EARLY —Early City Council members heard comments from several residents Tuesday night before voting to increase the property tax rate to pay for either a reconstruction of the Community Center or construction of a new event center.
    Council members also adopted a budget with revenue of just under $6.2 million and expenditure of $5.6 million for the 2016-’17 fiscal year.
    Additionally, council members approved increases in water, sewer and sanitation base charges:
    • Water rate — $25 a month, up from $20.
    • Sewer rate — $18.50 a month, up from $16.40.
    • Sanitation rate — $20 a month, up form $16,85.
    Consumption water rates are also being increased.
    The new tax rate — 56.3 cents per $100 valuation, up 4.7 cents from the existing rate — will add about $48 to a home valued at $100,000, City Administrator Tony Aaron said. The increases in the utility base rates will increase monthly utility bills by about $10 a month.

Property tax increase
    The increase in the property tax rate will generate $80,000, Aaron said. That’s the average amount it would cost annually for 15 years to service a $1.2 million debt for either project: the reconstruction of the Community Center on the Zephyr Highway, a building that was donated to the city, or construction of an event center on McDonald Field, the former site of the Early Longhorns stadium.
    The city has not hired an architect for either project.
     The concept of the Community Center reconstruction is a 4,000-square-foot-plus building with a full kitchen, where the city could host numerous projects. The rebuilt Community Center would be “more than just a building,” Aaron said, as the project would includes a canopy and covered areas for outdoor seating, as well as a courtyard area for seating.
    The project would also include a projection wall, pavilion area and a recreation area that totals about 20,000 square feet, counting inside and outside.
    A McDonald Field event center would be a meeting area for larger crowds, Aaron said.
    Community input for the past several years has indicated residents want a community or event center, Aaron said.
    At Tuesday night’s council meeting, council members heard from residents who don’t think rebuilding the Community Center is a good use of taxpayer money.
    “There’s needs and wants. The Community Center being rebuilt is a want, not a need,” resident Charlie Carlton said.
    The area where the Community Center is located is not an area of growth, but “is just a fast exit” for motorists leaving the city.
    Carlton said the city could instead spend the money on first responders. Home values are increased by first responders and utilities, not by “a community center in a bad place,” Carlton said.

Water, sewer, sanitation increases
    The increase in water rates is necessary because water revenue has been down, and the Brown County Water Improvement District recently increased the price of wholesale water by 8 percent, Aaron said.
    The sewer rate is increasing to pay for a new sewer treatment plant, and the sanitation rate is increasing because the city is providing new services including rollout carts, bulk trash pickup and brush pickup.
    Even with the increases, Early’s rates are lower than average area rates, Aaron said.