BELLAIRE MAYOR’S MUSINGS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • By Andrew Friedberg
Budgeting for FY 2020 — and beyond
Page 10 | THE ESSENTIALS
about funding —
one fiscal year at
a time — the level
of services our
As taxpayers we
know these things
cost money, and
the budget is a reflection of what we want
and what we’re willing to pay for. But it’s
also at least as much about planning for
the future, even beyond the next fiscal
year, to ensure our continued financial
stability and protect our AAA bond rating.
The city manager’s proposed budget
for fiscal year 2020 is no exception.
The need to replenish our declining
ending fund balances hasn’t gone away.
In fact, our current budget, adopted last
year, represented somewhat of a setback
in that regard, as we held property tax
revenues steady in light of Hurricane
Harvey and also deferred the water and
sewer rate increases that were otherwise
scheduled to phase in. That was the
right thing to do a year ago, but can’t be
sustained indefinitely. The proposed
budget is thus built around our five-year
fiscal forecast, which includes alternative
growth scenarios to highlight the extent of
Whichever way you slice it, under either
scenario or somewhere in between,
we’re projected to fall behind soon.
The only difference is how quickly.
Conscious of the desire to maintain
service levels consistent with our stated
priorities, and against the restrictive
backdrop so soberingly illustrated by
the fiscal forecast, the city manager’s
recommendation is forward-looking and
emphasizes the need to shore up our
reserves so that we can continue meeting
service expectations in the coming years.
The impact on the average homeowner
(with homestead exemption but without
senior/disabled exemption) would be
Council’s questions and discussion on
the initial presentation of the proposed
budget certainly suggest a receptiveness
to deeper cost-cutting but with the
express understanding that to do so would
necessarily entail service reductions.
Simply put, to avoid a significant tax
increase to cover upcoming budgets (and
make up last year’s lost ground), as a
community we’d need to reprioritize what
we want and what we’re willing to pay for.
Especially because, as a City of Homes,
we’re so heavily dependent on property
taxes as our primary source of revenue.
The rising costs of existing services means
higher taxes or reduced services.
The (comparatively) easy cuts have
already been made. Eliminated from
the proposed budget, for now the third
year in a row, is any cash contribution
to our pavement management program.
Vehicles and equipment, the other nonrecurring
expense category on which
we’ve cut back in recent budgets, is
again funded adequately but not more.
Previously planned parks improvements
are further deferred.
Proposed new additions to the budget
are not many in number, but do include
some big-ticket items, among them an
anticipated 15 percent health insurance
rate increase ($200,846), a market-driven
1.5 percent cost of living adjustment
($174,377), the resident-petitioned
off-cycle sidewalks charter election
in May ($80,500), and funding for
demolition of the few remaining homes
left unremediated since Harvey ($32,000,
which the city will ultimately be able to
recoup by liens on those properties).
Note that the 1.5 percent cost of living
adjustment is still below the index, and,
unlike in past years, there is no annual
employee step increase in the proposed
budget. Nor is there an increase in
staffing levels, as the city manager and
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