financial Officer Andy Burcham outlined some of the challenges that must be dealt with during setting the tax rate and budget discussions, including increased staffing for Lubbock police and fire departments, as well as hefty federal and state grant reductions.

The City of Lubbock currently expects a minimum of $680,000 in grant reductions, with around $380,000 in grant losses to the Lubbock Public Library system alone. Other areas likely to see grant reductions include Citibus, the City Health Department, and Community Development.

The City says they plan to keep working towards a goal of 2 police officers per 1,000 citizens, a staffing number which will likely be met following recruiting classes later this year. While the Council has authorized 459 police positions, pay for 423 of those are currently in the budget.

Fuel costs are also expected to increase dramatically as well. The City’s current 2-year fuel contract, which charges $2.32 for regular unleaded and $2.43 for diesel, will expire in December of 2012. If prices in the next contract are 30 cents higher, the City’s fuel bill will be around $1.3 million higher. The City uses approximately 2.5 million gallons of fuel per year for all departments, including the Lubbock Police Department and Citibus.

Members of the council do agree that raises for City employees should be figured into the budget as well, a measure which Mayor Tom Martin ranked just below public safety services in importance.

The adopted fiscal year 2011-12 tax rate is 47.4 cents per $100 home valuation. Of that total, 10.2 cents goes to pay off the City’s debt, 3 cents pays for economic development, and 34.2 cents covers operation costs.

The Council could not come to any sort of consensus on what directions to give the City Manager in the budget preparation process, instead choosing to put it off until the next meeting in two weeks.

District 1 Councilman Victor Hernandez voiced his support for raising the tax rate, saying “So even if you’re talking about maintaining the current levels of services and no other frills, I think the City is facing an increase in the property tax rate, unless you do away with some other services, as was attempted to be done last year.”

Martin disagreed with Hernandez, saying that he only supports rate increases for measures approved by voters through bond elections, such as staffing new firehouses.

City staff were originally to begin working on the upcoming budget on Monday, but will likely be delayed due to the Council wanting extra time for consideration on direction. The deadline to adopt the 2012-13 tax rate is September 15th.

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