The City of Round Rock is facing ever increasing demands for effectively managing storm water runoff due to land development and increased federal and state regulations. Our extensive drainage system requires consistent, dedicated funding to ensure regulatory compliance, environmental preservation and – most importantly – protection of life and property from flood damage.
It is the City’s responsibility to manage our storm water drainage system. We are required by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure certain development, maintenance and water quality standards are met.
Currently, we pay for the storm water system from general revenues such as sales taxes and property taxes. Because of declining sales tax revenues and increasing demands for other services funded by general revenues, such as police and fire protection, we believe the time has come to change how we fund the storm water system. Also, many of the requirements noted above are new, unfunded mandates from the federal government that we anticipate will only become greater over time.
A Storm Water Drainage Utility – where residents and businesses pay a monthly fee to fund the system – is a recognized best practice throughout the country and used by more than 60 Texas cities. Fees would be based on a property’s impact to the system, which would more appropriately and fairly allocate the costs for storm water services while providing vital funding stability. As the demand and subsequent costs of providing this non-optional service continue to rise, it is more important than ever to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of those costs.
A Storm Water Drainage Utility meets the Community’s financial objectives in two important ways. First, it aligns with our citizen’s preference for user fee based program funding, where service costs are paid for by those who use and benefit the most. Second, it aligns with the City’s adopted financial policy which has a primary objective to reduce general fund reliance on volatile sales tax revenue to fund basic services.
As always, we will continue to make every effort to find cost controllers and revenue generators as we work to provide the services as efficiently and effectively as possible.
On Thursday, March 25, the Round Rock City Council unanimously approved a resolution of support for our submission to Google's Fiber for Communities project. Google plans to test ultra-high speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations across the country. Their networks will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, over 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. They'll offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.
We want to thank all 1,194 citizens who responded to our survey (even the 13 who did not support Google providing ultra-high speed access here) and the businesses and institutions who wrote letters of support. You can find our entire response, including survey results and other supporting materials, at roundrocktexas.gov/google.
Even though Google has renamed itself Topeka (note the date of this post, please), we're still feeling lucky.
The City of Round Rock is putting the final touches on our response to Google's Request For Information (RFI) for its Fiber for Communities project.
If you would still like to have your voice heard, we will keep our survey open until Monday, March 22. As of March 19, over 800 Round Rock residents have taken the survey. For information on the City's efforts can be found at www.roundrocktexas.gov/google.
We realize that communities around the United States are excited about the prospect of ultra-high speed Internet. Too many to count are vying for Google's attention, so we put together a short and sweet video on why we think Round Rock is a great choice.
"The National Broadband Plan lays out a bold roadmap to America's future. These initiatives will stimulate economic growth, spur job creation, and boost our capabilities in education, healthcare, homeland security and more.
Explore the Plan below and learn more about how affordable, high-speed broadband access will help America lead in the 21st century."
Online communication is becoming vital in our daily lives, and the overwhelming local and national response to Google's RFI makes that evident.
Come on Google, we're feeling lucky.
It's official: The City of Round Rock is in the game for the Google Fiber for Communities project.
We've created a page on our website for project information, roundrocktexas.gov/google. There, you'll find links to a survey where we ask about community support for the project, as well as links to our Facebook page and a project email box, firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll add to that page as needed.
We are in the process of completing Google's Request for Information (RFI), which asks questions about demographics, community support, regulatory issues, construction methods, etc. Building a fiber network is a complicated process from a regulatory standpoint, so we'll be doing whatever we can to streamline that aspect of the project. Deadline for the RFI is March 26.
We know many of you are eager to support this endeavor. The best way is to complete the survey (use the link above) and/or add a comment to our Facebook page or via Twitter. We'll be brainstorming Twitter hashtags and other social media strategies from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Friday, March 5, at the Jelly at Star Co. on Main Street.
We will also be reaching out to our institutional partners like the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas State University and Austin Community College for their support. We'll be working with the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce to round up business support for the project.
