The Wharton City Council held its third workshop at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at city hall, 120 East Caney Street, where several issues were highlighted as the city works to approve its 2020-21 Fiscal Year budget.

Among them was a possible 3% pay increase for city employees.

Under the proposed budget, city personnel would receive a 1% pay increase when the budget is adopted and a possible 2% raise to be evaluated in January, according to City of Wharton Finance Director Joan Andel.


There was also discussion regarding a 14% increase in rates for City of Wharton utility customers.

Under the current proposal, there would be a 4% increase in the garbage rate — a total of .96 cents per month or $11.52 per year, according to Andel.

To avoid a water/sewer fund deficit in the amount of $32,312, the city is also proposing a 10% increase in wastewater and water rates.


The average residential customer pays $35.04 for water and $39.42 for sewer, totaling $74.46. With the 10% rate increase, the average residential customers would pay $38.54 for water and $43.36 for sewer, totaling $81.90, Andel said.

City council must adopt new rates for garbage and water/sewer on Aug. 24 in order to be effective by Oct. 1, 2020.

In an effort to clarify the Wharton City Council’s position regarding the proposed budget, The County Gin reached out to its members: City of Wharton Mayor Tim Barker; Clifford W. Jackson, District No. 1; Steven Schneider, District No. 2; Terry Freese, District No. 3; mayor pro-tem Donald Mueller, District No. 4; Russell Machann, Position No. 5 At-Large; and Alice Heard-Roberts, Position No. 6 At-Large.


Each provided their opinions regarding the process as a whole and issues raised in the workshop Tuesday, as well as their thoughts moving forward in adopting the 2020-21 Fiscal Year budget.  

Q: What are the key priorities for you in this upcoming budget?

City of Wharton Mayor Tim Barker

Barker: The main goal is to keep the main services: police, fire and EMS in operation and work within a tight budget.

Jackson: To see that Wharton citizens are represented in a fair way as it pertains to taxes and fees. We are still amid this pandemic and need to make sure that there aren’t any holes or items that could: 1. Save the city money; and 2. Keep the citizens paying lower taxes in the forms of fees. The citizens need to be at the forefront of our minds during this process.

Schneider: All of them. They are all important.

Freese: To have a balanced budget is number one. We are facing a little deficit.

Mueller: Well, we’re going to have to take care of our civic center. Then, we need to address our streets that have fallen way behind on. Also, we have to take care of our employees with the everyday costs going up.

Machann: I guess the key thing for me is for us to pay for what we have and try to make it work where we can fund it all. The expenses keep going up and we have to consider covering those expenses without raising the effective tax rate on everyone.

Heard-Roberts: To ensure everything the city would actually need to survive is taken care of. I just want to make sure we have what we need, aside from any extra wants that are not needed during this time.

Q: How do you weigh or evaluate fairness in funding or choose which items to prioritize?

Barker: I’m not in that budget field. The city manager and department heads are putting that all together to propose to us. Then we listen and evaluate what we think is priority or not.

Jackson: I look at whether or not what is presented is needed or justified and at how each person or business would use those funds if approved. I have to ensure it would be beneficial to each and every citizen in the city, especially the district I represent.

Schneider: Some things we got to have and then we have to look to the future as well. It all depends on the urgency and where we are at financially.

Freese: I believe fire, EMS and police are the major necessities, which takes up a big portion of the budget. Then you have your utilities and maintenance. I like to make sure those departments that provide services to Wharton residents are taken care of first.
I do look to make sure we approve necessities and not anything extra right now.

Mueller: Number one would be to take care of our employees. I keep the city operation in mind during this.

Machann: Well, there are some items I don’t feel are totally necessary. Some requests are items that they would like to have. I’m basically focusing more on what the actual needs are.

Heard-Roberts: If it’s not something that is in dire need, then we shouldn’t include that. We need a balanced budget and that includes prolonging items or changes until we are out of this crisis. Unfortunately, we are in a pandemic. It’s unforeseen, but we have to adapt this year.

Q: How much of a say do you feel you have in the budget process?

