I am grateful to Mayor Moser for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and update folks about some of the recent relevant events happening in our town.
While the COVID-19 virus has many of us working from home, you can rest assured that the Argyle Town Council and staff have been very busy these last few months. Like normal meetings at Town Hall, our virtual meetings have also been lasting for several hours. I believe the decision to move to two meetings a month will be beneficial to reduce the length of individual meetings and keep everyone more engaged and involved.
Currently we, along with many other municipalities, are at the beginning stages of the town budgeting process, which will last until approximately August. At that point, two public hearings will be held to allow us to present the proposed budget to the town’s citizens. What makes this year unique is that we are starting the process earlier, not only to complete it sooner, but also because we are going over the budget in much greater detail than ever before.
In lieu of focusing on past years to set future budget amounts, we are taking a more detailed, line-item approach. While past years are considered, we are only looking at them to identify tasks and commitments that must be included. From there we are reconsidering whether the expenditures support our town’s vision statement and strategic goals. Zero-based budgeting starts fresh every budget period and carefully analyzes what expenses are truly justified based on Argyle’s needs in that particular cycle. The amount of money spent years prior is not simply inflated to make our new budget. We believe this new approach for Argyle will encourage us to always justify all expenditures knowing that we as council have been entrusted to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
In preparation, department heads have been identifying the services that their departments provide to our citizens. We are asking them to remove those functions that no longer are needed and identify others that must be included to support our town’s governance. As we are preparing to look ahead at the next fiscal year, which starts on October 1, we are concurrently looking at the remainder of this fiscal year to see if there are potential adjustments that can be made to generate any savings and increase overall efficiency. While there are still four months remaining in this fiscal year, we are anticipating to finish with a balanced budget or even a modest surplus. This is in spite of the much-debated increase in the senior tax exemption put into effect last year. Credit should be given to our hard working staff that have done everything they can to reduce expenses throughout the year, especially with the potential for a negative economic impact due to the global health pandemic.
With respect to our town’s finances, Council Member Schmidt recently proposed to create a new Finance Committee which will aid the council and staff in many functions of our town’s financial management. He and Council Member Livingston were initially appointed to be the Internal Audit Team and assist with the audit of our last fiscal year. This was so successful, he thought having a committee made up of financial professionals could help in several other ways including the budget process, monthly financial review and analysis, and financial considerations such as financing options and economic incentives. The proposal was accepted by the council with the idea that Council Member Livingston would chair the committee, define its charges, and help identify citizen volunteers to become committee members. If you have an interest and expertise to be a committee member please be on the lookout for an announcement on the town’s website soliciting individuals interested in serving.
There are many more things we are currently working on, including the selection of our future Town Administrator. We have narrowed the field of very qualified candidates down to four finalists. The finalists visited our town the weekend of May 30th and met with staff on June 1st. The council conducted in-person interviews June 2nd with the hopes of announcing the finalist in the next few weeks. More than half of the candidates applied from outside of our great state, as Argyle is not only a very desirable place to live, but also a great place to be a Town Administrator and work alongside our engaged citizens.
Work has also been done to review the facilities of our Town Hall and adjoining Parsonage to see how they could better serve us in the future. Council Member Meyers was charged with the task of conducting a physical survey of how both buildings could best serve the town, staff, and its citizens in the future. The hopes are that we can present some conceptual ideas in the next few months.
Planning continues on the Crawford Road improvement project, with recent discussions being held with engineering staff and County Commissioner Edmondson for the purchase of land from Argyle ISD necessary for the planned roundabout. While the exact dates to begin construction have not yet been set, we do expect to hopefully complete this project in advance of construction on Hwy 377 to avoid unnecessary inconveniences. We believe the final product with be a significant improvement to traffic flow and safety for those that regularly travel on Crawford Road. Other road-related work includes a request by Town Council to upgrade our new road reconstruction standards for general road repairs from our Town Engineer. Town Council agrees that the current standards do not meet the expectations of our citizens. Consequently, the remainder of the Argyle Phase One road project has been put on hold until those standards have been developed. We are also proceeding with any necessary studies required for the Railroad Crossing Quiet Zone project, which will be coordinated with the widening of Highway 377 by TxDOT.
It must be mentioned that over the last few weeks, Erika McComis, the Town Secretary and Assistant Town Administrator, has done a superb job managing the town’s affairs and working with department heads. We believe having her in the position of Assistant Town Administrator in addition to her responsibilities of Town Secretary will give the town more depth in day-to-day management as well as allow for staff growth. We are also grateful to our Interim Town Administrator, Jeff Howell, who is helping us with this new budgeting process, although he will be leaving shortly after the new Town Administrator is announced. Please note, Town Hall has resumed regular in-person operations after the installation of safety shields at the front counter.
The Argyle Town Council continues to strive to serve the citizens of our great town to the best of our ability despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish all our citizens the best during these difficult times, and I pray for the health and safety of everyone in our community.