EARLY — After months of meetings and public hearings the Early City Council approved its $6.8 million budget as well as a 1-cent cut in property taxes.
With Early forecasting a 2.48 percent increase in revenues and a 1.3 percent decrease in expenditures, city administrator Tony Aaron said the 2018-2019 budget is as much a demonstration of the municipalities' financial strength as its administrator's ability to budget responsibly.
"We're anticipating our sales tax revenue will be in excess or close to $1.4 million and that is a projected 7.94 percent over last year's normal collection rate," Aaron said. "If we did not have our sales tax, in order to continue operating the way we're operating right now, we would have to increase property tax by 74 cents. Our property tax is going to be reduced to right at 54 cents. If we did not have the sales tax health that we do, then we would have to adopt a property tax rate of $1.29 in order to continue operating the way we're operating. When you hear us talk about our healthy, local economy, and we're driven to have that economy, that's why. We can do a lot more with sales tax than property tax."
While on the topic of property tax, Aaron said the Brown County Appraisal District certified Early as a total of $208,773,524 in taxable properties, which is an increase of $14,188,833 from last year with an addition of $5,172,410 of new taxable property. Aaron said municipalities often receive criticism for being overly relied on property taxes, but Early is unique in that if it were to experience a down year the related backslide in revenues would not effect the quality of services it provides.
"People can say there is a downside to being heavily sales tax dependent," Aaron said. "That is if the economy falls down, how are we going to survive? Of our property tax and the things we do with our property tax are those essential services — police, fire and streets — that we take first out of our essential services, then comes the capital fund improvements and the growth or parks and stuff like that are things we do with our sales tax."
In regards to capital fund improvement, Early will keep its 2018-2019 expenditures low with a focus on completing previous projects such as improvements to McDonald Park as well as various sewer and street improvements throughout the city. Aaron said the only additional expense to the general fund will be the addition of another firefighter for each shift. Aaron said one area of emphasis for the 2019-2020 budget is to examine what financial moves the city can make to reduce its utility rates.
"We had a small increase by the water improvement district to our wholesale water rates," Aaron said. "It was small enough, and our water fund is healthy enough, that we could keep that and absorb the increase and not pass that along to our customers. I have had several citizens speak to me over this budget process and one thing we will be looking at is to see if there is a way to save our citizens some money with our utility rates. Water would be the number one I would look at for trying to do that. We're way far from projecting that, but it's something we need to look at."
The council also:
Approved an ordinance creating a new recreational vehicle zoning district.
Approved adopting properties at 615 and 1511 Early Boulevard into its new RV zoning districts.
Approved a settlement agreement with its third-party negotiators and Atmos Energy.