Council approves another salary equity plan for staff

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

In what officials said they hoped would be an "example" to other taxing entities in the area, the Alice City Council voted Thursday to approve a reduction in property taxes for the 2008 fiscal year.

In a unanimous vote, the council approved a tax rate of $.33108 per $100 valuation, slightly under the effective rate of $.334471 per $100 valuation. The effective rate is the rate necessary to collect the same amount of taxes as the previous year. Both of those rates represent a reduction from the 2007 tax rate, which was set at $.40 per $100 valuation.

Prior to the vote, City Manager Albert Uresti presented information to the council that indicated the city has traditionally had a lower tax rate than the county or the school district.

Uresti informed the council that in the previous year, while the city's tax rate was set at $.40 per $100 valuation, Jim Wells County had a tax rate of $.705832 per $100 valuation and the Alice Independent School District had a tax rate of $1.515 per $100 valuation.

"You are to be commended for your decision to reduce the taxes," Uresti said. "Hopefully, this will be an example to other taxing entities to reduce their rates as well."

The council briefly considered approving a rate of $.359471 per $100 valuation which, while lower than the rate for the previous year, would have brought an additional $207,119 in revenue to the city next year.

Uresti informed the council the additional revenue from that rate, combined with $1 million in proposed cuts in expenses, would allow the city to meet the fiscal year 2008 budget without transferring money from the reserve fund. For the 2007 fiscal year, which comes to a close next month, the city is expected to take $1.3 million from the reserve fund to meet the budget.

The council ultimately requested city staff to find additional cuts to make up for the $207,119 in revenue, and approved the reduction in property taxes.

Because the tax rate approved by the council is lower than the effective rate, the council is not required to hold public hearings on the rate, officials said.

In other budget business, the council approved a new Salary Equity Plan for the city, revising a plan that had been approved in a meeting last week.

Under the new plan, most employees will receive a cost of living adjustment of three percent, and some employees will also receive a $.25 per hour increase in addition to that adjustment.

The plan was approved in a 3-1 vote, with only council member Leo Escobar voting in opposition to the plan.

Escobar, who had presented the salary equity plan approved by the council last week, said the new plan did not go far enough toward helping employees who have been "ignored for years and years," while others have received adjustments.

"The increase of $.25 per hour provides for an increase of only $20 per pay period prior to deductions," Escobar said. "Moreover, the funds to pay for the adjustments will be abundantly available if the manager gets serious about reducing the bloated administrative costs that continue to burden the city and our taxpayers."

The council also approved a request from the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. organization for the closure of several streets around city hall for use during the Eighth Annual Noche De Fiesta Tejana, but rejected a request by the organization for $3,000 in funding for advertisement.

Javier Villanueva, a representative of the organization, requested the council approve the funding through the Alice Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Yvette Johnson, the president of the CVB, informed the council the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. was one of seven non-profit organizations that received $1,500 each in funding through the year, and any increase to one organization would be met by similar requests from other organizations.

"Are you all ready to do it straight across the board, for everybody?" Johnson asked the council.

Villanueva said his organization should not be considered in the same category with other non-profits in the city, because the event Tejano R.O.O.T.S. sponsors brings in a number of people from out of town.

"I'm not concerned with everybody else's request," Villanueva said. "If they merit it, fine. If they don't, fine."

Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez suggested the CVB send letters to all the non-profit organizations in town before the CVB sets its next budget, to allow those entities to make requests for the coming year before the CVB budget is set. The CVB will then bring those requests to the city council if additional funding is needed, Saenz-Lopez said.

"Let's work together with our non-profits, because they're the ones who put our little town on the map," Saenz-Lopez said.

In related business, the council received a presentation from Mike Smith and Juan Navejar, of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, on the second quarter activity. The council has also asked to see an audit of the Alice Chamber of Commerce, which Smith and Navejar said they would present in a future meeting.

The council tabled a scheduled presentation on the Alice/Jim Wells County Economic Development Corporation financial review, because EDC Executive Director Dean Kruckenberg was unable to attend Thursday's meeting.

The council also authorized the city manager to enter into an interlocal agreement with San Patricio County to share equipment to clean drainage culverts.