By Kathi Bliss
After months of debate and soul searching, the Lockhart City Council approved a balanced budget on Tuesday evening, which includes a pay raise for all employees without a tax increase for homeowners.
Because property valuation rates have increased during the last budget year, the revenues generated by the City of Lockhart’s approved tax rate will increase in the coming fiscal year. Many area homeowners are expected to see an increase in their tax bills. However, those increases, members of the council pointed out, can be attributed to the Caldwell County Appraisal District’s adjustment of property values, and is not the result of a tax increase from the city.
Rather, the council voted to maintain a tax rate of 70.90 cents per $100 of valuation, the same as last year. This decision was made over vocal opposition from two council members, who disagreed with offering pay increases to the employees, based upon the economic downturn.
“We had a consensus that we were not going to give pay increase,” At Large Councilmember Paul Gomez argued. “When a lot of employees have been cutting employees and cutting employee wages, we should be looking at what we can do for the community at large. When your pay goes down and your taxes go up, the people suffer and it doesn’t balance.”
However, the pay increase was supported by the majority of the council who expressed concern that the council was required to offer some pay increases due to the civil service statutes enacted last year.
“I’m not comfortable with giving half our employees a raise and telling the other half, that works just as hard, that they can’t have a raise,” Councilmember Lew White said. “We painted ourselves into a corner with civil service, and it’s our job to treat our employees fairly and to do that as unobtrusively as we can.”
Mayor Pro Tem Frank Estrada said he, too, had problems with certain line items in the budget, but that he would not withhold his support because of those issues.
“There are some things in here I don’t know if it’s the right time for,” he said. “But overall, I think it’s a good budget, and it looks at the big picture. And that’s what we have to do.”
After the discussion, the council voted to approve the budget and tax rate. Councilmembers Dick Wieland, Kenny Roland and White, along with Estrada and Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram, approved the budget.
Gomez and Councilmember Richard Banks, who also cited concerns about offering employee pay increases, voted against the budget.
The next regular meeting of the Lockhart City Council will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009.
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