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Committee recommends a new road bond vote as City Council wraps up budget work sessions

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Screenshot from The City of Lubbock
The Road Bond Committee presented its recommendations to the Lubbock City Council on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

Lubbock’s new mayor and council members have officially been updated on the city’s current financial situation, including new tax rates and a proposed budget for next year. The council also heard recommendations from citizens on updates to Lubbock roadways, as well as how to pay for them. Now, city leaders have decisions to make and a quick deadline to make them. The budget is expected to be approved during a September council meeting.

Signs of continued strong growth for Lubbock, contrasted with looming questions about the broader economic future, set the tone for the city’s 2023 budget work sessions. Monday’s presentation emphasized Lubbock administrator’s focus on “maintaining services and improving efficiencies amidst economic uncertainty.”

With two months still left in this fiscal year, City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said building permits taken out in Lubbock have totaled $1.7 billion dollars, almost doubling over the city’s previous record of $903 million from building permits in a year. The net taxable value of the city increased $2.7 billion, 13% more than the prior year. Sales tax numbers showed last year’s collections closing out at almost $81 million. That’s up more than 8% over the previous year, when collected sales taxes from June through September ran 16.5% more than expected. Reported sales tax collections for this year are projected to end at $88.2 million, 9.1% over budget.

Atkinson told City leaders the sales tax numbers indicate a main driver of our economy, as well as a metric for how quickly Lubbock’s economy is growing. Another sign is the plans for property taxes in 2023. Monday’s proposal indicated a four cent decrease in the property tax rate, which the city says should still generate almost $3 million in revenue from new properties.

Providing for city staff is a factor in next year’s budget, with a 5% average raise proposed for all City of Lubbock employees. The city is dedicating $500,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to benefit city staff education, with priorities for GED programs and job-specific certifications.

Pay raises for Lubbock Fire Rescue and Lubbock Police were included, with a 12% increase for LFR and an average 7% increase for LPD. Meanwhile, liability and health insurance costs are climbing with inflation.

Atkinson said inflation is the main driver behind increases in expenses on the coming budget, with $4.2 million added over last year for costs of fuel, natural gas and electricity. An increased cost of $5.1 million for supplies and equipment was attributed to inflation.

City departments handling issues such as solid waste and street repairs attributed their most significant cost increases to inflation in the price of things like fuel, vehicle maintenance, asphalt and concrete.

City leaders also have a narrowing timeline to decide on a possible road bond election, after the recommendation from a citizen advisory committee. This comes after a similar bond failed to pass a citizen vote last year. The committee in June was assigned with identifying possible reasons for last year’s bond failure, and recommending changes.

The committee presented a $200 million bond package for the city council, with the recommendation to consider placing it for a vote on the November ballot. They identified a number of issues in the previous bond, including some non-specific language and a lack of education for voters on what they were approving or where the money could be used.

As the city council makes other financial considerations regarding Lubbock streets, the committee made a point to emphasize that these bond funds are intended for rebuilding specific roads in need, and any money for future maintenance will have to be assigned from the budget.

Coordinating with current roadwork projects from Lubbock County and the Texas Department of Transportation, the committee considered recent growth and development in and around the city, including new schools and residential neighborhoods in South Lubbock.

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This package would pay for work on over a dozen streets and two residential neighborhoods, asking for more money than last year’s bond. The city’s Chief Financial Officer Blu Kostelich told councilmembers this $200 million proposal could have an average estimated tax impact of around two and a half cents per household over five years.

Out of $360 million in possible road projects listed to the committee, Chairperson Heather Keister told the city council that the needs in Lubbock still exceed what they could recommend to be covered in this bond.

The new plan does not include work on Broadway Avenue, which was a controversial portion of the initial package. With the historic brick built into the iconic street and the ordinances surrounding it, the cost for portions of Broadway repair added almost $40 million to the package. While that maintenance is still needed, Keister told city leaders the recommendations they are making in this package are what they think voters will go for.

As well as transparency, the committee wanted this year’s proposal to highlight benefits for older and newer parts of the city, working toward the goal of broad support in an election.

To build that support, the committee highlighted a need for better public outreach and education. Keister said the committee worked in such a way that information on the proposed bond and the process can be put together in brochures and presentations. Promotion from other sources such as a privately funded Political Action Committee was also recommended.

The committee said cross-platform efforts to better inform possible voters is “integral to this process for success,” and needs to begin as soon as possible.

The council has to decide by next week if the new bond will be on the November ballot.

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Have a news tip? Email Brad Burt at brad.burt@ttu.edu. Follow his reporting on Twitter @BeeSquared76.