By Emily Banks Wooten
Following a public hearing on the budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2023 and ending Sept. 30, 2024, the Livingston City Council approved a proposed ordinance adopting the budget during its regular meeting Sept. 12. Council also approved budget adjustments for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2023.
While reviewing budget highlights, Wiggins addressed ongoing issues regarding the new solid waste provider the city has contracted with since Aug. 1. “I understand there’s been some problems. We knew there’d be some hiccups. I know people don’t like the once a week pickup but none of the proposals submitted were going to do twice weekly pickup. We’ve had issue after issue. We’re aware of the problems and we’re working on the problems,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins reported that the city pays $5 million in salaries for the city’s 93 full-time employees and six part-time employees. He reported that electric sales result in $12 million in revenues, which represents 40% of the city’s operating income. He mentioned the city’s water treatment plant, emphasizing the value of the guarantee of having water for the citizens for the next 48 years, something many areas of the state do not have.
“I’m proud to say the City of Livingston has no debt. The city is debt-free,” Wiggins said.
He also reminded everyone that the city does not levy an ad valorem property tax and has not for 36 years in a row. “1988 was the last year we had a property tax,” he said.
Wiggins reported that the city’s water meter conversion project has begun for all residential and commercial water utility customers. Through the project, outdated manual meters will be replaced with upgraded meters to modernize the city’s water billing infrastructure. He said it will take several months to replace all 3,500 water meters throughout the city’s water utility system.
Other projects on the horizon include the refurbishing of park restrooms, the contract of restrooms and a concession stand at the soccer fields, construction of pickleball courts and construction of a pilot’s lounge at the airport.
“Every year in getting ready to prepare the budget, I sit down with each department head and find out what we need and how to pay for it. Last August, we were informed our power costs would be going up quite a bit, so yes, we did increase electric rates over rates last year,” Wiggins said. “The good news in preparing for this year’s budget is that energy prices dropped, so I would like to propose a reduction in rate and ask Council to approve it retroactive to August 2023.”
Council approved the proposed ordinance – amending Article II of Chapter 40 – pertaining to electric service – of the City of Livingston Code of Ordinances. The new electric rates were approved as follows: industrial - from .1280 per kWh to .0960 per kWh; large light and power - from .1280 per kWh to .0980 per kWh; large school and government - from .1205 per kWh to .0905 per kWh; small school and government - from .1490 per kWh to .1190 per kWh; small commercial - from .1540 per kWh to .1240 per kWh; and residential to .1175 per kWh.
In related activity, two local citizens filed requests to address Council regarding the city’s electric service. Both were allotted three minutes.
First to address Council was Joshua Grant.
“Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My concern is about electricity rates and the lack of transparency,” Grant said. “Fuel prices have decreased since last fall. Other member cities have decreased their fuel prices, but the City of Livingston has not. Sam Rayburn Municipal Power Agency hasn’t filed audit reports since 2018. We know the City of Livingston is over-collecting on the fuel portion of the bill. You guys are not creating a feeling of trust. Livingston has less population (than the other member cities) but has higher base rates. If we don’t start getting answers to these very serious questions, we will be filing with the Public Utility Commission of Texas.”
Next to address Council was Corey Dickerson.
“I was born and raised here, graduated from the same high school as my mother, played Leopard football at Dunbar before playing in high school,” Dickerson said. “After living and working in the city, my wife and I moved back here to start our family and to support local business in my hometown. However, it’s very difficult to come back and support the community at these prices. My generation wants to come back and grow industry here, but this is something that’s become more and more of a problem.”
Council approved a proposed resolution authorizing the submission of the bullet resistant shield grant application to the Office of the Governor. “Our police department tries to save us as much money as they can,” Wiggins said. “Lieutenant (Marty) Drake is working on this, which is a $99,000 grant with no match.”
Additionally, Council approved a proposed resolution designating the Polk County Enterprise as the official newspaper of the City of Livingston for the upcoming fiscal year.
The annual firefighting agreement between the City of Livingston and Polk County for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2023 was approved. The city will receive $51,397.19 from the county.
Council reviewed and approved proposed resolutions setting public hearings on the following items:
A public hearing for 5 p.m. Oct. 10 for the determination of an unsafe and/or dilapidated building at 1008 Dunbar Ave. owned by Dunbar Livingston 1008 LLC;
A public hearing for 5 p.m. Oct. 10 for the determination of an unsafe and/or dilapidated manufactured home located at 1931 S. Washington Ave. #51 owned by Jeff McCullar, Amy McCullar and Carlos Barron; and
A public hearing for 5 p.m. Nov. 14 to consider a petition for street closure submitted by First United Pentecostal Church of Livingston Inc. regarding a portion of East Mill Street.
Following an executive session in which Council consulted with the city attorney and reviewed the proposed salary schedule for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2023, they approved the proposed salary schedule with a 3% cost of living adjustment.
During his monthly update on projects and events, Wiggins reported that there was “a really good turnout” for the annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony held Sept. 11 at the city hall. He publicly thanked local paramedic Ricky Taylor for being there because Taylor stepped in and put his skills to work when two people attending the ceremony passed out. Wiggins reported that both are fine, however.
He reminded everyone that Livingston Trade Days Fall Market is slated for Oct. 14-15 at Pedigo Park.
Wiggins apprised Council that work has begun on the King Ranch John Deere Dealership & Turf Business located at 510 U.S. Hwy. 59 Loop South. He reported that work is ongoing on the Polk County Courthouse restoration project, as well as the $3.5 million major remodel at Walmart. He reported that one residence is complete at The Retreat Living LLC and five are presently in progress.
He also reported that demolition is nearing completion of the former First National Bank building at 1700 W. Church St. He said that two people from Houston own the property and have no plans for it at this time other than completing the demolition of the old building.
Other business included approval of the accounts over $500 and the minutes of the Aug. 15 meeting.