2017-08-11 / Front Page

Electric rates could increase

BY DAVID LOWE
DISPATCH RECORD

The Lampasas City Council may increase electric rates in the upcoming fiscal year, but the council has discussed trying to balance the budget without changing the property tax rate.

The council held a workshop session Monday to follow up on talks last week about the budget plan for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1.

After extensive discussion, the council suggested increases in the monthly base rate and the consumption charge for electric customers. The potential changes, which are just suggestions at this point and have not been finalized, would add $1 per month to the base rate and would increase the consumption charge by one-fourth of a cent per kilowatt-hour.

To calculate how the proposed increases would affect a monthly electric bill, add $2.50 for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours consumed, then add $1. An account with consumption of 1,000 kilowatt-hours, for example, would pay $3.50 more per month if the rate hikes take effect. With consumption of 5,000 kilowatt-hours, the increase in the bill would be $13.50.

The proposed electric rate increases would boost the city’s revenue by an estimated $300,000. Nevertheless, the preliminary budget plan still had a deficit -- about $130,000 -- when Monday's meeting ended. That is partly because the council at this point is trying not to increase the property tax rate.

A one-cent increase in the tax rate would boost city revenue by about $39,000, according to a budget memorandum prepared by City Manager Finley deGraffenried.

Another reason for the deficit is the council now is discussing adding back to the budget several items deGraffenried suggested be removed. Those items include a motor grader and a dump truck.

Another potential addition is an assistant city manager, a position Lampasas has not had for several years. The estimated total cost -- including salary, payroll taxes and all benefits -- is $122,000 per year, Finance Director Yvonne Moreno told the Dispatch Record on Thursday.

Mayor Misti Talbert advocated strongly for hiring an assistant city manager. She said deGraffenried has very important, complex responsibilities, and she said Lampasas needs a staff member ready to assume those responsibilities if for some reason deGraffenried no longer were the city manager.

"If you witness day-to-day operations of the city, I think everybody would be quite blown away at how many moving parts, how many pieces, how much administratively, how much legally we are responsible for being on top of," Mrs. Talbert said. "And I think we have, for a couple years now, been beyond the capacity of one individual to be responsible for all of that -- with no backup, with no assistant, with nothing."

Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Williamson and Councilman Mike White spoke in favor of hiring an assistant city manager. They raised concerns about deGraffenried continuing to add more and more duties to his list of responsibilities since there is no assistant city manager.

White, who recommended hiring an assistant city manager from outside the current city of Lampasas staff, said adding such a management position could make city operations more efficient.

Council member TJ Monroe said she would like to consider the possibility of hiring an assistant city manager -- although she initially raised concerns about the cost. Mrs. Monroe said residents have questioned her about city spending, and she said the council needs to prioritize what is most important.

Mrs. Monroe noted an assistant city manager has been a topic for several years but has been removed from budgets at deGraffenried's suggestion.

DeGraffenried told the council he does not think the budget can support the cost of an assistant city manager.

He said Lampasas has made great progress in the last five to 10 years, and he said the city is "at a little bit of a crossroads in terms of what that next step for Lampasas is."

DeGraffenried said his concern about hiring an assistant city manager is that it could take away resources that might be needed for other priorities.

"My concern at this point, in terms of the [management position] that you're talking about, is we've got employees that have needs," deGraffenried said. "Some of them are not always monetary. Some of them ... need supervision. They need attention. They need some of the things that an [assistant city manager] might address.

"But I think budgetarily, and with the question of recognition, compensation, cost of living, that sort of thing [for employees], my personal opinion is the time's not right. I could certainly understand council's desire to move forward, because I think we've come a long way, and we want to keep going."

Mrs. Talbert said she respects deGraffenried's personal opinion, and she thanked him for putting other staff members' needs above his own. She said based on her numerous conversations with the city manager over the last year or so, she believes deGraffenried's professional opinion about the need for an assistant city manager would be different than what he said publicly Monday.

The mayor said she feels very confident in saying it is time to hire an assistant city manager.

"We will regret not putting an [assistant city manager] in place very soon if we don't do it now," Mrs. Talbert said.

In discussing how to balance the budget, Mrs. Talbert said items the city needs for operations should take priority over employee pay increases. She also has said, however, that one of her main priorities is to make sure employees do not see their net pay decline because of increases in health insurance premiums.

The premiums paid by employees vary, depending on which health insurance plan they choose and whether they have dependents on city insurance. Based on increases from the city's insurance provider, employees who have the most expensive coverage -- the HMO family plan -- will pay $780 more per year for insurance next fiscal year than this year, Ms. Moreno told the Dispatch Record on Thursday.

One option deGraffenried suggested to the council is to boost employees' pay about $800 -- enough to cover the increase in insurance premiums.

The council addressed one action item Monday as a way to trim expenses from the upcoming year's budget. Instead of waiting until 2017-2018 to buy a vehicle for the chief of police and a pickup for the parks department director, the council approved those purchases, not to exceed a total of $65,000, within the current fiscal year.

The vote was 6-0, with Councilman Greg Smith absent from the meeting.

The council will vote Monday to set the proposed tax rate for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The proposed rate is not final, and the council has the option of eventually adopting a tax rate lower than the proposed rate. The council may not exceed the proposed rate, however.

Also at Monday's meeting, there will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. to receive citizen input about the proposed budget.

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