BELLMEAD, TX — The proposed new Bellmead budget for next year is out, and while many cities hope to hold the line on taxes, in light of the COVID crisis, Bellmead will unabashedly ask for more money.
City leaders have a very calculated reason for asking for the extra.
At a time when big cities have begun to look for ways to cut public safety budgets in a move to “defund” police," Bellmead intends to take the road less traveled, by investing in police and fire.
Vivian Hampton likes that she sees Bellmead Police driving down her quiet street almost every day.
"It's good to see your local police department just coming down your neighborhood every now and then. They're just patrolling and not chasing anybody but just to see their presence," she said.
It gives her comfort, she explained, but all the while police officers and their families say their lives get more uncomfortable with wages set at 2006 levels.
”The men and women that serve this city, should be paid a fair, competitive wage,” said Bellmead City Manager, Yousry "Yost" Zakhary.
And while some cities re-think their public safety budgets in the wake of the George Floyd movement, Bellmead has "doubled down" on police and fire as the lynch-pin of an entire city makeover.
The spending plan totals just short of 6 million dollars and dovetails with the massive changes to Interstate 35.
Job one? Reign in a crime problem that had begun giving Bellmead a bit of a reputation.
”Bellmead is highest in all categories from property crime to personal crime, calls for service, we're head and hands above even Waco, or any of the other cities around us,” explained Bellmead Chief of Police, Daniel Porter.
Tackling crime, he says, pays economic benefits.
Case in point: an incident a few years ago at the town's Holiday Inn, which suddenly lost phone and internet service.
Hotel managers called for repairs but got an unpleasant surprise instead.
”They declined to come because they stated that this area is a "red zone" area,” recalled Holiday Inn General Manager Rashmi Patel.
That meant no technicians would arrive to fix the trouble, and they lost business until the next day because of the high crime rate.
Then, there's stopping the revolving door Bellmead had become when it comes to police and fire employees.
Two years here, and they'd move on and few, if any, would stay.
”There's a lot the city does invest into a person or to a firefighter whenever they're hired here. And our bid is, we need to retain them, and pay is the element of everything,” said Bellmead Fire Chief William "Billy" Hlavenka Jr.
That, plus infrastructure improvements that came along with the interstate project, help give Bellmead a "second chance" as it opens up more territory for industrial development and new jobs.
But to make it all work, the city manager says people need to feel "protected."
”You don't get better protection by de-funding. You get it by funding, training and retaining,” said Zakhary.
To do it, he proposes hiking the tax rate from just shy of 36 cents per $100 in property value, to just a little over 37 and a half, costing the average taxpayer, he says about $17 a year.
The plan enjoys broad support on city council, but not universal.
Council member Doss Youngblood voted against the budget in its first reading, calling the $17 charge "too high" for the poor of Bellmead.
But Vivian Hampton says she'll gladly pay a little extra to keep her growing town on track, and what she calls the comforting sight of cops on her street.
”Let's just make sure they know that they're worth it, you know? Yeah, police and the fire department,” she said.
Bellmead will hold a public hearing on its proposed budget with the police and fire raises on September 1st.