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Tax rate debate divides Victoria City Council

By Melissa Crowe
June 17, 2014 at 1:17 a.m.
Updated June 18, 2014 at 1:18 a.m.


IN OTHER ACTION

The City Council:

• Approved implementing fees for parade barricade rentals.

• Approved spending $497,000 for a resident project representative for the Odem Street Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Approved a $2.75 million bid to EISG Inc. of Houston to put a final cap on 46 acres of landfill.

POTENTIAL TAX RATE

• Current: 59.96 cents per $100 of valuation

• Effective: 56.18 cents per $100 of valuation

• Staff proposal: 60.86 cents per $100 of valuation

• Rollback: 59.4 cents per $100 of valuation

Property tax accounts for less than a third of the total $50.28 million maintenance and operation budget for Victoria.

Now that the property appraisal process has begun, Victoria City Council is faced with whether to increase taxes, and if so, by how much.

On one side of the debate, council members worry for taxpayers, who will already face an increase in water and sewer rates as well as expenses out of their control - gas, food and other necessities.

However, the council has also committed to repairing residential streets and giving raises to city employees, all of which comes at a cost.

After three residents spoke about the need for responsible spending and lower taxes, Councilman David Hagan spurred the debate among the dais after announcing he wanted a tax rate that would keep spending at a standstill.

In budget terms, the rate Hagan supported is called the effective rate and would bring in the same amount of taxes as the previous year.

While Victoria Finance Director Gilbert Reyna presented a plan that would increase the budget by $1.29 million, finding where to make the cuts could prove to be a challenge for the seven-person council.

Mayor Paul Polasek said he wants the tax rate lower than what staff recommended but said there are projects that need funding.

"I want to make sure we start our residential street project," Polasek said. "It's a priority. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that."

Councilman Tom Halepaska said he did not want to defer maintenance projects another year, which Polasek agreed with, citing a need for balance and patience.

"We're not going to fix the roads this budget, but we might over a 10-year period," Polasek said.

Councilman Jeff Bauknight said he wants to get to the rate Hagan suggested but wanted some time to organize his proposals before tossing out an empty suggestion.

"I don't want to tell you the effective tax rate without having some solutions to bring to you," Bauknight said.

No one on the council was in favor of cutting raises for city employees, which are budgeted at $1.03 million. However, public works could be on the chopping block where street sweeping and sewer line cleaning are concerned.

"We have a responsibility to continue these services," Polasek said. "Lynn Short showed us that by deferring maintenance, you risk disruptions in service.

"There's a lot of focus on the property tax element of the general fund," Polasek said. "It's very clear where all the money goes."

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