Editor’s note: The fiscal year began Monday, Oct. 1 for government entities and the Hays Free Press sat down with Kyle and Buda mayors and the Hays CISD superintendent to get a feel for how they think the overall budget process went this year and what they hope to accomplish. The local leaders were asked several questions, and we’ve printed a few of them here. Video comments by the mayors coming soon.
Buda Mayor Sarah Mangham
Interview by Veronica Gordon
This is the second budget cycle for Sarah Mangham as Buda mayor. Mangham was familiar with the process as the city’s former director of finance.
Having had the inside experience was helpful, Mangham said, especially when speaking with city staff.
“It helps me because I know what they’re talking about when they use acronyms,” she said. “Now there’s always the double-edge sword that I did work in Buda for five years, and I do know a lot of the inner-workings. So, I’m sure that probably frustrated staff, but I like to ask questions ahead of time.”
“We’re excited about the budget, now we just have to go get busy,” she said.
Hays Free Press: What are some of the city of Buda’s successes of the past fiscal year?
Mangham: I probably have too many to name. But these are the ones that came to my mind: We were able to finish the Bluff Street Lift Station; We opened the Stagecoach House for our tourism department and parks department; We finished up the I-35/Main Street road improvements; We have completed Phase 1 of the Texas Lehigh annexation. The next three are huge for me both personally and environmentally – one of them being the curbside recycling program – it’s been a huge change, but an easy change. I know, for me personally, to have that separate little container to put my recycling in … it’s a lot easier than we thought it was going to be; the City Parks Master Plan and moving forward on the skate park in honor of Jackson Morris.
HFP: What are some of the city’s failures in the past fiscal year?
Mangham: I don’t know that we’ve had any failures. Failures seems to be a harsh word to make a definition of, but some things that we could have done differently or some things we didn’t get finished up for the year would be like the Garlic Creek force main; the downtown lighting project – we have our poles up, but we don’t have our lighting in; and then I wish we had gotten farther on the skate (park) project.
HFP: How did the city staff and city council work together to accomplish this budget?
Mangham: I have to give kudos to staff. We had a budget workshop several months ago where we each talked about what we wanted and what we thought was important for this budget and I think it would be very hard for any of the council members as well as myself to say we didn’t get something we asked for. Staff Kenneth (Williams) and Sidonna (Foust) both did a great job. The department heads worked well together so that each department was taken care of … I mean, it was a well-planned budget and now all we have to do is execute it and come in under on the expenses and over on revenues.
HFP: If you had one wish, and you could have anything you desire, what would you want for the city of Buda?
Mangham: I have two. Can I have two wishes? When you rub on the genie bottle you get three. I’m just gonna ask for two. I guess, and I don’t know which is more important, but one is more citizen participation on boards and commissions … we have a hard time getting applicants to fill out boards and commission packets. So, I’d like to see more of that. And then, on a quality of life situation, we are a community outside of Austin, we have a wonderful school district which attracts a lot of young families to our area and I really wish the city could figure out a way to provide summer activities for those kids. I know Kyle has the pool and they have the Kyle camps, and I’d like for Buda to get to that pretty soon because we do have four wonderful elementary schools that our children go to and it would be nice if we could have a place for those kids to be there local and have parks and recreation similar to what they have in Kyle or San Marcos so that they have places to go and things to do to stay out of trouble and not be sitting at home bored.
Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson
Interview by Andy Sevilla
Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson says water woes continue to trouble residents’ pockets and “massive funds” will be necessary to improve road infrastructure, but she remains hopeful this new fiscal year will bring about fixes to the city’s “basic functions of government.”
Hays Free Press: What are you hoping to achieve this fiscal year?
Johnson: I’m really excited by the budget that we passed. We’re hiring two new police officers, patrol officers, who are going to be doing traffic duty. And we also hired a new part-time animal control officer to supplement our current full-time animal control officer’s job. We also are looking seriously, I hope, at tackling the issue of a road bond again this next May general election. I’m very excited about the opportunity to fight for a road bond package again, and I hope that this time we can get something that council will send the voters.
HFP: How did city staff and city council work together to accomplish this fiscal year’s budget? And would you suggest anything for improving next year’s process?
