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Tax hearings upcoming for city, county

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Both the city and county will hold public hearings on proposed property tax rates for the new year on Thursday, Sept. 10, and property owners should be fairly pleased with the plans.

The tax rate proposed by Bandera County commissioners for the 2021 fiscal year is 67.69 cents per $100 valuation, the same rate the county has imposed since 2010, and the tax rate that appears to be favored by most of council is what is called the “no-new-revenue tax rate,” which could cut a fraction of a cent from the current tax rate of 49.83 cents per $100 valuation, said Mayor Suzanne Schauman.

Commissioners’ Court has scheduled a hearing on its proposed rate at 10 a.m. Thursday, as part of its regular meeting, while City Council will meet Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to hold a public hearing on the proposed rate and a workshop on the 2021 budget.

Both Schauman and Bandera County Judge Richard Evans were supportive of the rates proposed for their jurisdictions, particularly in a year where many governmental entities are facing financial hardships resulting from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Schauman and Evans said sales tax receipts in the city and county have held up fairly well despite the business shutdowns and restrictions on personal activity that were imposed to battle the pandemic. That has helped the city and county keep their property tax rates from rising.

Schauman also said council is not expecting to increase water and sewer rates this year.

Council is working on a 2021 budget of about $3.2 million, or almost $100,000 less than the current budget, though that total could change before the new budget is adopted.

Schauman said a seven-year capital improvement project directed toward upgrading city streets should get started in the new fiscal year that starts in October thanks to more than $1 million in reserve funds the city inherited as a result of findings from the 2018-2019 audit.

About $500,000 has been allocated to the capital project in the upcoming year that should get work going on some of the streets that need repairs the most, including 11th Street, Sycamore Street, Pecan Street and Cherry Street.

Improvements in the city’s water system should continue in the new year using funds from a 2018 loan the city received from the Texas Water Development Board and planning may move forward on the relocation of the city’s wastewater treatment plant if council decides to pursue a $10 million grant in the coming weeks that would pay for wastewater upgrades.

Otherwise, the new budget should not change much from the current budget, the mayor said. No new staffing is planned for the 2021 year, but council has not decided whether to give its staff a raise. If it does, that could change the budget total for the year.

The city’s tax rate, if it stays about the same level as it currently is, would be a welcome change for property owners after a year in which the rate increased by 9.5 cents per $100, the most council could increase it without facing the possibility of a tax rollback vote.

County officials, including Judge Evans, have made it a priority not to increase their tax rate, and they appear to have succeeded again this year.

The judge said he asked all the county’s department heads not to increase their budget requests for the new year, and everyone did a pretty good job of complying.

A public notice the county filed on the proposed tax rate showed that even if it does not increase, the total taxes paid by the owner of a home with what is calculated to be the average value in the county would increase by about 1 percent because valuations rose again this year.

The value of the average home in the county jumped to $171,832 in the new year from $169,401 currently, meaning the taxes owned on that average value home would increase to $1,163 from $1,147 currently.

The county’s 2021 budget anticipates spending about $23.8 million, an increase of about $760,000 from the current budget.

Evans said the budget does not call for any significant increase in staffing and has no cost-of-living salary increase built in for employees, but it does not lay anyone off either, which is a situation he hoped to avoid.

The budget contains nearly $1.3 million needed to pay for the construction of the centralized Emergency Medical Service headquarters on Highway 16 and additional capital outlay funds that would enable county officials to undertake repairs on county courthouse bathrooms and take steps in its plan to buy land or a building so county agencies that are now leasing space can move to a single, county-owned facility.

In addition, Evans said if the county’s Hotel Occupancy Taxes increase as officials hope, the county could have enough money to start the first phase of improvements on the historic jail and courthouse complex late in the year.

That would include site stabilization work and some removal and repair activities. The judge said he believes the proposed budget, with no new property taxes, no cuts in services and enough revenue to keep fund balances strong, is “a pretty good accomplishment based on the situation at hand.”

Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to vote on the budget and tax rate at its Sept. 24 meeting.