By CLINT FOSTER
'Tis the end of budget season in Palo Pinto County, and the City of Mineral Wells became the latest to finalize their new budget and tax rates for the next fiscal year at a regular City Council meeting on Tuesday night.
Mineral Wells is cutting down on spending, with the new budget being 1.77 percent lower than its previous incarnation. The City settled on a grand total of $22,438,074 toward expenditures for the 2013-14 fiscal year after a presentation at a special meeting of City Council on July 29 and a public hearing on Aug. 6.
Mayor Mike Allen told the Index he was pleased with the new budget – which the council approved in a unanimous record vote – calling it "pretty bare bones."
"I feel it's a very good budget," he said. "I couldn't ask for more from the staff.
We've all had to cut some things and try to minimize the impact on taxpayers.
We're trying not to be a burden on the taxpayer but still provide all the services they want through the City. It's a juggling act to try to get everything done and still keep the tax rate as low as we can."
Taxpayers of Mineral Wells will see an increase in taxes. As part of the new budget, the council also adopted a new tax rate for ad valorem property taxes at 51 cents per $100 valuation – a 6.79 percent increase above the effective rate. Of the 51 cents, about 40 cents will go toward the City's Maintenance and Operation Rate and 11 cents will make up the Interest and Sinking Rate. Public hearings on the property tax increase were held on Aug. 20 and Sept. 3.
City Manager Lance Howerton previously explained to the Index that under the new tax rate, the average Mineral Wells resident who owns a $60,000 property will see their taxes increase by about $12 per year. In all, the new tax rate will increase revenue for the City by $133,098 – $24,889 of which will be added to the tax roll this year.
Allen explained that the tax increase is not so much a matter of increasing revenue for Mineral Wells, but rather it is more about trying to keep up with expenses. Lately, sales tax revenue has been considerably lower than normal and Allen said the City needs to keep the revenue stream as consistent as possible in order to continue to offer the same services that the people of Mineral Wells want and need.
In addition to the property tax increase, Mineral Wells' water rates and rates for sewer service will also increase. The new water rate is approximately a 6-percent ($1.76) increase for the average residential customer who uses between 3,000 to 7,000 gallons of water per month. Likewise, the new sewer rate also stands at around a 6-percent ($1.91) increase for the same average usage.
The new rates follow an increasing block rate design. Under this format, the unit price for water increases as the volume consumed increases, with prices set for each "block" of water used. This design rewards customers who consume less water by charging more modest prices for conservation. The Texas Water Development Board recommended this rate structure and it is a component of the City of Mineral Wells Conservation and Drought Contingency Plan.
"We've got some of the best water in Texas and we want to keep it that way," Allen said.
Advertising priority in new COC budget
By CLINT FOSTER
As part of the Mineral Wells budget bonanza on Tuesday night and in addition to approving the City’s own budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the City Council unanimously approved their portion of the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce tourism budget as well.
Although the chamber is expecting slightly less in hotel occupancy tax revenue – down from $195,000 to $180,000 – the chamber made plans to dip into its reserves and increase its budget for the 2014 fiscal year from $213,108 to $230,318.
“We’re very conservative budgeters, just like the City, and we work very hard to provide a balanced budget,” Chamber Executive Director Beth Watson said. “I think it reflects what we always try to do, which is to keep our overhead at a respectable level and maximize the dollars we use to promote Mineral Wells.”
The chamber will put all of its chips into the advertising pot in an effort to increase tourism and therefore revenue for the city. Watson said the grand total of money spent in advertising will be $50,000, bringing the total of all budgeted expenses furnished by the county and city to $254,209. Watson pointed out that the budget also features an “aggressive travel show budget” which serves the same purpose as advertising: to promote the city of Mineral Wells.
“We have a pretty detailed plan,” she said.
Chief among the chamber’s 2014 advertising plan is the creation of a new website geared specifically toward visitors to the city. Watson said the chamber website will remain the same with a local focus, while the visitor website will cater to a “fundamentally different audience.”
In addition to the new website and online advertising to generate traffic to the page, the chamber will advertise in “Texas Highways” – the premier Texas travel magazine, according to Watson – and the Dallas, Fort Worth and North Texas Child magazines, which Watson said reach the key demographic for the Mineral Wells Fossil Park. The chamber will also continue to sponsor events that bring people to town such as the upcoming Crazy Water Festival and the rodeo. They also have a partnership with Clark Gardens that strives to bring more weddings to the area.
Watson said from Sept. 28 through Nov. 2, there is either a tourism event in Mineral Wells or Palo Pinto County or an event that the chamber will attend to promote the community every weekend. It begins with Run From the Ducks at Clark Gardens and ends with the Crazy Fossil Dig. Watson encouraged locals to come out to these events to help support the community.