I'll update the City Council at its 7:30 a.m. work session on Tuesday, March 9. We'll have a resolution of support on the Council's March 25 meeting agenda.
We are seeking your support. Take the survey and let us know what you think.
As the recession continues to negatively impact City of Round Rock sales tax revenues – we anticipate a $5 million shortfall this fiscal year – we will aggressively reduce expenses in the short term, while retooling operations and our financial management program to deal with what we expect are long-term changes to our revenue model.
As of February, we anticipate sales tax revenue will total $37 million this year instead of the $42 million we budgeted for last September. We plan to make up the difference with $1.8 million in savings from a hiring slowdown and operational efficiencies, $1.6 million reduction in sales tax sharing with Dell, and by cutting $2.7 million slated for street maintenance.
We will not forego street maintenance this year. Instead, we’ll use a portion of the $6 million budgeted over the past two years but not spent as we developed a pavement management system to target those roads most in need of maintenance.
The reduction in sales tax sharing with Dell results from decreased sales tax revenue from the company. As part of the economic development agreement the City and Dell entered into in 1994 when the company announced its move to Round Rock, the City makes monthly program payments to Dell based on the amount of sales tax revenue the company generates. The payment rises and falls based on revenue performance.
If all goes to plan, our austerity program could actually result in a slight budget surplus by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Because we expect a continued softening of the economy next year, as well as continued long-term reductions in sales tax revenue from Dell as a result of its changing business model, the City Council is considering additional measures to sustain Round Rock’s solid financial status next fiscal year and beyond.
Among the new measures being considered are:
- Shift approximately $1.5 million in general fund expenses that pay for our drainage system to a new utility. This drainage utility would charge a fee to properties based on the amount of stormwater runoff they generate
- Increase parks and recreation user fees to generate an additional $600,000 in annual revenue (the plan is to increase our cost recovery to 70 percent from 60 percent of operational expenses)
- Use $500,000 a year of revenue generated by our half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements to help pay for the street maintenance program to lessen the impact on the general fund, which pays for basic city services like police, fire, library and parks and recreation
- Increase the transfer from the water-wastewater utility to the general fund by $400,000 to cover actual expenses provided by the general fund.
- Begin charging for some fire and emergency response services, a move that could generate $100,000 a year
We anticipate being able to balance the budget for fiscal year 2011 using these measures. At this point – six months before the City Council finalizes the 2011 budget – we are projecting a balanced budget without an increase in the effective property tax rate as well as no performance-based pay increases for employees. It also assumes no increase in police staffing, even though we expect our population to continue to grow.
These far-reaching changes are being considered because property values are expected to decrease or remain flat, while sales tax revenue continues to decline.
While Dell remains a global leader in technology, changes to its business model have a significant long-term impact on our revenue. Here’s why: When Dell sells a computer or other product via the web or catalog in the state of Texas, that produces local sales tax revenue to the City. As the company’s business model has evolved and it has begun selling more products in retail stores in recent years, sales tax revenue from the company has been steadily dropping.
To put the changes to Dell’s sales tax revenue in perspective, consider that from its peak of $24.9 million in 2006, we are projecting it to be $13.3 million this fiscal year. We are planning for it to continue to slide to $5.4 million in 2016.
That conservative use of Dell revenue has resulted in $49 million for capital projects in recent years. Had we borrowed that money instead of using the cash on hand, our property tax rate would be 10 cents higher than it is today.
These changes to our financial model could well result in changes to service levels. Our goal is to deliver the services citizens say are most important while sustaining the City’s strong financial standing.
We've had a few emails as well as a couple of tweets to @roundrocknews asking if the City is considering Google's RFI (Request For Information) for a community to host a whiz-bang fiber network. The answer is yes, we are taking a look at it.
If you haven't heard, Google announced Feb. 10 it is "planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We'll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people."
The deadline to respond to the RFI is March 26. While it may seem like a no-brainer to submit, we want to do some homework over the next couple of weeks to make sure there are no unintended consequences. If we decide to go for it, I suspect we'll be asking you, dear readers, to join us in the effort.
What do you think? Should we go for it?
