City of Sherman staff received marching orders Monday night that will help them roll along on preparing a budget for 2018. The orders came after two city council members attempted to stop the roll of increases proposed for city taxes, utility fees and the implementation of a stormwater fee, but the rest of the council said this was the year to stop rolling some much needed economic decisions down the hill and pay the piper.
In the end, the council decided to increase the tax rate by 3.3 cents from 39.43 cents per $100 of taxable valuation to $42.73 cent per $100 of taxable valuation. Council members said that new rate still keeps the city of Sherman lower than nearly all of the peer cities used for comparison.
City Manager Robby Hefton told the group that all of that increase goes to cover debt already issued for projects and debt previously approved by the council.
The group compromised on the proposed stormwater fee of $0.60/$1/$1.83. That fee will raise $460,000 for projects but is $915,000 less than was proposed during the budget workshop. Councilors then agreed to a 3 percent increase in the utility rate. That increase will raise an additional $650,000 but is $450,000 less than was proposed in the budget workshop.
At the end of the meeting, councilor Pam Howeth said the folks in Washington could take a lesson from the Sherman City Council. She said everyone on the council stuck to their guns and voted their conscience, yet they were still able to come to a compromise and move the work forward.
Moving things forward seemed to be the theme for some of the council. Councilman Jason Sofey said some of the decisions facing the council this week have been brewing for a long while and are the result of decisions made by prior city councils. He said there comes a time when one just has to stop kicking the can down the street and make the tough decisions. He was most emphatic about the stormwater fee.
Sofey said he remembers the flood of 2007 when the city’s first responders couldn’t get from one side of the city to the other when they needed to help people. He said he didn’t want to ever see that happen again, and the way to make sure it doesn’t is to start addressing those problems now. He said keeping residents and first responders safe is worth the fee to city residents and businesses.
Under the plan agreed upon Monday, the three-tiered fee will cost residential customers 60 cents per month and middle-sized companies will pay $1 a month and large companies will pay $1.83 per month.
Councilor Kevin Couch said that is still too much to ask residents to pay. He said the fee will be bad for business in Sherman. He said there are new businesses ready to come into the city in the next year and they could offset the need for some of the proposed increases. He championed waiting for the growth to arrive before starting to pay for the increased services and infrastructure it will require.
He was joined in that effort by Shawn Teamann who said the three increases together were just too much. He said there were places in the budget to find the money to postpone the tax increase at least one year. He said the people who elected him to office do not want a tax increase and it is his job to answer to those people.
Council members Willie Steele and Charles Brown said everyone is answerable to the voters and no one wants to pay more taxes. However, Brown said, some areas of the city have been waiting decades to get their issues of flooding addressed by the city. Now that some of those places are on the plan, he said, this isn’t the time to push those needs even further down the road. Brown said the projects the city puts off this year will cost more down the road.
Couch argued there might be more businesses to help carry that cost further down the road but Howeth said she has been on the city council in the past when they lowered the tax rate only to have to turn around and increase it again a few years later. She said it is better to make the hard decisions in the present and then hope for better things to come in the future.
Mayor David Plyler said the decisions that they made Monday are not etched in stone. If things look up in the future the fees and rates set can always be lowered.
In addition to each other’s arguments, the council also heard from resident and business owner Ginny Hampton who urged them not to push all of the funding for growth off onto the city’s businesses. She said every increase in fees and rates cuts the profitability of those businesses and ultimately makes them pass those expenses onto the customer.
The numbers approved Monday are not final. Hefton said the city still has a number of hearings on the tax rate and budget before submitting a final proposed budget for the council’s consideration.
Herald Democrat Managing Editor William C. Wadsack contributed to this report.