Barker: In the workshops, it’s more a general discussion. Council does have the final say.

Clifford W. Jackson, District No. 1

Jackson: Well, I am one-in-six. I hope my say is just as important as each other council members’s. Sometimes, it feels like I am in a battle and my voice doesn’t carry as much weight, but I would like to think I’m one-in-six.

Schneider: It depends. If you feel strongly about something and do your research to present something, you can have more influence than you realize.

Freese: I don’t feel like I have a whole lot. (City manager Andres Garza Jr.) and Andel present this bare-boned budget and we just make sure the budget is balanced and it meets the needs.

Mueller: I feel like I have a great say.

Machann: I feel like I’ve got a vote and I’m going to voice my concerns during meetings. I try to stay on top of happenings by inquiring what is going on throughout the year and having discussions with the city department heads and city manager, so I can voice those concerns at the meetings.

Heard-Roberts: I often ask a lot of questions. I feel I have a say when I ask those questions to allow others to see what direction I am considering; however, I do know that when I ask questions or address my concerns, I am often saturated with other information, making it difficult to understand if my initial question was ever answered.

Q: As a council member, what is the importance of serving as a voice for citizens, especially when creating the budget?

Barker: It’s very important. Everyone expects us to use taxpayer funds responsibly.

Jackson: It is at the forefront in my mind, as I feel it should be in each member’s.

Steven Schneider, District No. 2

Schneider: You have to listen to what the people are voicing to you.

Freese: I think everybody is expecting the council and city staff to not waste the taxpayers’ money. It’s very important to keep their wishes and views in mind.

Mueller: Like I said, we have to keep our city going for our citizens.

Machann: Our citizens are the most important aspect of my being on council. I want to be able to represent each person as best I can. God says to better serve is to serve the people and that’s what I keep in mind as I serve on council.

Heard-Roberts: I don’t feel like the city is doing enough for the citizens. I see a lot of assistance for businesses and I am trying day in and day out to bring the focus back to the citizens.

Q: Do you feel this budget as presented accurately represents the interests and needs of Wharton citizens?

Barker: It depends what you look at. We try to keep in mind what’s best for the city. So, it might not represent one or two, but as a whole, I believe it fairly represents the city.

Jackson: No, I do not. I believe there are other options out there for obtaining funds for a deficit and we need to explore further into finding those.

Schneider: I think so. We are limited with the funds we have. We are trying to do everything we can for everybody.

Freese: With what funds have to work with, yes.

Mueller: Yes, we are going to try to hold out on tax increases. I feel like we are real conservative concerning tax-payer funds.

Machann: Yes, I feel like we addressed a lot of concerns and deficits within the budget without having to raise the effective tax rate. We worked with what we have and currently don’t have enough for city operations. I feel that this budget is the best we can do under the circumstances.

Heard-Roberts: No, I really don’t feel like during this time we should be increasing any taxes or fees. The city is lacking funds, but so are the citizens. It’s not the time to put more financial burden on the citizens.

Q: I understand that during this process, tough decisions must be made. As a representative of the people, do you believe it is fundamentally fair to give 77 city employees a 3% raise while also increasing utility rates by 14% for City of Wharton citizens?

Barker: That raise is something we’ve done every year. It really isn’t much, but to the average city worker and their family, it helps a lot. It is employee retention in my mind. We want to take care of the staff that takes care of Wharton. I can’t oppose the city not providing that to its employees.
The utility rate increases are put in place in order to not increase taxes and to take care of the costs of water/sewage and garbage the city faces.

Jackson: I do not believe it is fair with the current economic hardships that the city is facing. I don’t think that by doing your job, you should expect a raise. It’s not like you are doing your job for free, you’re getting paid to do it. Although I am very proud and appreciative of all city staff, I can’t bring myself to approve a raise at this time while so many residents are financially struggling and unemployment is so high and increasing.
This would be different outside COVID-19, but it makes me wonder why funds budgeted for raises aren’t being looked at as a solution to aid a deficit in the utility department. It’s not just about the 77 employees of the city, it’s about the thousands of citizens that make up the city.

