The Power of the Purse

Jesse Davis, Denton City Councilmember, District 3

Denton is what we call a full-service city. That means that as taxpayers we support a police department, a fire department, street maintenance, parks, and all the other things we expect from our city government. But in addition, as utility ratepayers, we own and operate our own electric company, water company, wastewater system, and waste management company.

The benefit to us as citizens is that our elected leaders set our tax and utility rates with an eye toward fair rates and excellent service, not profit for shareholders. By the same token, our responsibility as citizens is to elect leaders who understand the complexity of a full-service city, and the stewardship obligation that comes with it.

In late September, your city council approved a $1.34 billion dollar budget for the next fiscal year. That’s a big number, but remember that our utility operations represent about 40% of the whole. And, about 70% of the General Fund (basically everything that’s not utilities, major construction, or debt service) goes to personnel. With revenue projections down because of the pandemic, we really had to tighten our belts this year. We instituted a hiring freeze and Voluntary Separation Program early on. Unfortunately, some of those vacant positions are eliminated in this budget. But I’m very proud to say that the Denton economy is strong, and the City of Denton made no layoffs. I applaud the city manager for taking this challenge as an opportunity to streamline many departments and really focus on our core functions.

I’m also proud to say that this budget includes increases for both our police department budget and our human services department, including homelessness initiatives and other vital programs. Changes in the police budget include more patrol officers and a new mental health unit. This is an innovative collaboration between sworn officers and mental health professionals that will respond to mental health calls in a more holistic way.

The council also voted to keep our tax rate at $0.59/$100 of value. This is the same rate as last year, which was the lowest city tax rate in 10 years. This means that if your home’s value goes up, the city portion of your tax bill will increase (about $40 for the year for the average homeowner). But if your value stays the same or goes down, so will your city taxes. It says a lot about your city that we can keep taxes low and run a very tight budget, even when the economy takes a hit.

On the utility side, we’ve lowered the rates for water and solid waste, and kept the rates the same for electricity and wastewater. The average ratepayer should save about $24/month starting in October.

Why did I mention elections earlier? Because in Denton we citizens have the ultimate power of the purse. We have the awesome ability to choose the ordinary folks who sit on our city council—the board of directors for this $1.3 billion operation we call home. Due to the pandemic, we moved the city elections we normally hold in May to the Nov. 3 ballot. The presidential option might be at the top of your ballot, but this year the folks who control your water bill will be toward the bottom. Please do everything you can to get informed on the issues and learn about the candidates. A lot rides on your choices.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me on these issues and any others before the Denton City Council. You can reach me at jesse.davis[email protected] I look forward to hearing from you, and I’ll see you around town!