A continued program for street and drainage repair, preparations for opening the Community Park, additional police officer and the expansion of the Senior Citizen's Activity Center are included in this year's city budget planning.
City council members discussed budget line items for the 2016-17 fiscal year budget at workshops Friday and Tuesday. The city council will publish the new tax rate in the second week of August and public hearing for residents to speak to council about the rate will be held Aug. 23 – and Sept. 6. The new city budget will be adopted in September.
Here's a list of some of the highlights from the workshop:
1) Public Works: Included in the budget are the $789,000 for repairs to five roads. Tower Road between FM 663 and Springbrook Road, West Highland between Mockingbird and the city limits, North Mockingbird between West Highland south to 4800 Mockingbird Lane and Dove Drive from Mockingbird to the end of the cul-de-sac are each on the public works department's budget. There is also $110,771 set aside in the total for street resurfacing to continue work in the original town area or the oldest part of Midlothian.
The department is also slotted to spend about $27,000 on portable traffic counters in response to the high number of requests for traffic counts on specific streets and through certain areas. The city has purchased 16 portable counters before, said Adam Mergener, director of the public works department. The counters the city has must be screwed onto the road, are breaking after years of use and the remaining counters cannot be updated, he said. The new counters could be set up more safely on the side of the road and use radar to take readings across multiple lanes. The city could also use them on more roads than the previous kind because TxDOT does not allow them to screw holes into TxDOT controlled roads.
2) Police: The police department is slated to open positions for four additional officers as well as upgrading an existing position to a Sargent position at a cost of almost $550,000. The new positions will allow the department to set up enforcement of traffic codes, Chief Smith said. The department is also replacing Tasers and tactical vests that are old, he said.
3) Emergency services radio: Police and fire departments will benefit from a new radio system included in the budget even though the exact details are still being worked out, city manager Chris Dick explained. City of Midlothian leaders are working on forming a partnership with the cities of Red Oak and Ovilla to install radio towers that will allow the departments to communicate on a different, and less highly trafficked, frequency than the surrounding cities in Ellis and other counties, while still allowing them to work with other departments.
So far, Red Oak and Ovilla have not officially committed to funding the second tower, Dick said. If they do not commit, Midlothian is prepared to build a tower with a range sufficient to cover most of Midlothian, but the second tower would ensure more even coverage and cut down on cost, he said.
Either configuration would cost the city over a million dollars. The tower for the one-tower-system would have to be installed in the new Community Park, he said, and be about a 100 feet taller than would be required for the two tower system to ensure maximum coverage. Under the one tower system, firefighters or police officers wearing their radios on their belts in parts of south Midlothian would not have a great connection, McCaskill said.
If the city is able to use the two tower system, the tower would not have to be built in the park and more of the city would be covered.
"Why are we worried about Ovilla, well our fire department runs ambulances over to Ovilla every day," fire chief Dale McCaskill told the council.
4) Senior Citizen's Activity Center: The city is waiting for a bidder to be selected to do the construction work on the Senior Citizen's Activity Center, Dick told the council members. The city's cost of the project included in the budget is the architect's estimate minus the $400,000 the senior center board has to commit to the project, he said. The senior center's contribution is from money they collected through donations and from the center's savings over the years. Many local industries have also promised donations of materials to the project, but the value of those donations will not be known until after the bidding process, he said.
5) Fire: While the city is planning to add a battalion chief position to the fire department staff, council members decided to hold off on accelerating the plan to fully staff Fire Station 3, located at 770 Tower Rd.
The battalion chief will not be assigned to any particular station or the operation of a fire engine on scene, McCaskill said.
"In essence what a battalion chief does is give us an instant command presence on scene," he explained.
Currently, the shift leader from Station 1 assumes the command position at the scene of any fire or incident, he said, potentially leaving the engine undermanned. The battalion chief could also be trained to assist the city fire marshal and other citywide duties, McCaskill said. The department would consolidate the equipment needed by a commander to one vehicle, rather than having several different vehicles all outfitted to respond.
Fully staffing Station 3 would require adding six new positions, McCaskill said. Currently, the station has enough staff on each shift to put at least three people on the Station 3 fire engine but does not run an ambulance out of Station 3. The firefighters respond with the fully EMS equipped engine to any medical calls in the area, he said, and provide care until the ambulance crew from Station 1 arrive to transport the person to a hospital, he explained.
Instead of pushing for the additional firefighters for Station 3 at a cost of $270,000 each this year, the council decided to try to apply for a grant to add the firefighters next year.
"At the end of this year, we may be able to get SAFER grant, (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response)," Dick said. "We are thinking of applying for six people."
The city used a SAFER grant for additional firefighters previously but this grant could be set up differently, funding the new positions fully for two years before requiring the city to pay them fully the third year, rather than gradually increasing the city's contribution to salary. But that should work out perfectly with the city's growth plan, Dick said.
"I think that would be great timing because by the time the annexation comes on we would have a fully staffed fire station," he explained.
6) The parks department is slotted to additional money over its previous year's budget for equipment and maintenance of the new Community Park scheduled to be opening in the spring. The two largest increases were in the electric and water.
The parks' budget also included a shade structure at Ridgeview Park and pouring concrete trails in the low sections only of Mockingbird Nature Park to help prevent the lower areas from closing due to heavy rains. Many people use the park for running, and complain when flooding forces parts of the trail to close, said Mayor Bill Houston.
7) Gas: The amounts budgeted for fuel in several departments decreased due to the downward trend in gasoline costs.