City

Baytown property taxpayers will see a 1-cent decrease in their tax rate next year after the City Council approved the change Thursday, along with several budget reductions to make up for the roughly $1.2 million that will stay in the pockets of taxpayers rather than in city accounts.

The council had asked city staff to find the reductions in a previous meeting.

Wade Nickerson, the city’s director of finance, said the other option council members had asked to consider, raising the exemption for senior citizens and disabled residents from $50,000 to $75,000, would have resulted in about the same budget change.

However, he said that would be difficult to implement since property values have already been certified for the year. He said he would bring a proposal back for an exemption increase to consider for the next tax year.

About half of the savings will come from reducing planned reserves. It is city policy to have 60-90 days of operating costs in reserve. The original budget had proposed a 92-day reserve that will be reduced to 90 days—about $555,000.

Another $395,000 comes from small reductions across a wide variety of departments and programs, he said.

A multi-year effort to convert all city records to digital form will be slowed a bit, spending $200,000 on it next year instead of $300,000.

Three other programs will be reduced by $50,000 each: contract engineers to speed permit applications (to $150,00), highway cleanup (to $200,000) and on-off ramp improvements (to $200,000).

That final item is intended to address debris along ramps and freeway intersections, as well as painting or pressure-washing. City Manager Rick Davis said the city will try to get that work done by TxDOT, which owns the freeways.

Mayor Brandon Capetillo said he would talk to TxDOT about the appearance of freeways in Baytown. “The entire east side [of Harris County] seems like we are the red-headed step-child,” he said. “Every time overpasses and direct connectors are built in the Houston area, it seems like we get pretty much the base model.”

Council member Robert Hoskins asked for staff to study the cost of overtime for city employees and consider hiring additional staff to reduce overtime costs.

Council member Chris Presley said his constituents are in favor of the reduction. He noted that some say a small reduction is insignificant—you only save the cost of a cheeseburger each month. “Honestly, the majority of my constituents would rather have the cheeseburger.”

While council approved the 1-cent reduction, it did not formally approve the budget after Nickerson asked to have time to re-format and re-print the proposal to reflect the items being cut.

The council plans to approve the budget by the end of August.

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