You may have seen in the news in January that Round Rock bucked statewide trends when its sales tax revenue increased 10 percent compared to a year ago. Most cities saw double-digit declines in sales tax revenue for the month.
Because sales tax revenue makes up 50 percent of the City’s $84 million general fund budget – and usually reflects what’s going on in the local economy – an increase is always good news.
However, the increase we saw in January reflects one-time, out of the ordinary activity from Dell. If you factor out that anomaly, which corrected a prior accounting miscalculation, the data shows the significant sales tax decreases the City has been experiencing the past six months are continuing. If we adjust for the anomaly, sales tax revenues were down 10 percent for the month.
Dell’s presence in Round Rock has been a significant benefit to local taxpayers since the company began operations here in 1994, generating around $45 million cash for capital projects that we would have otherwise had to issue debt for. (When Dell sells a computer or other product via the web or catalog in the state of Texas that generates local sales tax revenue to the City.) Had we issued debt for those purchases, our property tax rate would be 10 cents higher than it is today. Since Dell’s arrival, the City’s policy has been to limit our reliance on that single source of revenue for daily operations because of the volatile nature of retail sales in general and the computer industry specifically.
As Dell’s business model has evolved and the company has begun selling more products in retail stores in recent years, sales tax revenue from the company has been steadily dropping. Because of the changes at Dell and the national economic recession, the City forecasted conservatively when the budget was formulated last summer. We projected that Dell revenue would be down 10 percent, while non-Dell revenue would be down 5 percent. Combined, that’s 7 percent less than last year.
But the revenue decline has been worse than expected – sales tax revenues are down 15.7 percent so far this fiscal year, which began in October – as the recession continues to impact retail sales both nationally and here at home. So City staff is developing a plan to reduce the budget accordingly. The cuts will include position reductions, and other permanent budget reductions. The plan will be presented to the City Council at its winter retreat, scheduled for Feb. 17.
We will provide details on these and other future changes to City operations – which could include decreased levels of service in some areas – as the City Council provides guidance. Our goal is to deliver the services citizens say are most important while sustaining the City’s strong financial standing.
Your thoughts on the services that are most important to you are welcome, as well as suggestions for reducing expenses. We went through an extensive public process in 2006 to gauge the public appetite for service level changes as well as how to pay for services. That input has influenced budget deliberations ever since. Now, it's time to begin the conversation anew.Join us.
The City of Round Rock in early 2009 began work on improving its land development processes. This effort is part of the City’s overall philosophy of continuous improvement, and builds on previous efforts to streamline the land development process.
The project began with the development and deployment of a confidential online survey, conducted by Plante Moran on behalf of the City and Round Rock Chamber of Commerce from Jan. 20 to Feb. 16, 2009, regarding our development process. More than 460 individual logins were created with approximately 230 completing one or more sections of the survey.
The survey responses were analyzed by an internal City work group and the results (PDF) were presented to the Round Rock City Council at its regular meeting on June 11, 2009. City staff recommended creating a Development Philosophy document to serve as a basis for future policy development. In August 2009, the Round Rock City Council discussed the development process as one of the summer retreat agenda items.
A Development Philosophy statement is being crafted which is intended to communicate a high level of the City’s philosophy when it comes to development in Round Rock. Once a final document is approved by Council, it will serve as the guiding philosophy from which the staff will propose policies and make process changes to ensure alignment with the Council’s vision. This should serve us well in many areas including helping make sure expectations are clear before a development project begins in Round Rock.
You can read the draft Development Philosophy statement here (PDF). We'd like to hear your opinion of this statement, on this blog, or comments can also be emailed to Assistant City Manager Cindy Demers at email@example.com.
It's time for public input as the City Council considers the 2008-2009 budget and tax rate. The proposed $134.6 million budget and our strategic budget can be found here. They're huge documents, so be patient as they download. For an overview, you'll want to read the Budget Message that starts on Page 4 of the budget document.
We face a challenge as the City develops its budget this year. We are confronted by a general economic slowdown while our population continues to grow. Because we have successfully diversified our economy over the past 15 years, the City can continue to provide the core operating services our citizens rely upon.
