STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
MARBLE FALLS — Marble Falls City Council spent much of the Aug. 21 regular meeting discussing fees as members work toward adopting a tax rate and a budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The council discussed water rates, credit card processing fees, employee health care costs, and renewing the city’s contract with Marble Falls Area EMS.
The city has proposed a tax rate of $0.615 per $100 in valuation, a decrease from last year’s rate of $0.634. The rate is divided into 60 percent for Interest & Sinking ($0.3671) and 40 percent for Maintenance & Operations ($0.2479). While the tax rate is decreasing, total property valuations in the city increased by 15 percent, according to the Burnet Central Appraisal District. A second public hearing and reading is scheduled at the Sept. 4 regular meeting before the tax rate’s final adoption Sept. 18.
City water customers might see an increase in their water rates, according to the proposed budget. The city expects a 3.9 percent increase in expenditures for water services for the next fiscal year. The proposed budget, to make up for the city’s increased cost, included a 2 percent increase.
Water customers who use between 5,000-10,000 gallons a month account for 83 percent of all accounts, according to the city. A proposed 2 percent increase would mean a monthly bill increase between $0.43 and $1.66 per month.
Council member Dave Rhodes said the increase to customers didn’t make up for the increase to the city and asked to see what percent increase would balance the city’s cost.
“I’d rather do this, a few pennies or few dollars, now than a few years down the road and we’ve got to go up 10 or 12 percent,” Rhodes said.
Margie Cardenas, the city’s director of finance, said she would make the adjustment in the budget to review during the council’s next meeting.
CREDIT CARD FEES
Cardenas also presented the council with information about the amount of fees the city pays for processing payments with credit cards. From June 2017 to May 2018, Cardenas said the city paid $45,615 in credit card fees. A proposed fee of $2.50 might recoup some of those losses and encourage customers to sign up for other payment methods that require no fee, such as bank drafts. However, Rhodes again asked Cardenas to research a fee that would help the city break even on its losses. Council member Craig Magerkurth seemed to agree.
“It’s not a revenue generator, just a cost recoup-erator,” he said.
Cardenas said she will bring more options to the chamber at the next meeting Sept. 4.
The city’s contract with Marble Falls Area EMS ends Sept. 30, and the council approved a new four-year contract. The agreement includes increases each year: 4 percent in the first, 5 percent in the second, and 6 percent the third and fourth years. The amount for Year 1, running Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2019, is $158,682.65. The Year 2 amount is $166,616.78. Year 3 is $176,613.78, and Year 4 is $187,210.60.
Rhodes voted against the contract. During discussion, he asked Marble Falls Area EMS officials about their process in handling unpaid bills.
Johnny Campbell, Marble Falls Area EMS executive director, said the department turns over about $125,000 in unpaid bills to a collection agency every month. If recouped, Rhodes questioned the need for the city’s contract and wanted to open a discussion that might carry on to another council meeting.
After at least 15 minutes of discussion, however, council member Celia Merrill spoke up in favor of the contract.
“This represents our cost to the city to make a service available,” she said.
Her motion carried on a 4-1 vote with Rhodes voting against. Mayor John Packer and council member Megan Klaeger were not present.
The city expects to have about 120 employees next year, and health care costs will increase 12.79 percent. A new contract was awarded to Baylor Scott & White for health care and Aetna for dental coverage. Two other quotes were received by the city: One represented an increase of 22.6 percent; the other 21.4 percent. The city is decreasing dependent coverage from 63 percent to 60 percent.
• A new city engineer was introduced. Kacey Paul started Aug. 21 after working for the city of Austin for almost 2½ years.
• City Manager Mike Hodge updated the council on the city’s purple pipe project. A permit was approved nearly two weeks ago by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for Marble Falls to send effluent water to Meadowlakes to use on 110 acres of land, and mostly the golf course.
• James Kennedy, public works director, said the city has harvested 440 round bales of hay from fields owned by the city and the Lower Colorado River Authority behind the Marble Falls Independent School District administration office. More will be harvested this week, and the city will soon put out requests for bids to grow, cut, and sell the hay on the irrigated field. City staff and a sub-contractor currently are cutting the hay. Kennedy also updated the council about the Via Viejo water tower, which is scheduled to be ready in late September.