Copperas Cove City Council this week approved its 2020-21 annual budget and tax rate, but postponed adoption of proposed water and sewer rate increases pending further discussion during an upcoming meeting.

By a unanimous vote, the council adopted the city’s proposed $45.27 million budget, which represents a shortfall from nearly $43.59 million in project revenue. The city plans to use part of its fund balance to close that gap.

The largest discrepancy between revenues and expenses is in the general fund — $18.88 million in expenditures compared to $17.66 million in anticipated revenue.

Ariana Beckman, the city’s budget director, has said the city faces a constant challenge in meeting increased costs due to such things as supplies and materials, hiring employees to fill open positions and appropriately compensating current employees to prevent them from leaving for better opportunity elsewhere.

According to a personnel improvement plan also approved during a meeting Tuesday, the city is increasing its number of fulltime employees to 306, from 298.

Salaries and benefits in most departments are to increase with a 1% cost-of-living raise for all eligible employees. Salaries and benefits for the police department are to jump 21% from last year as a 2.5% step increase is implemented in addition to the cost-of-living increase.

The council also adopted the 2020-21 ad valorem tax rate of 78.65 cents per $100 valuation. That is the same tax rate as last year, but is projected to generate an additional $165,128 for the general fund.

Also approved Tuesday was a capital improvement program valued at $17.9 million. The 19-project program includes such things as a new animal shelter, design for another fire station, streets and drainage improvements, parks improvement, and water and sewer projects.

Water, sewer and solid waste fees in the new proposed budget show a 5% increase, with residential customers to pay 24 cents more for each 1,000 gallons of water usage. Commercial customers would see a 29-cent increase per 1,000 gallons, and the sewer rate increase for all customers would be 29 cents per 1,000 gallons.

The monthly fee for a 96-gallon trash bin would go up by 95 cents for homeowners, and 98 cents per months for commercial customers.

Increases in utility rates are needed to not only accommodate growth within the city, but also to help pay for a much-needed upgrade of aging infrastructure, according to City Manager Ryan Haverlah.

One city resident, Tom Francis, spoke to the council by telephone Tuesday, saying he is “disturbed” by what he sees as a plan that unfairly targets retirees and low-income households.

“Anybody who is using more than 6,300 gallons of water, their actual bill will go down,” Francis said. “Anyone using less than 6,300 gallons, their bill will go up. I would like you to think about that as you make your decision.”

Instead of adopting the new rate plan, council agreed to postpone a vote and conduct further discussion during a meeting scheduled for Aug. 18. For details on the city budget, go to: https://www.copperascovetx.gov/budget/budget-presentations/.

Prior to the meeting, council conducted a workshop to discuss the possibility of implementing “impact fees” to help fund future capital improvements. These fees are defined as “one-time charges imposed by a city to a new development for a portion of the cost related to capital improvement projects.” The fees are paid by developers when building permits are issued for such things as new home construction, and are used to pay for water, sewer, roads, and drainage designed to serve new housing and other developments.

Council members decided they are “not ready to proceed” with further consideration of any kind of developer impact fees.

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