The City of Round Rock’s budget planning is affected to a large extent by Dell, since the company’s presence here has such a significant impact on our finances. Because Dell’s corporate headquarters and sales staff are located here, the City collects sales taxes on most of Dell’s Texas sales. For the past two years, though, Dell’s sales tax revenue to the city is down.
The City has managed its reliance on Dell in a couple of ways. First, through a policy that limits a specific portion of Dell revenue for day to day operations while providing the remaining funding for large projects and debt reduction. Second, through an economic development strategy that focuses on bringing dollars to Round Rock from sources outside our community.
The twenty-four month general decline in Dell’s sales tax revenue appears to reflect a long-term shift, not a temporary downturn as we have seen in the past. So, the City Council is now considering a gradual shifting from sales tax to the property tax in a manageable and affordable way to maintain quality levels of service.
So what does that mean to you? At the tax rate the City Council is considering, the owner of the average value home would see their tax bill increase by about $33 next year. That $33 will help us maintain current service levels while adding staffing to police and parks and recreation.
The tax rate currently being considered by the City Council is 36.5 cents, the same as last year, which translates into a City tax bill of $676.84 for an average value home. Note: The 36.5 cent tax rate is slightly higher than the rate shown in the proposed budget documents we link to above. The original proposed budget included no new employees and was balanced at the effective tax rate of 35.1 cents (The effective tax rate is the rate that would provide the same amount of revenue collected last year from properties on the tax roll last year -- it does not take into account new properties added to the tax roll this year).
The City Council at an Aug. 20 meeting voted to consider the slightly higher rate after much discussion about the impact of Dell's declining sales tax revenue. We'll continue to closely monitor sales tax collections as the City Council makes its deliberations on the final tax rate.
The first public hearing on the tax rate will be 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, in Council Chambers at City Hall, 221 E. Main St. A second public hearing, and first reading vote on the budget and tax rate, is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 11, during the regular City Council meeting. A final public hearing and second and final reading votes are scheduled for the Thursday, Sept. 25, regular meeting.
That's a long post, I know, but budgets and tax rates are not simple
issues to explain. You can watch a video about the budget on our access channel, Time Warner cable 10, at noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., or online: Launch Video Player
U.S. Rep. John Carter of Round Rock introduced legislation that would rename the U.S. Postal Service office on Sam Bass Road after Marine Corps Corporal Steven Gill. Corporal Gill was killed in Zaidon, Iraq, on July 21, 2005, during his first tour of Iraq. Gill was from Round Rock. He attended Westwood High School.
The Washington Post's Capital Briefing blog has a great post on the bill. About 10 post offices have been renamed this year for soldiers who have died in the war on terror.
Carter made the following statement:
“I rise today to support this resolution honoring the memory of Marine Corps Corporal Steven Patrick Gill of Round Rock, Texas. In January 2002, Steven Gill placed his college education on hold to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. The events of September 11, 2001 moved Steven to take up arms to defend his country, and on July 21, 2005, he paid the ultimate sacrifice while deployed in Iraq to do just that.
“Steven Gill was born on November 3, 1980 to Bill and Rose Gill of Houston, Texas. After moving to Round Rock in 1993, Steven attended Westwood High School. He was an active member of King of Kings Lutheran Church and took part in numerous missions’ trips to help those in need. After High School, Steven enrolled at Concordia University in Austin where he studied toward his goal of becoming a youth minister in the Lutheran Church. As it did for many Americans, the tragic events of September 11th changed the course of Steven’s life.
“As Congress returns to work after honoring our nation’s war heroes, I am proud to offer this small tribute to one of those heroes. Steven Gill gave his life so that we may enjoy the freedoms of this great nation. It is my honor, as his Congressman and a resident of Round Rock, to honor his sacrifice here today.”
