Mission city leaders consider 2-cent tax decrease

The city of Mission is considering a 2-cent drop in taxes in the upcoming budget, and Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said the next year he wants to look at increasing employee salaries.

In a budget workshop last week, City Manager Martin Garza said budget officers are working with a 49-cent tax rate for the coming fiscal year, down from 51 cents per $100 property valuation. Garza said estimated total property values in the city grew by 7 percent in Mission this year and by 2 percent the year before. Even with a 2-cent decrease in the tax rate, Mission officials project an additional $300,000 in revenue off of the increased property valuations.

Property TaxesIn 2011, the tax rate was 55 cents per $100 property valuation, and Salinas said his goal had been to get it down to 49 cents by 2018. The city achieved his goal well ahead of time, the mayor said.

“From now on, whatever we reserve and have is to work with our employees and give them better pay,” Salinas said, adding that maybe the city will reduce the tax rate again by a penny in 2018.

The proposed budget estimates $33.1 million in revenues and $40.3 million in expenses, amounting to a $7.2 million shortfall. The only employees set to receive a salary increase are under the civil service umbrella. A proposed 3 percent raise will bring them up to the total 10 percent the city promised them three years ago.

But, Garza emphasized, the city historically budgets conservatively. They expect to spend less than budgeted, and have done so in previous years. For example, Finance Director Randy Perez pointed out they budgeted $3.4 million in the fund balance by the end of the current fiscal year, but expect to end at $8.1 million.

“I don’t want you all to think that we’re going to be very low on the fund balance,” Salinas said. “That’s the way it works, and that’s the way it’s worked for a long time.”

Of the $1.6 million in requests from department heads for additional personnel and salary increases, Martin Garza approved $415,000, and more than $300,000 of that went to cover the new city attorney, assistant city attorney and paralegal for the legal department.

The only other new positions approved by Garza were a contracts administrator for the purchasing department and a part-time exhibits coordinator for the museum. He also approved salary increases to promote two additional police sergeants. Other positions with increases included the health supervisor ($8,767), a risk clerk ($2,325), a storm water coordinator ($5,812) and the aquatics manager ($6,999) at Bannworth Park.

On possible salary increases in the 2016 budget, Councilwoman Norie Gonzalez Garza said she’d never been sold on percentage raises because it doesn’t mean as much to lower salary workers.

Councilwoman Jessica Ortega-Ochoa added she was concerned the city’s water meter readers are paid significantly less than meter readers in surrounding cities.

“Let’s not get too liberal, OK,” Salinas joked.

“We just want to be fair,” Gonzalez Garza said.

She suggested conducting a study on what other cities are paying their employees and Martin Garza said it would be a good project before next year’s budget process.

Councilman Armando O’ Caña didn’t attend the workshop, but Martin Garza said O’Caña wanted the city to look into longevity pay. For example, the city could pay $50 a year for each year the employee has been with the city. It would cost the city about $20,000 a year.

“It almost seems like it’s not worth the trouble,” Gonzalez Garza said.

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