Council proposes tax rate, sets September 8 public hearing

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

August 25, 2022

The Whitney City Council proposed the city’s tax rate for the coming fiscal year, approved the final plat for the new Allsup’s convenience store and made decisions about how to spend American Rescue Plan funds during a regular meeting held Thursday, August 18.

The council proposed leaving the tax rate unchanged, at $0.6384 per $100 property valuation. Based on increased property values in the city, that rate will exceed both the no-new-revenue rate, which would raise the same amount of tax revenue as the previous year, and the voter-approval rate, which is generally the point at which the city must hold an election and seek citizens’ approval for the proposed tax increase.

According to documents prepared by the Hill County Appraisal District, the city’s no-new-revenue rate was calculated at $0.5737 per $100 valuation, and the voter-approval rate is $0.6240.

Three years ago, state lawmakers attempted to slow the growth of property taxes by requiring cities and counties to seek voter approval if they want to raise their total property tax revenue by 3.5% or more than the previous year.

City Attorney Brenda McDonald told the council that voter approval would not necessarily be needed if the council kept the rate unchanged. “Under the governor’s executive orders, during the pandemic the 3.5% cap was raised to 8%. If you did not use that 8%, you could let it roll over without having a voter approval,” she said.

McDonald said that her guess is that the city has significant percentages unused and suggested that if the council wants to leave the tax rate unchanged, that proposal should be made and these numbers should be confirmed.

She explained that the rate proposed by the council is the highest rate that can ultimately be adopted, but it can be lowered as the process continues if needed.

Mayor Jerry Barker asked the council to keep in mind that inflation remains high as they considered proposing a rate. “Just because we have money in the bank, it doesn’t mean that it can sustain us through this inflation period,” he said. “Inflation is real, and we’re going to fall victim to it just like everybody else.”

After the council voted to propose the rate, a public hearing was set for Thursday, September 8.

In other action, the council approved the preliminary and final plat for the Allsup’s to be located at 810 South Colorado Street. Centex Engineers notified the city earlier this month that it had completed its review of the documents based on the city’s code of ordinances.

A final plat was also approved for four lots on Bush Drive, where a developer is planning to build four homes.

The council discussed requests for expenditures from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program, which is a part of the American Rescue Plan. The city currently has $188,000 in federal funding to spend by December 24, and another $250,000 will soon be available and must be spent within a year.

Mayor Barker said that there are needs throughout the city’s departments and they will have to be prioritized as requests are considered.

Interim Police Chief Hugh Corbin explained that the department’s vehicles are in poor condition and maintenance costs are rising. He reported that the city has purchased many of its vehicles after they have been through several other owners, and the department needs to begin working to update its fleet. The council approved the purchase of one vehicle for the police department with a portion of the funds.

Whitney EMS requested two new cardiac monitors for its ambulances, as the current units are no longer accredited by the Food and Drug Administration and it will be difficult to find parts or receive support for them if needed. The council also approved this expenditure, which came to $75,916. The new units should last 10 to 12 years, according to information presented by the department.

The council approved a bid from B&C Exteriors in the amount of $16,500 to repair the roof of the city building occupied by the Hill County Salvation Army on Colorado Street. Barker said that the roof has been leaking, making the repair an urgent need.

The council approved the submission of a grant application to the George G. and Alva Hudson Smith Foundation to build additional office spaces in an empty area next to the police department. If the city receives grant funds for the project, it would provide private office space for interrogations and victim interviews.

The council heard from two individuals who were concerned about high water bills at the meeting.

Perry Auten of Turner Place Senior Living told the council that his water bill has risen from about $1,000 a year ago to $8,600. Wilda Grantham also expressed concerns about her water bill. Public Works Director Billy Pribble said that both issues are due to the recent ascending water rate schedule that was adopted by the council, which caused rates to go up for those who use large amounts of water in the city.

In Auten’s case, the council determined that the fee could be reduced some by dividing the bill between three meters that are in use at the location instead of reading one meter.

Auten also addressed the council about a tax abatement that was approved by previous members of the city council for Turner Place Apartments. He told the council that the agreement approved granted him a 70% abatement for two years, but the meeting’s minutes reflect a 30% agreement. He said that he was told by previous City Administrator Chris Bentley that he would receive a refund check from the city, but he has not received it.

The city attorney said that there should have been an agreement in place if the council approved the tax refund prior to the start of construction, but there could still be an oral contract. She said that if the council approved it, an agreement that is effective the date the council acted can still be drafted. However, it will have to include the 30% percentage listed in the minutes.

In departmental reports, Library Director Denise Carter said that NeuroMovement classes will soon resume at the library, Corbin said that the police department wrote 59 tickets last month and had no serious incidents, and Fire Chief Wayland Price reported that six firefighters recently participated in live fire training at Hill College. Whitney EMS has responded to 290 calls to date this year with an average response time of just over five minutes.

Pribble reported that new water meters will be installed at the homes of the mayor and council members as part of the smart meter pilot program, and he invited any citizens who would like to sign up for the program to notify City Hall.

The council will hold a special meeting Thursday, August 25. The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be Thursday, September 15.

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