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Lower property taxes may be coming

Staff report

 

A slight reduction in Hays County’s ad valorem tax rate could be forthcoming for property taxpayers in the next fiscal year.

As the county’s tax rate is proposed to go down by a little over a half-cent, county officials are also proposing a $179 million budget for 2016-2017. 

On Aug. 30, the Hays County Commissioners Court proposed a tax rate of $.4600 per $100 assessed valuation for the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget. 

The total rate is a .7¢ decrease from last year’s tax rate of 46.70¢. The change in the tax rate affects the county’s maintenance and operations rate, which is proposed at .2916.

Hays County’s interest and sinking rate will remain the same at $.1246. According to county documents, Hays County is expected to pay $28.3 million in principal and interest toward $354.7 million in outstanding debt.

Within Hays County’s budget are renovations to the Precinct No. 3 building, which total $1.5 million.

The county will also allocate $900,000 to replace law enforcement vehicles and $222,000 for software to “address financial transparency, county wide custom reporting and electronic signature options,” according to a release.

Hays County’s recommended budget will also include raises for eligible law enforcement positions under the county’s collective bargaining agreement.

Roughly $18,000 would go toward merit pool for department heads, and a three percent merit pool for all other Hays County employees. Hays County’s budget does not include raises for elected officials.

Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said an item totaling $2.2 million for low water crossing improvements across the county was needed, in order to fund the project.

Conley said if the county didn’t start moving quickly on the low water crossing improvements, it “could be a very long time before we get the assets out on the field.”

“This is not something we can put out on the streets in 30 days,” Conley said.

But setting a tax rate led to debate, as commissioners differed on what to propose to taxpayers.

The county’s original proposed budget held a tax rate similar to fiscal year 2016. Conley, who proposed the county keep going with the rate, said it fit the needs of the court and all projects.

“I feel comfortable the county can maintain its position, of which we stated to constituents, as we consider the bond proposal, that we can maintain a position with no (property) tax rate change,” Conley said.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales-Ingalsbe, however, advocated for lowering the tax rate even further.

While she appreciated the decrease, she advocated for lowering the tax rate further. In order to do so, the county made roughly $300,000 in adjustments to accommodate the move.

“We’re asking our citizens for a lot this time around this year, asking them to support some bonds to build a new jail and roads,” Ingalsbe said. “If we can come back with a little more of a decrease, I’m in support of that.”

But county officials reiterated their stance on not issuing certificate of obligation bonds if voters deny proposition 1 or 2 of the $237 million total bond.

“I will not issue COs in my position if voters turn down the bond on the jail,” Conley said.

Hays County Judge Bert Cobb initially was concerned about lowering the tax rate too much and about how local growth would affect those who are disabled or on a fixed income.

“I think sometime between now and the end of the year, we need to have a frank discussion on exemptions for property owners,” Cobb said.

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