Edinburg will be fine, budget-wise, as long the city stays within its own constraints, according to Elias Longoria Jr., who says there is a "conservative aggressiveness" mindset among City Council members in their approach to this year's budget.
Following the city's second budget work session on Aug. 16, Longoria was asked to gauge the priorities of the Council as they attempt to balance diminished revenues from property taxes and an increase in demand for services from a steadily growing community.
Speaking on a personal level, Longoria said he took the approach of first "targeting things that were necessary" including police and fire departments followed by quality of life items like golf courses, parks and municipal swimming pools.
"We want to be able to provide all the services, but we want to be sure we stay within our own means," said Longoria when asked about the mindset of City Council in regards to the budget. "We don't want to be spending money we don't have. Absolutely, the first and primary thing we want to do is make sure the departments get their main needs taken care of, at the same time staying conservative enough that we don't overspend."
The City Council was provided with a draft and presentation of the proposed budget by city manager Ramiro Garza, who expects to have the final budget ready by the council's regular meeting on Sept. 6.
Some highlights of the preliminary budget, Garza said, include not increasing the tax rate, currently at .635000 per $100 assessed valuation, for the 17th year in a row.
The city is also proposing a 3 percent pay raise for full time, and non-civil employees, as well as a 2 percent decrease in the cost of employee health insurance, which will not only reflected in premiums, but the cost that employees bear for dependents, Garza said.
The city also proposed increased spending on public safety, including the addition of seven new police officers, as well as additional fire equipment, including a brush truck valued at $350,000
"We have been very proactive about how we manage our budget. Because of that there is no immediate need to lay off city workers or raise property taxes," Garza told Councilmembers. "We are recommending a balanced budget. This budget keeps our city government within our fiscal means, and what you have before you, adequately funds all the priorities identified within our budget."
"It was another difficult task again, trying to formulate this budget for you. What we have here is balanced, and even though our community continues to grow we still got, on our certified tax rolls, a reduction of .20 percent from our property taxes, so there is a little less revenue to work with," Garza said.
Through his position as senior VP with Lone Star National Bank, Longoria touted his budgetary expertise during his campaign for city council earlier this year. Cautious about making any wholesale changes to the budget from the outset, and risk making waves among council members, Longoria rather expressed his interest in lending his expertise to the process.
"To read a financial statement, to read a budget and look at tax returns and related financial information, I can review and look at and be extremely comfortable with that," Longoria said at the time. "The city does a good job, there's nothing to say that I have to come in and make wholesale changes to. I will be looking on, and offering my expertise and suggestions but it's not a broken wheel. We just have to make sure that we put grease on it and it keeps working. I'm excited about it. There are a lot of challenges, but I think I'm up to the task."