Schneider: The city is a business and we have to find ways to keep the doors open. Costs go up on us as well. I think a little bonus or raise at the end of the year is fair for employees. It boosts morale. I think we need to give the employees something. That part is really still up-in-the-air, though. We need to make sure we can afford it.

Terry Freese, District No. 3

Freese: I think we have some really good employees at the City of Wharton, from top to bottom. I think it’s very, very important to try to take care of those people. You know, their expenses are going up and a potential 3% raise is not much money to most of them, but it’s a little bit. I think it’s important that we show that we value each of the staff. Each is very important to the operation of the city. We are waiting until January to make the final decision on the raise.
We try to avoid raising any fees or taxes. In fact, I don’t think there has been a city tax increase in more than 20 years. You’d like to not have any increase, but it’s impossible with the expenses constantly rising.

Mueller: Well, we’re have to go up on garbage because of the contract and we have to keep operating and right now, the only way to keep going is to have that utility increase to keep up with the utility costs.
The thing is the raise thing is still a proposal. We would only be approving a 1% raise now and revisit the remaining 2% in January. We have to take care of our employees. They are the ones that keep the city going.

Machann: My thought on that is the employees are working harder than ever during this pandemic and I’m willing to give them that 1% increase at the beginning and re-evaluate in January for the additional 2%. We don’t know if it will be feasible then, but I do feel like employee retention and cost-of-living raises are deserved. We’ve got a rock-solid staff and they continue to perform and dedicate their time to the city. With the increase in utilities, those are from rising expenses and much-needed repairs for those specific services.
I feel like the two, while both are funding, don’t really compare. The rate increase is due to the deficit in the utility department. I feel like where there is a deficit, there should be a solution. I would like to also note that these decisions aren’t taken lightly. I don’t think you’ll find anyone that wants to burden citizens with extra expenses.

Heard-Roberts: I understand that everyone needs to feel appreciated. I appreciate the city staff for all that they do, but at this point, we can’t say we are fiscally responsible and issue a raise. The focus needs to be on ensuring that we can keep those staff members employed and provide the services that employ those people. We have citizens facing repossession, foreclosures and unemployment right now. To increase any taxes or fees could be the breaking point that could cause more citizens to be in a financial crisis.

Q: At the onset of this pandemic, there was a focus on working with customers who were struggling to pay their utility bills at the current rate and efforts were made to defer payments to avoid discontinuing services. In the packet provided to council Tuesday, the letter from WCA stated a rate increase would go into effect only with council’s approval. How would you justify a vote to approve utility rate increases when this pandemic is still very much affecting Wharton families?

Barker: We haven’t approved that increase yet. We could fight it, but don’t know if we can because of the existing contract between them and the city.

Jackson: I feel like we can’t. We cannot justify voting on a rate increase when our citizens can’t afford it. There are existing issues with the performance of waste management and we, like most city entities, are facing hard economic struggles. Imagine being on the other side of the telephone with people needing assistance with an extension or deferment with their water, sewage and waste bill, knowing that you received a raise at the time of increasing rates?

Schneider: I believe that it is in their contract. We’re going to have to do something. It’s either that or do we trim people back or increase taxes? It’s a tough position to be in.

Freese: When you’re talking about an increase, it’s only a few dollars. The way it was explained to me was that was unavoidable. It’s in the contract between WCA and the city.
You hate to put a burden on people, but I feel like the city is willing to work with anyone facing hard times.

Mayor Pro-Tem Don Mueller, District No. 4

Mueller: We have so many delinquent accounts that we have to write-off at the end of each year, which causes the deficits. So, we have to increase in order to continue to operate. 

Machann: This city is always willing to work with each person to ensure those utilities are available. This rate increase for WCA is in their contract with the city — it’s unavoidable.

Heard-Roberts: I’m not going to be able to justify it, because I don’t agree with it. I am very vocal; however, I’m just one person. A lot of times, I am out voted.
I also would like to express my disappointment in city leaders with their presented ultimatum between a dedicated staff member’s livelihood and a rate increase that would affect the entire city. To basically say that the only way to avoid a rate increase would be to let a particular employee go is just unacceptable. Especially after saying the entire city staff, department heads included, are budgeted a raise.

