As the city’s budgeting process nears its conclusion, public safety, roads and city employees take center stage.

The city’s current budget proposal anticipates more than $152 million in general fund expenditures, a steady increase over last year’s general fund, which was budgeted at $144 million. City of Waco budget director Laura Mendoza presented the proposal during a budget and audit committee meeting Tuesday.

“We had your priorities in mind as we put together the budget,” Mendoza said to the committee. “We echoed it, repeated it to management. So, every time we met with a department director, we communicated what we had heard from you.”

Like last year, the city council listed infrastructure, employee compensation, employee benefits, public safety and code enforcement as their budget priorities. This year, they expanded the list to include strategic economic development and equitable practices. The budget also has a built-in contingency fund of $1.7 million to offset the inherent unpredictability of sales tax revenue.

$618,000 would go toward hiring five new police officers and two new detectives. Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said the five officers will cover existing beats, while the detectives will cover personal crimes, including family violence, special crimes or crimes against children.

The proposal also sets aside $350,000 for employee retention efforts, something the city has struggled with for the last several years. City Manager Wiley Stem said he would have a more detailed employee retention plan at the committee’s July 9 meeting.

“We may end up looking at a little bit of a different number, but we’ve got a number of things that we need to address,” Stem said.

Proposed funding for the city’s pavement management program, which received $17.1 million in 2018-19, has been boosted to $21.9 million. The increase is necessary to keep Waco’s roads from falling into disrepair that would be even more expensive to correct down the road, said Jim Reed, the city’s public works capital improvement program manager.

The committee also discussed a four-year plan to fund Waco’s capital improvement program. The proposal would designate almost $36 million for airport, convention, parks, streets and facilities improvements next year.

Parks money

The city’s parks improvement program would receive $2.6 million for improvements. Interim parks director Jonathan Cook said $600,000 would go to improvements at neighborhood parks like Pioneer Park and Buena Vista Park.

“Beautiful park, however that playground is in dire need of replacement,” Cook said of Buena Vista Park in South Waco. “We recently did a park inspection, and it’s below our criteria for the needs for that park.”

$1 million would go toward relocating the Challenger Little League field, which is being moved as part of a county project to overhaul the Extraco Events Center fairgrounds. The other $1 million for parks improvements would cover the design and first phase of construction for an all-inclusive playground the department has been planning for two years.

The budget office will file the proposed budget July 12, after one last meeting July 9.

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