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Nederland nears budget approval with county’s lowest tax rate; upgrades planned

NEDERLAND — The lowest tax rate in Jefferson County, parks and streets improvement and an increase in water and sewer rates are benchmarks within the proposed City of Nederland budget for 2021-22.

A public hearing is planned at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Nederland City Hall.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the budget Sept. 16 in advance of it taking effect Oct. 1.

The proposed budget is unbalanced with revenues totaling $12,443,681 and expenditures totaling $14,318,681. City Manager Chris Duque said the proposal is designed to draw down Nederland’s fund balance by $2 million, which will be spent on capital projects.

A breakdown of the proposed budget with department-by-department line items was presented to the city council formally Aug. 16. At the time, councilmembers did not voice any concerns.

A municipal fund balance is similar to a household savings account for the city to access in dire emergencies, with the most-pressing needs associated with hurricane season. 

“Since Ike and every subsequent storm, I think it has become clear that more of the expenses are going to be incurred at the local level versus the federal level in terms of FEMA reimbursement,” Duque said. “In the past year we have went through Hurricane Delta, which was not a FEMA-declared disaster, so we had to absorb those costs on our own. We are seeing that with this budget.”

Following the proposed drawdown, more than $12 million will remain in the fund balance, city officials said.

Water & Sewer

The Water and Sewer Fund budget is balanced, with revenue and expenditures both equaling $5,536,038 (5.56% or $291,745 increase from adopted FY 20-21 budget).

There is a water base rate increase of 25 cents ($10.25 to $10.50) and sewer base rate increase of 25 cents ($10.65 to $10,90); along with a 50-cent increase to per thousand gallons of water ($2.85 to $3.35) and 40-cent increase per thousand gallons of sewer ($5.10 to $5.50).

The solid waste fund budget is balanced with revenue and expenditures equaling $1,684,878 ($34,416 or 2.09% increase from adopted FY 20-21 budget). There is no rate adjustment proposed, and last year was the first rate increase in four years.

Improvements

City leaders plan to install new playground equipment at 5th Street Park, construct a half-court for basketball at Cropo LeBlanc Park, re-surface the tennis court at Doornbos Park, install a new playground at Doornbos Park, re-surface the parking lot at Babe Ruth field, upgrade the parking lot at Doornbos Park, install fencing around the pool waterslide and re-surface the swimming pool deck.

“That is definitely something we want to make happen, hopefully by the summer (of 2022),” Duque said. “COVID has impacted delivery dates on a lot of equipment. We already have an area designated where we want to put (the new playground in Doornbos) by the tennis courts. There is an old sand volleyball court that really has not been used. We want to repurpose that into a playground area.”

The effort will focus attractions for children generally aged 10, 11 and 12.

Tax rate

Nederland’s tax rate is dropping because property appraisals went up. 

“Because of the comptroller’s property value study that triggered the changes in the appraisal process, which resulted in those increases,” Duque said, “we have now seen our tax rate drop.”

The Nederland City Council decided to utilize the no new revenue tax rate, and Duque said administrators built the budget with that understanding. 

“I was concerned when working on the draft of the budget that making the (new) police officer position a reality was going to be impossible with the no new revenue tax rate, but we were able to work on some departments’ budgets and make it happen. I feel comfortable being able to do this.”

The budget proposal maintains the lowest municipal tax rate in Jefferson County ($0.517206 per $100 assessed taxable value) and continues to provide $15,000 Homestead Tax exemptions for the elderly and disabled. 

“We were able to look at recent receipts on revenue and other areas such as sales tax and industrial values and thought this was a doable approach on the no new revenue tax rate,” Duque said. “To us it is important to try and keep taxes as low as possible. If you are hearing a complaint from people when talking to a citizen, it is usually streets or taxes. One can be first and the other second or sometimes it’s 1A and 1B. We’re trying to keep that as best we can under control.”

The budget calls for completing $4.35 million in street, bridge and drainage improvements to include the widening of the 18th Street bridge, concrete repairs of Nederland Ave (the railroad tracks to 3rd Street), hot mix overlays of various streets, drainage improvements and drainage studies. 

The city plans to address drainage issues in the Hilldale/Hill Terrace area and the areas near 3rd Street, Texas and 1st Street between Nederland Avenue and Boston Avenue.