Q: How would you address possible concerns from citizens about decisions made in the budget process?

Barker: I would love to have more input from citizens. We work with what we have in funds and we stay within those funds. I know we will have concerns from some and we will address them as they come in.

Jackson: I would address them as best I can by relaying what is expressed to me to council during meetings. Again, I put the citizens at the forefront and I look at how each decision I make could affect them.

Schneider: I really haven’t heard anything from anybody. I would explain what I could if I were asked.

Freese: We try to do what’s best for everyone, which is very difficult. It’s either increase the utility rate or increase the taxes. I think the taxes route would be totally unfair.

Mueller: We’re still going to have the budget pass. People can still reach out to me and we can make adjustments.

Russell Machann, Position No. 6 At-Large

Machann: I am an open book and will gladly sit down with anyone to further explain any decisions I make for the city. It’s not a luxurious position. There are really tough decisions to be made and input from the people I represent is very important in that decision-making process.  

Heard-Roberts: I would really like to see greater participation from citizens and greater expression from them to their representatives. I know it’s hard to keep up with every aspect of the city; however, I would like to continue to voice their opinions and stances. In order to do that, I need to hear from them. I’m not sure how to address this particular issue other than expressing my views and stance on it. If this passes as is, it will be hard for me validate it when I don’t agree with it.

Q: Reflecting on the economic hardship that many Wharton families are currently facing, do you plan on amending any issues or items presented in the budget to better serve the citizens?

Barker: I plan on listening to concerns and looking at what Andel and Garza have presented.

Jackson: Yes, indeed. I do plan to research every possible avenue to find a better solution to keep operations going with the city and to also keep the city from burdening the citizens with higher fees at a time like this.

Schneider: Not at this time. I would like to see what comes up this next go-around.

Freese: There are a few things that we are still up-in-the-air on.

Mueller: No, not at this time.

Machann: I mean, I think we have a solid plan and budget. I will continue discussions, but I don’t have any amendments to present.

Alice Heard-Roberts, Position No. 6 At-Large

Heard-Roberts: We discussed it over and over. I would like to present an amendment, but I feel like to bring the rate increase up this late in the budget process, there isn’t much I can do. I will continue to try to work with the city and explore different options.

Q: If you had to vote right now, would you approve the budget as presented?

Barker: It’s never come down to me having to vote on it. I would only vote to break a tie. But if I could vote on it right now, no. I think there still are some changes to be made. 

Jackson: No, this budget is a narrow-minded budget. It is a budget that, to me, isn’t explored fully and uses the citizens, once again, as a bailout for unforeseen circumstances.

Schneider: I would. I think it’s the best route we have given the circumstances. We don’t have much to work with. As things come up, we can go back to revisit this throughout the year.

Freese: Yes, I think it’s the best the city staff could come up with under the circumstances. They have given us a budget that is just the bare necessities, really.

Mueller: I would. I think Joan Andel and her staff are doing great to stay in budget and address all the needs with what they have to work with.

Machann: Yes, absolutely. I believe the city manager and finance director have presented a conservative budget.

Heard-Roberts: No, I do not believe this budget is the best we can come up with concerning our citizens’s interests.

Members of the public are invited to attend and present comments to the Wharton City Council, which meets at 7 p.m. every second and fourth Monday at city hall, 120 East Caney Street. The council is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 24.

To view past agendas, packets and minutes, visit the City of Wharton website.


  1. I’m glad some of the council say they couldn’t vote yes on the proposed budget as is. Especially since right after Harvey the budgets were passed unanimously approving increases after stating they were going to lessen the tax payer load. Hopefully there comes change. I think it may be time to look at those who make the budget, can’t find money for repairs but sure can for raises. I’m glad Barker addressed his limits, too many blame him. We will see how the future of Wharton goes, I for one am hoping and believing the best.


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