Upon completion of basic training, Corporal Gill received follow on training to become an infantry Marine rifleman at the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, California. He also attended Amphibious Reconnaissance School at Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virginia. On July 21, 2005, Corporal Gill was serving as a Reconnaissance Man with Echo Company, Third Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team-eight, Second Marine Division in Iraq when he was killed. Corporal Gill served one tour in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Selected Marine Corps Reserve, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, two GWOT Service Medals and an Armed Forces Reserve Medal.
The Round Rock City Council approved the fiscal 2008 budget and tax rate on second and final reading Sept. 27, so the time for formal public comment is over. If you're still interested in learning more about the City's fiscal issues, we'll keep the complete budget posted on the City web site. We've also produced a video about the budget and posted it online.
The approved property tax rate is 36.522 cents per $100 of valuation. The average home value is $176,214, which translates into a City tax bill of $643.57. The tax rate includes the increase necessary to pay debt service on the final issuance of bonds approved by voters in 2001.
The budget includes new patrol officers, investigators and civilian staff for the police department. A new fire station will open later this year, and additional firefighters will be added to complete the department’s staffing needs.
The planned utility rate increase was also approved. It will go into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The new rate translates into about a 6 percent increase for the average utility customer.
When you combine the monthly impact to the average homeowner of property taxes and utility payments, Round Rock is the lowest in the region at $144.68. Compare that to the following: Leander $241.77, San Marcos $240.28, Hutto $226.33, Pflugerville $220.65, Austin $186.88, Temple $181.57, Cedar Park $176.31, and Georgetown $150.19.
Warning: Long post ahead.
We had 45 skaters and parents and half a dozen City staff meet this morning (Tuesday, Aug. 21) at the Clay Madsen Recreation Center to talk about the problems facing Round Rock's skate park. The atmosphere was fantastic. There was very little finger pointing or complaining. The focus was on what we -- and we do mean WE -- have to do create a family-friendly, safe, inviting environment at the park. Clearly, this is an effort that will succeed when city staff, especially from parks and police, work hand in hand with skaters and their families. Everyone wants the same thing: a park that's a pleasure to skate and hang out at, no matter your age.
Parks and Recreation Director Rick Atkins opened with a presentation of the problems the park has faced -- vandalism, trash and criminal mischief, primarily. He then outlined some of the planned improvements for the park:
Footpaths to the skate park as part of a playscape that will be constructed between the skate park and the basketball court
A new gate at the south end of the park (an idea much welcomed by skaters. Many kids had been hopping the fence there to avoid getting their shoes muddy, which resulted in damage to the fence. Muddy shoes make it difficult to skate safely.)
Removal of the pavilion from the area north of the skate park. The pavilion used to provide shade for the former playscape, which has been removed. It now gives people a place to hang out that is out of sight from the parking lot behind the rec center. It simply attracts the wrong kind of behavior now, so we're taking it out.
It's worth noting here something we didn't bring up in the meeting. The skate park is actually a component of a larger project: the Greater Lake Creek Park Development. We did the skate park first because there was so much demand from skaters we didn't want to hold it up while the rest of the project was under design. So the playscape, water fountains, trails, etc., have always been planned. The skate park has been so popular that the problems created by lack of footpaths, water fountains, etc., have really been exacerbated.
Among the City's other recommendations are:
We then broke out into small groups to brainstorm other suggestions. A common theme was for skaters to set a positive example by picking up trash and behaving responsibly. Another idea was to create a skate park team, comprised primarily of skaters, that would monitor the park on a regular basis and maybe conduct trash pick up events. All agreed we need to do a better job of communication on skate park issues.
Here's the list of points brought up by the small groups:
Proactive vs. reactive
Communication between All!
Construction of skate park constitution
Volunteering (parental and older skater population)
Taking pride in the fact that this facility is available to us ... and if we can make this successful the possibility of future skate parks
No Bikes ...
