By CRISTIN REECE
The city’s budget and tax rate were chief among issues the Palestine City Council discussed this week.
Council members, minus Councilman Will Brule, on Monday held separate public hearings on each matter during the first regular council meeting of the month. No one from the public spoke either for or against during each hearing.
Council members have proposed a general fund budget of just over $14 million for fiscal year 2013-14 and have elected to keep the city’s property tax rate the same as last year — $0.639 per $100 valuation.
“This budget is balance or better,” Interim City Manager Wendy Ellis said. “Our largest expenditure is our employees costs and this year council included some salary increases. We always try to be conservative, of course. We feel like this budget and tax rate helps lay the foundation for a really positive future. We want to invest our resources so they take us to the next level of quality. I think this budget proposal reflects that.”
This year’s proposed budget includes an average of a 4 percent raise for city employees. Ellis said employee raises hadn’t been budgeted in several years, which city officials said was keeping the city of Palestine from competing with other potential employers.
“It put us in a position where it had become challenging to recruit or retain the kind of talent we want to help improve services to our citizens,” Ellis said. “Our major investment is in our people and we want to take care of the quality people we have as well as be more attractive to quality people who could be interested in working here.”
Ellis said the city also created one new full-time position and made an existing part-time position full time.
Other expenditures city officials added to the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year include continued work on a road for the new Sanderson Farms poultry processing plant, to be build in Palestine; continued water and sewer infrastructure projects and improvements; and improvements, including a new parking lot, at Willie Myers Park.
The proposed budget also includes a proposed utility rate increase.
“Our water and sewer service revenue projections have reflected a need to increase some rates,” Ellis told council members during the public hearing held concerning the budget. “We are working to minimize the impact a rate change would have on those customers with minimal usage.”
The city’s proposed budget is updated regularly and can be reviewed the city’s website, www.cityofpalestinetx.com. Palestine City Council will vote on the budget during the second regular meeting of the month on Monday, Sept. 23.
In other business, council members retired into executive session for about 30 minutes on Monday, to review and possibly amend, the city’s agreement with Union Pacific railroad to locate certain facilities and jobs to the city of Palestine. Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston attended Monday’s meeting to answer questions, but did not participate in the executive session.
After reconvening back into regular session, Palestine council members approved amending the contract. Councilman Vernon Denmon Jr. asked Johnston if he were comfortable with the amendments.
“I think we’ve all put a lot of thought into this,” Johnston said. “These jobs are going to be the kind of jobs that people can go into out of high school and keep until they retire, and get good retirement benefits through — I think we can only do right by it (amending the contract).”
Also on Monday, the council:
• APPROVED recognition of new Palestine firefighters Brandon Mathis and Mark Oliver.
• APPROVEDrecognition of Texas Department of Transportation and Big Creek Construction for the city’s Crockett Road street project.
• APPROVEDan ordinance amending the city’s development code, allowing exemptions to the requirement of submitting a development plat when a new monument or pole sign is to be constructed on property not part of a recorded subdivision.
• APPROVEDa more than $10,000 budgeted expenditure for Christmas decorations.
• APPROVED an ordinance amending the development code to establish lot sizes and building setbacks on properties located within the Central Business District.
The Palestine City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. every second and fourth Mondays of the month in the city council chambers at City Hall, 504 N. Queen St., Palestine. The public is welcome to attend.