At Thursday evening’s meeting City Manager Robert Hanna will ask the Abilene City Council to consider some adjustments to the 2021 fiscal year budget. The city is trying to fill a hole in the budget that was only partially caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In September Abilene’s City Council adopted a surplus budget for the next fiscal year that provided for unknown expenses related to the pandemic.
Abilene City Manager Robert Hanna says if the only financial pressures were related to COVID-19, he wouldn’t need the city council to consider adjusting the budget. But this summer the 1998 Internet Tax Freedom Act became permanent, and ended a waiver for a few grandfathered states that have been able to collect sales tax for the last 22 years. “I know it caught a lot of cities flat-footed. It certainly caught us flat-footed,” Hannah said. "And I’ve got to make structural changes to the general fund to accommodate about a $2.4 million loss in revenue.”
While most of the shortfall comes from the loss of that tax, Hanna says he's also addressing some city services that are losing money. In total, Hanna is proposing more than $3 million in revenue creation and budget cuts.
On the revenue creation side, the first step is tapping nearly a half-million dollars in surplus property tax.
Second, Hanna proposes covering the Convention Center’s $650,000 operating costs this year from capitol project funds instead of the general operating budget.
The city also approached the 911 Board, which has agreed to cover 60% of Abilene and Taylor County’s 911 operations costs, about $300,000 worth. He also advises charging $2.50 for senior meals, which have been free. That could bring in nearly $190,000. And after years of avoid the move, Hanna proposes charging sports leagues $20 per player to use the city’s fields, creating nearly $120,000 in new revenue. “It’s about $1.65 million in the revenue side of the column that we’re bringing to the table. Only about $300,000 of that is new revenue. Everything else is money we already have, I’m just asking council to reallocate it.”
On the cuts side of the proposal, Hanna suggests ending the adaptive recreation program. It has been closed since March because of the pandemic. He’s also asking City Link to provide rides for seniors, instead of using the separate senior transportation program, which has also been idle since March.
Hanna says the city could save about $150,000 a year by asking the United Way to cover the costs of the 211 Call for Help program, which he says municipalities don’t usually fund.
Finally, Hanna says the city’s indigent dental care program has never become self-funded, through patient fees and grants, as originally intended. He says very little of the $270,000 Abilene spends on the program provides indigent dental care, and the non-profit community could likely do it more efficiently. “All these services are needed and necessary. It’s just that, is it more important that fire and police? Is it more important than making sure our parks are mowed and maintained? These are things that only we can do.”
Hanna says he thinks there are ’third party opportunities’ for some of the affected services.
It will be up to the City Council to determine whether to adopt Hanna’s recommendations.