Council agrees to tax rate increase in special meeting

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By A.C. Hall

The White Settlement City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the tax rate and continue budget workshops as they look to finalize the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget.  Council members have held budget workshops for weeks but remained unsure about the property tax numbers for the upcoming budget.  City Manager Linda Ryan had those property tax values and numbers for them on Tuesday.  

“This year the values have gone down again,” Ryan said.  “They’ve gone down by nine and a half percent.”

There had previously been some hope expressed during budget workshops that property values would see a small increase, but even though values went up for many cities in Tarrant County that was not the case for White Settlement.  A big reason for the lower values was because of the industrial area of the city.

“Most of it was the industrial that had gone down, and I questioned it to Tarrant Appraisal district. They’re checking into it, but I’m sure we won’t have an answer before October,” Ryan said.

Economic Development Director Jim Ryan said this issue pertains to the taxable value of the new Weir SPM building that was recently constructed.  He told the council that the cost of constructing that building was around $22 million, but the Tarrant Appraisal District was only taxing the building at a value of $8.1 million.  On top of that, Weir SPM is contesting the value of $8.1 million.

“They said land and all wasn’t worth $8.1 million, and they just stuck $22 million into it,” Jim Ryan said.

He said he feels it’s some sort of mistake or mix-up, but solving it won’t happen quickly enough to help the city with their budget.  “There’s a mistake somewhere, and it will wash out but it won’t wash out in time to save this,” Jim Ryan said.

In total, the city’s property values for the year are $560 million, down from $619 million last year.  In order to compensate for this lower amount of revenue, City Manager Linda Ryan presented the council with the option of adopting the rollback tax rate of .6706, which would balance the proposed budget.  This would be a five and a half cent increase over the current tax rate of .6147.

Ryan said that the average home in White Settlement is valued at around $60,000 and that taxes on such a home will go up around six dollars under the new rate.  It was also mentioned that the council lowered taxes by .13 cents last year.

There were comments made that citizens might think the impending deal with Hawaiian Falls might be to blame for the need for a tax rate increase, but Ryan denied that.

“It has nothing to do with that,” Ryan said.  “Nothing.”

Council is presented with several tax rate increase options, but by choosing to pass the rollback rate they aren’t required to hold any public hearings on the rate or publish any legal notices in the local papers about it.

A motion was made to adopt the rollback rate of .6706, which will be a five and a half cent increase.  That motion passed unanimously.

Continuing to speak about the budget, Ryan announced to the council that the budget was now balanced.  $587,000 worth of expenditures were shuffled out of the budget and into the $3.1 million tax note the council approved a month ago.  This leaves about $2.5 million of the tax note for use on infrastructure, and leaves the budget balanced.

After hearing a list of things moved into the tax note from the budget, council member Steve Ott voiced his feeling that they should include the $780,000 fire truck that the Fire Department requested.  Council member Mike Arnold agreed with this.  They were told that it is too late to add anything else to the tax note, but that staff was moving forward with council requests to look at financing options for the fire truck.  The possibility of issuing another tax note next year for a new fire truck was mentioned.

There was some disagreement among the council about how much of a raise to give city employees.  Ryan told them a two percent increase was included in the budget, but there was enough money to go up to a four percent increase.  She said she would like to see a four percent increase as well as to look at further increases for certain departments as the city is still on the low end of the pay scale in a lot of areas.

Council member Elzie Clements stated he’d rather see merit raises than across the board raises, as some employees deserve raises and others don’t.  Ott said he’d love to give four percent but didn’t think it was feasible this year.  Council member Danny Anderson also was not in favor of a four percent increase at this time, while Arnold and council member Gene Hatcher were.

After much discussion, Ott suggested a compromise at three percent, which was agreed upon.

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