Johnson: Yeah. You know it’s funny, I think we talk in the political world and in newspaper circles about budget season every August and September; everyone tightening their belts and putting their nose to the grindstone and looking over the budget. But the budget season is really a year-long process now. And I’ve been happy at the improvements that this council has made, especially since I’ve become mayor over two years ago now, in setting out budget policies far in advance, sometimes as early as January or February, so that when our department heads start submitting their budget proposals to the city manager in the spring for the upcoming fiscal year, they already know the policy priorities of the city council. And I think that makes the budget process a lot smoother. Then in July, late July, the city manager presents his proposed budget to the council, and what we’ve done is create a series of workshops that focus department by department on the proposed budget. I think this allows citizens the opportunity, certainly having as many opportunities as possible, to come in and speak during our public hearings and learn as in-depth as they want about what our budget is about, what our priorities are and even line-by-line item detail about where Kyle is spending our taxpayers’ money. It’s a lengthy process and I think it goes more in-depth than a lot of cities into their budget process but I can’t imagine us doing it any other way. Next year, as we look forward to fiscal year 2014, I hope that our council is able to come up with a consensus on budget priorities so that our directors have an even better idea of what they need to submit in advance of the city manager’s proposed budget.
HFP: What are some of Kyle’s successes of this past fiscal year, that actually just ended on Sept 30?
Johnson: A lot of our departments came in under budget – parks and rec(reation), I believe our planning department – a lot of our expenses, and we really cut out the fat so to speak, I mean we even cut into the muscle I think some would say, of our budget to really hold back as much as we could a tax increase last year. And to see a lot of the departments responding to that in a positive way, making the changes that they needed to to stay within their budget, even though every department’s budget was decreased last year, I was really impressed from my position as mayor being able to see that self-sacrifice from our employees doing just as much, even more, with less. And when some of them even came in under budget, I was really impressed with that and that means that this year will be just a little bit easier for them. And I hope in the next couple of years to see some of these budgets expand for departments, not because we need to expand government at all levels but because we’re a growing city and our population has really outsized most of our departments and we need to keep up our city services to handle growth in Kyle.
HFP: Now after discussing successes, what would you say are some of Kyle’s failures of the past fiscal year?
Johnson: I think the toughest thing for me, as a mayor, to have to come to grips with and talk about and try to explain to people is our water situation and the water price hikes. The year before last year we had approved a 20 percent rate hike and that was our first rate hike in some 12 years, unfortunately due to some errors we didn’t roll it out as soon as we approved it, we rolled it out in July and that came with another 30 percent rate hike in October of last year; and it led to an over 50 percent increase in the cost of water for people in Kyle. And we never meant for that to happen. We knew that we had to raise our water rates for residents, not because we wanted to but because our utility fund was running on a deficit, had run out of money and the cost of providing water was not even near what we were charging for it. But we had hoped to spread out those increases over a series of years. We’re increasing water rates again this year 20 percent, I hate to do that, and we may have to increase them another 20 percent next year to go ahead and pay for those increases, and a lot of that has been that forced purchase of water from GBRA (the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority) to cover our water supply. We’re a growing city and we use ever more water and with last year’s drought we used more water than we ever did before. And we had to purchase GBRA water to be able to provide enough water for our citizens, but unfortunately that water costs, GBRA water is extremely high, there’s no getting around it and we are a retail supplier of water. Most of our water comes from GBRA now and we have no choice but to pass those costs along and it really sucks.
HFP: In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing Kyle, and why?
Johnson: I think it’s our infrastructure, is our biggest challenge. We’ve done a lot of improvements to the infrastructure – our frontage roads are going one way, we have a new Kohlers Crossing, a new 1626 extension, new Dacy Lane widening. But we have so many roads that were built in the 50s and 60s and were meant as small farm to market roads, ranch roads, that were never meant for the type of traffic and congestion that we see here today. And it’s going to take massive amounts of funding to improve these roads, it’s also going to take planning and good debt management to fund the improvements to these roads but it’s something that needs to happen. Infrastructure upkeep is one of the basic reasons for even having local government, that’s one of your basic jobs; if you’re not improving infrastructure, if you’re not keeping up with public safety, and infrastructure and water, you’re not even performing the basic functions of government. And that’s something that has been, I think, Kyle’s biggest challenge. And something that I hope the council takes a really hard look at this upcoming spring when it comes to voting to place a possible road bond on the ballot.