Van Alstyne property tax payers will see a bit of a hike in next year’s taxes, but not as large an increase as was requested by city officials. The upcoming, 2017-2018, tax rate was set at $0.635138 per $100 property value. The city budget makers had requested $0.663198, an increase of $.050,559 over the current rate, shown on the city’s Website at $0.612639 per $100 valuation.
There was a public hearing on the proposed tax increase, held Friday night at Van Alstyne’s Community Center. The Van Alstyne City Council also heard from people in support of the city’s library and received answers regarding several other departments before taking any votes.
The Council learned that there were 2,004 people who used the library during the past month. Those included the four young adults who are members of the library’s Anime Club, which meets monthly. Introduced only by their first names, those who were there sporting hand-crafted signs, to show the Council how important the library is to them were Maddox and Jordan of Van Alstyne, Alan of Sherman, and Amy of Howe. Also in support was a woman who said she has been learning English as a Second Language at the library, where she has also volunteered and using the WiFi, which is offered. The well-spoken youth also commented on how they have used the WiFi to help them with finishing summer school projects in time for the new school year.
Council member Suzon Crowell asked about the Information Technology budget, expressing concern that the library wasn’t being serviced. City Manager Frank Baker introduced the GCEC I.T. support person that he invited to the meeting, saying that the library’s I.T. is currently served by a volunteer, but if the library requests that GCEC again service it, the city will provide that, too.
Other I.T. questions Crowell posed included the amount of servers the city uses, along with amount of printers, computers, and other devices. Between Baker, the GCEC I.T. specialist, and V.A. Police Chief Tim Barnes, those were accounted for.
A question arose about city employee raises, specifically about if Baker would be getting one. Baker said that he, like all employees, are scheduled for a 3% raise for the upcoming fiscal year.
Crowell said, after the public hearing portion was closed, “The legal services (money) are out of control.” Barnes and Baker responded to this statement, saying that the majority of the costs incurred are in response to Public Information Act requests. Most are forwarded to the city’s legal counsel for instruction on how to handle them, in compliance with Open Records laws.
Council member Teddie Ann Salmon asked about the costs and income of the fire and EMS department. The combined department staffs six full-time and 4 part-time employees. Baker said the city can only send out one ambulance at a time. If the second one is needed, it is staffed with part-time help.
“The part-time help is typically looking for full-time jobs, and we are continually putting out hiring (notices). Our call volume is that there are about 4.5-5 calls per shift, with most of those happening between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. We are covering Gunter, Howe, and Grayson County under contract,” said Baker. He went on to explain the staffing of the departments, and how they sometimes have to ask for backup from Sherman. Other questions regarding procedure were answered, and there is no item in the proposed budget for any additional first responder staff.
Salmon said, “We got the Public Works budget earlier and we are still asking questions. We own 17 acres at the sewer plant,” and from that, discussion indicated that the city will be considering building a new Public Works office on that city-owned property. “The Department of Public Works [building, aka the Pump House] is barely holding up,” Salmon said. “The Council is moving forward with this plan.”
Council member Robert Jaska did some homework before the meeting to answer previously-asked questions. “The statement was made that our Van Alstyne tax bass value has gone down $90 million from 2016-17,” Jaska said. “How does property value go down when property values are going up? I worked with our county appraisal district and came up with this side-by-side comparison.”
His chart showed that land and improvement valuations have increased a total of $35,666 million dollars, but it is the “non-real” property that has decreased, thus the shortfall in income that resulted in the tax increase. “The dropdown in $9 million is non-real property, inventory,” Jaska said. “Or in $55.5 million since Caterpillar closed in 2015.” Also, Jaska said, there are increased residential property taxes being frozen because of the residents having become of senior citizen age.
Mayor Larry Cooper asked for the first of two required votes to approve the tax rate. The first, which passed unanimously, was to decline the higher amount requested. The second, to approve the new amount, also passed unanimously.
Baker said, following the votes, that to make it the budget work, he will reduce the transfer to funds to the reserve fund, as suggested by the city’s auditing firm, and will delay the digitization of city documents for another year. The approval of the budget will come at another meeting.