Council opposes tax bill despite outcry
The Odessa City Council voted unanimously to oppose a state bill that would lower the property tax rollback rate, despite disagreement from several local residents.
Senate Bill 2 would reform the ability of cities and counties to raise property taxes by lowering the rollback rate from 4 percent to 2.5 percent. Local entities would still be able to try to raise the property tax higher, but it would trigger a local election for the public to vote on the potential tax hike.
Before voting, several Odessans got up to give their thoughts on the council’s decision, including Odessa Board of Realtors CEO Connie Coots.
Coots pointed out the Council called the bill a “revenue cap” in the public agenda, but told them it wasn’t so. The legislation would only require the city to go to voters should the tax rate be 2.5 percent higher than the rate the year before. She also told Council members the rollback rate would be brought more in line with the rate of inflation should the bill pass.
“We believe these are good bills for Texas taxpayers, in part because they help take the focus away from appraisals and put the focus on the other side of the equation: the process used to set tax rates,” Coots said.
Coots called the current process challenging, because the only recourse property owners have is to share their feedback during public hearings when tax rates are being set.
“This legislation will provide more transparency in the process used to set the tax rates and proactively give more information to property owners, allowing us to get more involved,” Coots said.
Aubrey Mayberry spoke to the council next, telling them this bill isn’t the state looking to overstep their bounds, but to do what the voters have asked them to be done.
“It’s not really an issue of them overstepping, it’s an issue of taxing entities deciding that they need to spend more money and that they don’t want anybody to put a limit on that,” Mayberry said.
Mayberry told Council members the state had $218 billion in local debt in 2018, and that the state is stepping in before it affects their credit rating.
Matt Stringer told Council members the state brought this bill to the forefront because Texans, and Odessans, are crying out for relief on overbearing taxes.
“I’d remind this Council to not work against the will of the people you serve by opposing this legislation,” Stringer said.
Dottie Chavez spoke last, asking the Council why they were opposed to the bill.
“The state is very good at telling us what we need to do but not funding it,” Mayor David Turner told Chavez.
Turner gave stormwater as an example, telling Chavez the city had to hire five more employees after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told them stormwater leaving from one person’s property to another was the city’s responsibility. He also told her the state isn’t pitching in for local issues either, like infrastructure.
“The state gripes when the fed comes in and says ‘you’re gonna do this,’” Turner told her. “They’re not the ones living in the city but they’re gonna sit in Austin and say ‘we know better.’”
At-Large Council Member Peggy Dean said there seems to be a misconception that the Council is made up of reckless spenders, and said she has seen tremendous deliberation on how monies are being spent since she has joined the council. She added that the city may need to find a way to explain to residents what they are talking about and the issues they face.
“The opposition of this was not because we want to pull something on you, it’s not because we want to spend money recklessly, it’s because we have an excess of $300 million of infrastructure needs that are gonna have to happen,” Dean said.
Dean additionally called the insinuation that council members are reckless spenders insulting, because, she said, there isn’t any council member gaining anything from whether the property tax goes up or down.
Turner suggested that, rather than a lower rollback rate, there should be a 10 percent appraisal cap. Appraisal caps limit how much taxable property values can rise each year.
Following the meeting, Coots said she was disappointed with the Council’s decision and said she thought they were misinformed.
“I think it’s really that they feel like their revenue is gonna be cut and I think that’s probably what they’re most worried about, thinking that the city is gonna lose most of their revenue,” Coots said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, THE COUNCIL
>> Approved of City Council minutes, Feb. 12, 2019.
>> Approved City Council Work Session minutes, Feb. 19, 2019.
>> Approved amending the Odessa city code by adding article 14-20, entitled “downtown overlay zone,” to chapter 14 of the city code of ordinances, entitled “zoning” and deleting and abolishing any previously adopted downtown overlay zoning regulations (Ordinance - Second and Final Approval).
>> Approved adding Section 12-3-16, entitled “Parking of Commercial Motor Vehicles,” to the City Code of Ordinances, Article 12-3, entitled “Parking, Stopping and Standing,” of Chapter 12, entitled “Traffic and Vehicles” (Ordinance - Second and Final Approval).
>> Approved a TxDOT agreement for a temporary street closure.
>> Approved a resolution to accept and appropriate additional funds for the City of Odessa Police Department for the 2018 HIDTA Grant Award for $17,600.
>> Approved an interlocal agreement between the Ector County Independent School District and the City of Odessa regarding radio communications for $61,440.
>> Approved the purchase of AR-15 style rifles and accessories from Rock River Arms, Inc. for OPD from General Fund Approved Supplemental funds for $285,432.50.
>> Approved a revision that would change in the rental rates for Sherwood and Woodson Family Aquatic Centers and the Junior League Jurassic Jungle Sprayground (Ordinance – Second and Final Approval).
>> Approved an ordinance to establish speed limits (First Approval).
>> Approved the authorization of expenditures for data with Verizon Wireless.
>> Gave approval in support of the U.S. Census Bureau 2020.