Trees to taxes: City gets wish list

Improvements to the city's infrastructure took the spotlight Tuesday night as members of the Big Spring City Council presented pet projects they would like to see addressed in the city's 2012-2013 budget.The council heard a presentation from City Manager Gary Fuqua during the special meeting regarding the city's accomplishments during the past fiscal year, as well as some of the major challenges the municipality will be facing when it begins the arduous task of preparing the coming year's budget.Mayor Tommy Duncan asked each council member what issues they would like to see addressed in the coming year, beginning with newly elected District 4 Councilman Bobby McDonald.“After considering a lot of (projects), I tried to come up with one that would be feasible, economical, needed and specific,” McDonald said. “Now, before you say this is a drought situation ... the trees at the park are understandably stressed by the drought and some of them are actually already gone. Some of those trees were there when I was a teenager.“If we allow the trees to die (at the rate they are going) we are going to have a bald park. We can do something about it. We can plant a tree that needs no water. We don't have to plant a lot of them. We could do it on an experimental basis. I'd like us to just try a dozen of these — particularly near the aquatics center — and see if it works.”District 5 Councilman Craig Olson's suggestion for the budget was a bit different than most, focusing not on a project he'd like to see done, but instead on where future cuts in the city's tax rate would ultimately come from.“For so long it appears the infrastructure of this city has been neglected,” Olson said. “I've spoken with the mayor and I think it has been indicated we're going to look at a 2-cent (decrease in the tax rate). Now that's not set in stone, but I'd like to ask that if we get to that point it come from areas I refer to as constitutionally mandated functions of the city.“Why is this city here? What goods and services are we required by the constitution, by charter or statute (to provide)? If the time comes and we look at two more cents that it not come from those functions the city has been neglecting for so long.”Newly elected District 6 Councilman Marvin Boyd declined to offer any suggestions for the coming budget, however, District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez offered several directions he'd like to see the fiscal plan go in during 2012-2013.“I'd like for us to take a look at our cemetery,” Fernandez said. “I'd also like for us to look to see if we can do something with the problems in our back alleys. We have brand new garbage trucks coming through there and they are going to be damaged by those alleys. In order for us to take care of some of our new equipment I think we need to improve them.“I'd like to see us give a raise to the (city) employees this year. I think that may serve as an incentive fror some of the employees who are considering leaving and it could be the difference between whether or not they stay, especially in departments like police, fire and roads. I'd also like to look to see if we can improve our garbage pickup and I'd like for us to see if we can get a grant to get bulletproof jackets for our police officers.”Newly elected District 2 Councilwoman Carmen Harbour said she hears plenty of complaints within the community about things that need to be addressed.“I'm new here, but I hear a lot of complaints,” Harbour said. “The main thing I want to see is water system repairs and not just putting a bandage on it. I know it's a slow and ongoing process. I've seen a lot of changes and I think it can be done. That and lowering the tax rate, those are two things I hear a lot of gripes about.”District 3 Councilman Glen Carrigan said his first concern heading into the budget process is also the state of the infrastructure, but said he believes the city can save money by focusing on its fuel expenses.“When I began doing the vouchers one of the things I noticed were the fuel prices the city (is paying) are extremely high,” Carrigan said. “I know we have a lot of vehicles and we have to do a lot of driving, especially with the police department. I'd like to look at possible ways to reduce the fuel costs the city is paying, because it seems to be somewhat astronomical.”Duncan said his vision for the coming budget is simple, as he asked the city staff to come up with a fiscal plan that will lower the tax burden on local residents.“I've learned that just asking you (the city administration) to manage the budget as tight-fisted as you can, to combine services and save pennies everywhere you can, I don't have to ask you for a specific number,” Duncan said. “You'll go out and get everything that is there. You did an outstanding job on that last year and that's all I'm asking you to do this year. Look at doing as much as we can do at the lowest cost to the taxpayer.“I've been getting calls from citizens whose property values have been recently increased. They are very frightened if we stay even at the effective (tax) rate, their tax bill will go up considerably this year. So I'm hoping this year you can shave something off the tax rate and continue that downward trend.”