Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes touched on numerous topics including  taxes, spending and economic growth in his annual State of the City address Friday.
    Haynes spoke at the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon, held at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church’s Connection Center to accommodate the larger-than-normal audience.
    Haynes said sales tax revenue fell last year, which he attributed to the closings of the Hastings and Staples stores. Online shopping has also affected sales tax, which has actually started to come back up during the first three months of the 2017-’18 fiscal year, Haynes said.
    “All the other economic data we’re going to look at is very, very positive,” Haynes said. “There are a lot of good things happening in Brownwood.”
    Building construction, real estate sales and hotel occupancy tax increased last year, and unemployment in Brownwood is 3.4 percent, Haynes said. “Statistically, that’s no unemployment,” he said.
    The most significant project in real estate development, Haynes said, was the creation of the Indian Creek Townhomes, the first non-subsidized rental property to be built in Brownwood since the late ’70s. Haynes also noted the continued development of the Waterstone condominium community on Fourth Street, and Thursday’s groundbreaking of the Hendrick Medical Plaza building in Brownwood.
    Haynes talked about the city’s decision to spend $550,000 last year for the installation of three splash pads. While the expenditure drew criticism from some citizens, Haynes said he’s received many complaints from people that there is nothing in Brownwood for young people to do. The splash pads provide family fun at no cost to visitors, Haynes said.
    Haynes noted that the city’s budget has increased from $29 million in 2009 to $34 million in 2017. Inflation, unfunded mandates and other factors including the increased cost of health insurance are among reasons for the increases, as well as cost-of-living raises for city employees.
    The city gave raises to employees in 2015 and 2016 after salary surveys showed Brownwood employees were paid less than those in comparable cities, Haynes said, noting the raises went to employees including police officers, firefighters and “the guy that’s standing in the cold water” to repair a utility line.  
    Haynes said property taxes are only 17 percent of the city’s budget. Haynes said he’d like to pay less in property taxes, and would be happy for property taxes to be abolished and be replaced by sales tax revenue — but that will never happen, Haynes said.
    Haynes said he’s frustrated at unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments that create extra expense for local taxpayers. As an example, Haynes noted that the city had to spend $6.5 million to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant to comply with state requirements.
    Haynes also said a section of Riverside Park had experience erosion during the last flooding. Before the city can repair the erosion, the Corps of Engineers is requiring the city to spend $8,000 for an archeological dig to make sure there are no significant artifacts in the area, Haynes said.
    Haynes concluded by restating his earlier assertion that economic indicators, including construction and tourism, are up. “It’s not all bad. I want you to realize how blessed we are,” Haynes said.
Speaking in an interview later, Haynes addressed additional topics including the closing of the Kroger store and the  the potential sale of the old Central Fire Station.
    Haynes said he doesn’t expect the Kroger building to sit empty for a long period of time after the grocery store closes on March 6. It’s a great facility with a good location, Haynes said.
    The mayor said he believes there will be other opportunities for the 61 employees who are losing their jobs with the store’s closing. Noting the city’s low unemployment rate, Haynes said, “I think we have more jobs than we have people right now. The word I hear from our employers is there are more jobs than qualified applicants.”
    Haynes also talked about the increase in construction, a topic he included in his State of the City address.
    “Last year was the highest number of building projects we’ve had in Brownwood in 10 years or more,” Haynes said. “The dollars were very, very high in development. People are starting to see an opportunity to build here and to build businesses here. We expect 2018 to be a banner year in that regard. There are several projects that seem to be spinning that we expect to come to fruition.”
    Haynes said he thinks the potential purchase of the Weakley-Watson building by the Brownwood Municipal Development District “could be a good purchase if we have a specific purpose for it. I don’t think we need to buy it just to speculate on it. There are some things working with the Timmons building in that area of town. It might be a very nice ancillary facility to that.”
    Haynes said he is certain the old Central Fire Station will sell, noting a developer from Georgia and two local individuals have put bids on the property. “It’s just a matter of getting the bid put together right and getting the specifications written to where the bid can be accepted,” Haynes said.