Add recycle bins
Lock the gate
No warning when lights go out (10 minute warning needed)
More police presence at night
Free decks for clean up go-getters
Remove "no food and drinks" rule from sign -- it undermines credibility of other rules
Plug in security cameras
Every 2-4 hours "clean-up" sign with clean schedule
Signage promoting positive behavior
Later [hours] for adults
Self patrolling by skate team with t-shirts
People not being respectful to property should be disciplined -- up to CTW (criminal trespass warning)
Bleachers for observers
Skate at own risk on registration waiver
Entrance improvements (jumping fence because of muddy conditions)
Schedule to accommodate different age groups
Bolt trash/heavier -- more permanent
Register -- name, address, emergency contact or sign in each time. Pull cards
BMX sessions or scheduled times
Emergency phone outdoors
Designated smoking section or pavilion to sit and take a break
Fix the cameras (we know they don't work)
Sign with number to contact police (text ability)
Back pavilion: really bad stuff going on
Drug/cigarette man -- arrest
Bike rack (no bikes at all in gates)
Fountains (more than 1)
Officers with rapport
Most trash in evenings
Suggestion box at Matt's (Mustache Skateboards)?
More tables outside gate
Gate at front
Rubber tables (picnic)
Razor wire, alligators
We'll be evaluating these suggestions in coming days and weeks. Some are easy and quick to accomplish, like recycling bins. Others will take more time. We're open to any and all suggestions. If you couldn't make the meeting but want to provide input, this blog is the place to do it.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the meeting. Those who did got cool T-shirts that read "Thrash It, Don't Trash It." Thanks to Matt Messner from Mustache Skateboards for his help in publicizing the meeting and encouraging skaters to bring positive attitudes to the meeting. They did. That positive vibe, as Matt noted at the meeting, needs to be firmly established at the skate park. Today's meeting was the first step in making that happen.
The City on Friday, Aug. 17, made the decision to close the new skate park for a week because of vandalism and other irresponsible behavior by park users. Kids have been climbing the fence, damaging it, instead of using the gates. Trash not finding its way into trash cans has also been an ongoing issue. Police have been called out frequently to the skate park on everything from theft to criminal mischief.
Closing the park the last week of summer vacation may seem especially harsh to some -- particularly the many responsible skaters -- but the City feels a strong message needs to be delivered. The City Council made a significant investment in the skate park -- $390,000, to be specific -- and is dedicated to doing all it can to ensure the skate park is a safe, clean place for kids and families to enjoy.
We're interested in what skaters have to say about the problems, and their ideas for solutions, so a meeting has been set up for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the Clay Madsen Recreation Center. You can also share your ideas here.
Local blogger Dan Masters recently found a video the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce produced about our fair city, and has some nice comments about it. "Life is Good in Round Rock, Texas" is a top-notch video, produced by Austin-based Megalomedia, and I encourage everyone to take a look at it (the You Tube video is embedded on Dan's blog). Dan and his family relocated to Round Rock from California, and he says the video accurately portrays our community.
Welcome to Community Conversations, the City of Round Rock's new social media site. We are glad you're here and hope to hear from you soon, either in words or pictures.
With 93 percent of our residents on-line, and 89 percent of those with a high-speed connection, we figured there were a lot of you out there comfortable with things like blogs, photo-sharing sites and RSS feeds. For those of you who aren't, welcome to the blogosphere!
Our goals for this space are pretty straightforward:
- Provide additional channels of input for citizens and other potentially-affected interests
- Increase the transparency of the City's decision-making process
- Facilitate a sense of community
- Reach new audiences with City messages and information.
This is an experiment for us, and we hope it's a fruitful one. After a few months, we'll evaluate whether it's meeting the above goals, and make any adjustments necessary.
Instead of describing what's on the site, I'll let you poke around on your own. Suggestions - as long as they are on topic - are always welcome.
The one item we've wrestled with the most with is Registration. You'll have to register to comment on a post. We'll be asking for your real name and address, which isn't the norm for many blogs, but it is important information to us. Your address is needed because we want to know what input is coming from residents and what's coming from non-residents. It's also important for us to know who's talking to us so we can respond to you outside the blog, if necessary. Finally, in all other forums for public input, we always ask for name and address. It's just how we do business when it comes to citizen participation in Round Rock. Note: You can have a screen name that's not your real name.
Talk to you soon,
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