The Amarillo City Council unanimously approved the city’s final budget and tax rate at Tuesday’s meeting, with leadership also approving the sale of 254 acres of land by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) to International Paper.
The new budget approved by the council sees an increase of $40 million over last year’s budget. Among the highlights were $33 million in investments in water, along with $46 million in drainage infrastructure to mitigate flooding and improve infrastructure. More than $28 million was committed to street improvement projects, and 14 new public safety positions were added. There will be three district chiefs for the fire department and four new police officer positions.
Setting the new property tax rate for the city at $0.39195 per $100 property valuation, the council decreased the tax rate to a little over 1 cent from the previous rate. To help fund the new budget, there will be increased drainage and solid waste fees of less than $2 to residents. Commercial customers will see a 20% increase in solid waste and a 9% increase in landfill tipping fees.
This is the second year in a row that the city council has reduced the property tax rate for its residents. Last year, the city council reduced property tax rates by about 4 cents per hundred-dollar valuation.
Amarillo Mayor Cole Stanley spoke about the budget process.
“I think this process has brought staff and council close together with a willingness to work together and evaluate the budget process for all departments,” Stanley said. “This is a very solid budget; it should reflect the goals and the importances and priorities of the community, considering what effect it will have on individual citizens.”
Among the projects losing funding from the new budget, the AEDC had its budget reduced by more than $650,000 from last year. The approved budget of $3.5 million was AEDC’s lowest since fiscal year 2020-2021. Project support funding from the city for the AEDC was reduced by more than $700,000, with the WT Enterprize Challenge Program having its funding reduced by $200,000. The program has been in effect for 26 years as a way for expanding small businesses to get funding for projects.
Last year, 96 small businesses applied to the program, with 24 companies that received some level of funding from the program. All businesses that applied to the program received training and mentorship to assist them in getting future investments.
Kevin Carter, the executive director of AEDC, said that the businesses in the program last year added 408 new employees and $80-plus million in total revenue. According to Carter, more than a billion dollars in revenue has been created from businesses that were awarded money from the challenge.
Councilmember Les Simpson made an effort to amend the AEDC’s budget to restore the $200,000 in reduced funding to the Enterprize program, touting its benefit to local small businesses being worth the increased commitment from the city due to its overall longterm impact on the city’s economy. However, no other councilmember seconded the motion, and it failed without a vote.
Following the meeting, Simpson spoke about his reasoning for wanting to restore full funding to the program.
“I am extremely supportive of small business and think that small business is crucial to our community,” Simpson said. “One of the key principles I ran on was that we as a city need to say yes to business. We need to do things to help and encourage business in the community."
Simpson said that the proven record of the challenge and its commitment to small local businesses has been positive for the city.
“If you look at the track record of the Enterprize Challenge over the last 26 years, I think it has proven to be a good investment with its support of local businesses,” Simpson said. “I would have liked to have seen the continuation of the full funding of the challenge. There have been many benefits to local businesses over the years from this challenge. There are not that many resources for small business, and I feel like this has been a great investment for the community.”
Carter said the reduction in the funding of the challenge was done at the direction of the city council. He said that the maximum award from the program will now be reduced to $75,000 for any individual business in the program. He could not comment on the thought process of the council in deciding to reduce funding for the project.
Stanley said that the funding to the Enterprize Challenge was reduced due to not all available funds being distributed over the past two years.
“The Enterprize Challenge has been a successful program, which does build on small business, which is the backbone of our economy,” Stanley said. “Their budget number got reduced due to the challenge of not issuing all the funds over the past two years, and this was our way as a council to steward every dollar and make sure that every dollar was accounted for.”
Stanley said that if demand for the program rises, the council will look at increasing funds.
Also approved at the council meeting was the sale of 254 acres of land by the AEDC to International Paper for $6.35 million. International Paper is an American company based in Tennessee that is the largest pulp and paper company in the world. It operates 28 pulp, paper, and packaging mills, 200 converting and packaging plants, and 18 recycling plants.
“International Paper had been in talks with us about bringing a facility to Amarillo, and so they are purchasing 250 plus acres at Airport Boulevard and Pullman Road,” Carter said. “For $25,000 an acre, that will be used for a site to be determined. The company has not stated what exactly it will put in that location, but they chose Amarillo for a reason. They are saving that site for a facility to be determined."
Carter said that AEDC did its first land sale about three months ago, and this sale is by far its largest land sale.
“I think it’s a good deal for us; we know that some type of facility, hopefully a large facility, will be placed on this type of acreage,” Carter said. “The fact that International Paper was willing to commit $6 million for a project that has not yet been determined shows their heavy commitment to the Amarillo market.”
The AEDC previously worked with International Paper for a small job creation project with its distribution facility on 24th Street in Amarillo about a decade ago. Carter said that once a project is announced by International Paper, the AEDC will go into some negotiation about a location incentive agreement. If International Paper does not utilize the land for a facility within the next five years, the city of Amarillo can purchase the land back at the same price, with the company paying closing costs.
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Amarillo City Council sets annual budget, new property tax rate