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Alton proposes lower tax rate, $5 million budget

The City of Alton City Commissioners took a record vote Tuesday evening to adopt a new tax rate of $0.4490 per $100 valuation. The city’s mayor and commissioners also reviewed the first draft of a proposed $5 million budget for 2016-17.

The proposed tax rate is a half-cent decrease from the current tax rate of $0.4540. City Manager Jorge Arcaute said this is the ninth year straight the city has reduced the tax rate.

City of alton logo“In that time period … we’ve lowered [the tax rate] five cents,” he said. “We hope this makes us a little more attractive for business development.”

In comparison, the City of Mission’s 2015 tax rate was $0.4988, McAllen was $0.4763, Palmview $0.4751, Peñitas $0.5060, Edinburg $0.6350, and Weslaco $0.6767.  Mission took a record vote in favor of adopting the “effective tax rate”, or $0.4962 per $100 valuation for next year, a slight decrease.

Alton commissioners will hold a public hearing for the proposed tax rate on Aug. 30. If a second public hearing is required, it will be held Sept 13. The city plans to adopt the tax rate on Sept. 27.

According to figures provided by the Hidalgo County Appraisal District, the proposed tax rate will produce a tax levy for Alton of $1.59 million, which will be $27,000 less than last year.

Alton commissioners also reviewed the first draft of the city’s $5 million budget proposed by the city manager. This year’s amended budget stands at $4.2 million. The largest proposed budget increases include a $180,647 increase in wages, from $2.08 million in 2105-16 to $2.26 million in 2016-17, or an 8.7 percent increase. Arcaute said although four additional employees were requested by various departments, likely only one or two new positions will actually make the cut for the new budget.

Along with the increase in wages comes an additional $49,932 increase in retirement benefits and a $32,890 increase in employee insurance.

The biggest budget increase will be an expenditure of  $374,469 for vehicles and equipment, compared to only $9,568 for that line item last year. The city manager said the $364,901 increase will be used to purchase three new police patrol cars and a street sweeper — the city’s first.

The city also plans to expand its new fire department training facility operations next year, budgeting $230,000 in expenditures, but also $300,000 in projected revenues from the new training program.

Arcaute explained, “Our [fire] chief actually got us a training academy number from the state, so we have a fully certified academy. We run two basic academies now. We just had the second academy graduate last week. They have published a full schedule of training activities for the upcoming year.  That’s basically the cost of putting on the trainings and the revenue that comes in from tuitions. So we’re looking at a quarter of a million dollar enterprise.”

The fire academy is using the city’s new fire station facility, but they are also looking at converting a warehouse into a training center with classrooms.

“Internally with the staff training, it should make it easier for us to get even more qualifications for our guys. We are now a fully paid department,” he said.

The city manager said the city will be submitting an application in about 90 days for a new ISO (Insurance Services Organization) fire rating for the city, which he is very optimistic will bring good news for city residents and business owners.

“I think we’re going to get some good news there, very good news.”

The last time the city did a rating was before going to a fully paid firefighter staff and before building the new fire station.

“So, just those two factors, not to mention the quality of the training that the guys have had” will help the city’s fire rating.

On the revenue side, it’s interesting to note the city manager projects over $500,000 in police fines, a $40,000 increase year to year.

The largest revenue increases expected include an additional $191,000 in fire call receipts, up from $169,000 to $360,000. Other Financing Sources is budgeted at $345,000, up $335,070 from last year’s $9930.

Sales tax revenues are budgeted at $398,000 compared to $376,400 last year, a 5.6 percent increase. Arcaute said the new CVS Pharmacy in Alton has just opened up and there is a new plaza coming in bringing new businesses to Alton, but their future sales are not figured in the sales tax estimate.

“We never try to guess what a new business is going to bring us in sales tax.  Our projection is based on a historical model of what we did this year. We’re very conservative. That serves us well as the year wears on, especially if there’s a downturn,” he added.

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