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Council divided on proposed tax rate increase

September 7, 2018

The city of Pasadena is considering a tax rate increase of 4 cents per $100 valuation, but a few council members are arguing that the city can avoid the hike and still provide cost-of-living raises for employees.

Two public hearings are scheduled before City Council can vote on the proposed rate, which would be 61.5 cents per $100 valuation.

To express displeasure against the proposed tax rate increase, three on the council — Sammy Casados, Don Harrison and Cody Ray Wheeler — voted on Sept. 4 against scheduling the hearings. The council voted 5-3 to schedule the hearings.

“I’m not against city employees getting a raise,” Casados said. “That’s not the point. I want them to get a cost-of-living increase; we do not need to raise taxes to do that.”

Casados said the raises could be covered through the city’s general fund by reining in spending.

“What the mayor needs to do is cut his wish-list and quit spending money, and he’s putting the burden on the taxpayer,” Casados said of Mayor Jeff Wagner.

But City Councilman Phil Cayten later said the rate increase is needed to fund city services.

“A Property Tax rate increase for the City of Pasadena is long overdue,” Cayten said in a written statement. “Our Property Tax rate of $.575388 per $100.00 value has averaged the same rate for the past 35 years.”

For a home valued at $200,000 in 2017, a homeowner would pay $1,150 in taxes to the city under that rate. If the proposed tax rate of 61.5 cents is approved and the home’s value stays the same, the city tax bill for same home would be $1,230, an increase of $80.

The hearings on the proposed tax rate are scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 18 and 10 a.m. Oct. 2 at Pasadena City Hall, at 1149 Ellsworth. City Council will conduct a special meeting at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 to vote on the city’s proposed 2019 budget.

At the Sept. 4 meeting, Casados said that budget documents show the city is expecting to receive an additional $2.8 million in property tax revenues compared to last year just from increasing home values.

“If that’s the case and we’re happy with the $2.8 million, why are we increasing taxes again?” he asked.

Wagner responded that those comments should be reserved for the public hearings and that the council should only offer a yes or no vote on scheduling the hearings. After Casados challenged Wagner’s statement that every expense the city is planning is reflected in the budget, the mayor had security personnel remove Casados from the council chambers but first permitted him to vote on the motion to schedule the hearings.

After Wagner instructed Casados’ removal, Harrison told Wagner that the mayor might be violating Robert’s Rules of Order, the standard manual governing parliamentary procedure at meetings including those of county commissions, homeowners associations, professional societies and school boards.

“Point of information,” Harrison said. “The mayor can’t throw him out without a vote of council. It takes five votes, the majority of council. Read your Robert’s Rules of order.”

Wagner replied, “I did.”

The 704-page Roberts manual was first published in 1876 by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert, who modeled it after the rules and practice of Congress.

At the meeting, Harrison and Wheeler both offered criticism toward the proposed tax rate increase.

Wheeler said that while residents will be asked to pay more, a recent agreement between the city and industrial companies in Pasadena’s taxing district gives those entities a 30 percent discount on their tax bill to the city. Instead of Pasadena receiving $25 million in tax payments in the coming year, the city has agreed to take in $17.5 million from those companies, he said.

Wheeler also said that cost-of-living raises and increases to the cost of benefits for employees are not reflected in the budget.

Wagner closed the meeting by saying, “Nothing is hidden from my administration.”

Cayten noted that other area cities have increased their tax rates over the years.

“Everything it takes to run a city has gone up tremendously over the past 35 years, such as: Cost of employee salaries, employee insurance police cars, fire trucks, construction equipment, gasoline, electricity, and construction materials, etc,” Cayten said.

He said that using general fund reserves to pay for employee raises and benefits is a bad idea, and that the money should be held in reserve for other unpredictable expenses such as a natural disaster similar to Hurricane Harvey.

Without a tax rate increase, he said, “The City of Pasadena can no longer continue to give the employees cost of living raises or fund a large portion of their insurance rates or fund any more Police Academies to add more police officers on the streets to help keep our citizens safe. We will also have to start cutting services to our citizens also unless we slightly increase our Property Tax base.”

jaimy.jones@chron.com

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