At a Lubbock City Council meeting in early February, City Chief Financial Officer Andy Burcham — who has since left for a new job at Texas Tech — gave a presentation about this year’s upcoming budget.
Essentially, the city will need to either increase property taxes or decrease city programs to balance the budget.
At the meeting, Burcham presented a list of several challenges this year’s budget presents, including lower federal or state grant funding, the impact of the drought on the region and the desire to give raises and increased benefits to city employees.
Lubbock’s property tax will increase from 47.4 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 49 cents per $100 assessed valuation because of the 34th Street reconstruction project and construction and staffing of a new fire station, according to Burcham’s presentation. The assessed value of property is the dollar value placed on the property by a public tax assessor for purposes of taxation.
The increase stems from the 2009 bond election in which a majority of voters approved these projects.
Candidates for city office discussed some of their plans to balance the budget, based on the issue of either raising property taxes or decreasing city services.
City elections are May 12.
Mayor Tom Martin has been steadfast in his view on raising property taxes.
“My philosophy is: You do not raise property taxes unless the voters approve it,” the two-term incumbent said.
Additionally, Martin said he will always look at funding core functions of the city before others. Public safety, utilities and transportation are the three things city government was created to do, he said.
“If you don’t do those things, you don’t have a city,” he said. “Everything else — it’s nice to do things and you do as many of them as you can within the available money.”
Martin’s lone opponent, Glen Robertson, said property taxes would be the last thing he would raise, and only if core services were in danger of being cut without an increase.
In finding a solution, Robertson said he wants to cut down what he calls wasteful spending in the budget. He suggested putting a one- or two-year cap on hiring in the city to cut down on spending.
Eliminating wasteful spending, Robertson said, would also cut down on the city’s growing debt.
The devil is in the details, says current Councilman Paul Beane.
“I’ve never gone into a budget cycle — whether it was my own business or at City Hall — that was at first blush balanced. The balancing comes in the work that is performed after all of the budget requests are in,” Beane said.
Beane said he needs to get the initial budget before he can make decisions about how to balance it.
He said he is confident the budget can be balanced within the current tax rate.
“There’s very few reasons to raise taxes, and they involve major disasters, major infrastructure damages or something of that effect,” he said, pointing to the 1970 tornado as a prime example.
Challenger Dwight Fullingim gave his outlook on balancing a problematic budget.
“I always say, when I can get away with it: How do fat people make love? They find a way,” he said.
While others have made clear their stance on not raising property taxes, Fullingim said he prefers to spend some money to improve the city.
“I’m like everybody else. I want to pay the lowest stinking dollar I can to city property taxes; that’s what I want to pay,” he said. “But also I want to live in a vibrant city that attracts people (and) that attracts growth.”
Challenger Jim Gerlt said he wants to find the least painful way to pay for city government.
If the least painful way was to lower taxes and fees, then that would be Gerlt’s preference, he said.
“Cutting services would be one of the last things I’d want to do,” he added, “and I’d want to listen to the community on the services they could best do without.”
Latrelle Joy said she would need to look at a proposed budget to determine what needs to be tinkered with.
“In terms of the taxes, we would have to look at what the current tax rate is and know how much of an increase it would take in order to balance the budget without an increase in fees,” she said.
If services need to be cut, she said, she would have to evaluate how each program served the public.
Randy Sanders said the first thing he would do when balancing the budget is make sure the city is funding only needed services.
“The only way I would raise property taxes is if the voters approved it; same way on our fees,” Sanders said.
Incumbent Jim Gilbreath is not seeking re-election.
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