The City Council got its first look last week at next year’s proposed $414.7 million operating budget, which includes an employee pay raise and several economic development initiatives.The budget calls for a 2 percent raise for civilian employees and a raise of between 2 and 4.25 percent for police officers and firefighters to make Arlington more competitive with area cities, City Manager Trey Yelverton told council members. Some of the city’s top executives are also expected to receive a 2 percent raise to bring their salaries more in line with comparable positions in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. The raises, which would take effect in January, would cost the city $3.2 million.Several council members said Tuesday that they were pleased to see city leaders continue working to ensure that employee compensation is fair. Councilwoman Sheri Capehart said she wants to make sure civilian employees, especially those in competitive fields such as information technology, are not underpaid.“The backbone of this city rests on the non-uniformed personnel. The people in our parks and our planning and our finance, they deserve compensation as well that is marketable,” Capehart said. “They don’t have organizations like uniformed personal do to come to us and say, ‘We are below market.’ ”City administrators based the budget on a projected increase of 4.5 percent — or $1 million — in property tax revenue because commercial and residential property valuations have risen. The proposed property tax rate is expected to remained unchanged at 64.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value for the 12th consecutive year, Yelverton said.Sales taxes are also expected to increase to $54.2 million, a $1.9 million projected rise that Budget Director Mike Finley attributed to factors such as inflation, major events in Arlington’s entertainment district and the addition of package liquor stores within the city limits, which voters approved last November.The projected sales tax growth includes an estimated $600,000 in revenue generated by the National College Football Championship in January and the Academy of Country Music Awards in April at AT&T Stadium.Economic developmentSeveral proposed budget items support economic development.Since 2007, half of the city’s natural gas royalties and 90 percent of its lease bonus payments have been invested and managed by the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation. But last year the City Council capped contributions to the charitable endowment at $100 million — a threshold that could be reached as early as December.After that, all natural gas revenues will stay in the city coffers. One proposal is to use some of that revenue to create a new economic development fund, which is projected to grow between $1 million and $2 million by the end of its first year, Yelverton said. That money could be used for a variety of ways to support private redevelopment, from demolition to cash contributions to infrastructure improvements.Other proposed budget items include $40,000 for a business incubator to support startup businesses stemming from research at the University of Texas at Arlington and $171,890 in additional funding for the city’s Economic Development Department to address recommendations in a recent consultant study.To find potential development and redevelopment opportunities in southwest Arlington, the city is also considering designating $100,000 for development of a U.S. 287 corridor master plan. Arlington also has $125,000 set aside to study any future proposals to build a new full-service hotel in the entertainment district and expand the Convention Center.Fee hikesThough the property tax rate is staying the same, Arlington residents and businesses should expect some fee increases.The average residential water customer will see a $25.56 increase next fiscal year for water and sewer fees. Also, storm water fees are expected to increase by $6, and garbage and recycling fees will increase by $2.16 for the year. The average commercial customer could see an $86.85 increase in water and sewer fees.The higher fees are expected to go into effect in January.Arlington is also considering creating a $25 fee for people who surrender a cat or dog to the animal shelter. The fee, if approved by council, would help cover the cost for caring for that animal as well as pay for an animal cruelty investigator, Yelverton said.The council will begin discussing the budget at a special meeting Tuesday. Meetings to gather public input will be held Aug. 21 and Aug. 27. The council is expected to adopt the budget Sept. 16. It takes effect Oct. 1.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock