By CRISTIN REECE
Palestine residents’ property tax rate remains the same, but their city utility rates are on the rise after Monday’s council meeting.
The Palestine City Council — sans Councilman Jim Yelverton — unanimously approved keeping city’s 2013-14 tax rate at $0.639 per $100 valuation, citing an increase in property valuations as the reason for keeping the rate the same. Council members also unanimously approved to increase water, sewer and sanitation rates for Palestine residents.
“We’re trying to bring our rates up to balance the (water/wastewater) budget,” Public Works Department Director Tim Perry told council members on Monday. Perry was filling in for interim City Manager Wendy Ellis, who was absent from Monday’s meeting due to a family matter. “We haven’t had a rate increase in quite a while and these increases will help us get our heads back above water.”
Councilman Steve Presley added, “This gets us where we can cover our water utility department’s costs again. There are so many federal and state regulations and requirements we didn’t have 20 years ago. We have to comply or they fine us, and cost us even more. We can’t allow the general fund balance to cover these costs — it has to pay for itself.”
Residential water rates are rising to $3.52 per 1,000 gallons used up to 20,000; $4.31 per 1,000 gallons after 20,000 gallons. Commercial water rates increased to $3.76 per 1,000 gallons used up to 20,000; $4.49 per 1,000 after 20,000 gallons. Minimum usage was also lowered from 3,000 gallons to 2,000 gallons.
Wastewater rates stayed the same, but the minimum usage limit was lowered to 2,000 from 3,000 gallons. The city’s base sewer surcharge, which is part of a federal mandate, increased $1.12 for residential customers and 85 cents for commercial customers.
The city’s sanitation (trash pick-up) rates climbed from $14.97 to $18.32 for residential customers and from $31.72 to $38.83 for commercial polycart users. The city’s dumpster rates increase 22 percent and the city’s street sanitation fee was raised to $2.10.
“Only our sanitation rates changed — pick up dates and bag limits are still the same,” City Secretary Teresa Herrera said, clarifying the changes made to the city’s trash pick-up service.
The new rates will take effect Oct. 1.
In a related matter, council members approved the city’s 2013-14 budget on a vote of 5-1. Councilman Will Brule cast the dissenting vote. The budget included an average of a 4 percent raise for city employees, which city officials said hadn’t been budgeted in several years.
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 built in Palestine; continued water and sewer infrastructure projects and improvements; and improvements, including a new parking lot, at Willie Myers Park.
Also on Monday, the Council:
• APPROVED the appointment of Diane Davis and the reappointments of Cecil Staples, Sara Minton, Don Jackson Jr. and Blake Starkey to the Health Facilities Development Corporation.
• APPROVED the appointment of Jerry Bolton and the reappointments of Alan Herrington, Norris White Jr. and Bun D. Price to the Historic Landmarks Commission.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Ronald Jarrett, Elton Haynes, Jerry Bell and Steve Brannon to the Airport Advisory Board.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Buddy Morel, Mark Henderson, Mark Thomas and Kurt Herrington to the Building Standards Commission.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Rhonda Herrington, Bonnie Woolverton and Nikki Calhoun to the Library Board.
• APPROVED the reappointment of Mary Jean Mollard to the Main Street Advisory Board.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Carla Cubstead, Thelma Holland and Eric Musil to the Parks Advisory Board.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Richard Farris Jr., Mary Cox and Bob Snow to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Sameer Bhatt, Jackson Hanks, Mendi Perry and Adam Harding to the Tourism Advisory Board.
• APPROVED the reappointments of Mike Davis and Brick Parsons to the Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeal.
• APPROVED the reappointment of Steve Presley to the Real Estate Committee.
• APPROVED an ordinance changing the courthouse square area from a zoning classification general retail commercial district to a central business district zoning classification.
• APPROVED extending for another year the city’s contract for auditing services with Frank Campos, CPA, PLLC.
• APPROVED a request from Bon Appetit eatery to release its lease on space at the Palestine Mall.
• APPROVED a resolution authorizing the city manager to execute an agreement with Texas Department of Transportation for the temporary closing of state right-of-way on Oct. 26-27.
The Palestine City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. every second and fourth Monday of the month in the city council chambers at City Hall, 504 N. Queen St., in Palestine. The public is welcome to attend.