Editor: Shannon Cottongame
September 21, 2022
The Whitney City Council ratified the city’s proposed 2022 property tax rate and 2022-23 budget in a meeting held Thursday, September 15. The council also reviewed requests related to proposed and existing developments in the city, along with several other agenda items.
The council voted to leave 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 explained to the council that due to Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders during the pandemic, that cap was raised to 8%. Entities that did not use that 8% were allowed to roll those credits over and adopt a higher tax rate without voter approval.
The city will use .0144 of those unused credits to keep the tax rate the same this year, increasing its total tax levy by about 14% based on increased property values in the city.
The balanced budget for 2022-23 that was approved by the council includes revenues and expenditures of approximately $2.23 million this year, up from about $1.98 million last year.
In other action, the council considered a rezone of approximately 75 acres from agricultural to single-family residential at the request of Movin On In Properties, LLC. The developer is proposing to build up to 162 homes in six phases near the city’s water tower behind Circle Drive. A preliminary plat was also on the agenda for consideration.
Mayor Jerry Barker expressed concerns about drainage in the area, and several residents spoke to the council during the hearing with concerns about the development worsening flooding and sewer issues in nearby neighborhoods and increasing traffic at FM 933 and Whitney Place Drive, which the developer said will be the main road used to access the property.
The developer maintained that the proposed plans would leave the drainage situation in better shape than it is currently. He also said that each phase of development would have to come before the council for approval, but the city attorney pointed out that the rezoning request does not specify that this would be the case.
After discussion, the council voted to table approval of the rezoning request, asking the developer to present a scaled-back version that would be less dense. Council member Martis Ward voted against tabling the issue, but the motion passed with other council members voting in favor of tabling.
Because the zoning request was tabled, the council was also required to reject the preliminary plat at this time.
Perry Auten, the developer of Turner Place Senior Living in Whitney, was back before the council with his attorney to discuss the increase in water rates at the apartment complex.
The issue arose when the city converted to an ascending water rate schedule, which caused an increase in water rates for customers who use large amounts of water in the city.
Auten and his attorney maintain that the city should have been reading the meters on the property individually, instead of reading one master meter, which would put the complex in a lower fee bracket.
Auten requested the city’s assurance that the meters will be billed separately going forward and requested that the city address the three months that he believes he was overcharged due to one meter being read.
Auten’s attorney, David Deaconson, said that Turner Place had been billed over $34,000 during the previous three months since the ascending rate was adopted, and water bills should have totaled between $12,000 and $14,000 during that time period.
The council convened in closed session for consultation with the city attorney prior to voting in open session to refund $2,322.72 in sewer charges that the city agreed were being charged to the irrigation meter at the complex. The council also assured Auten that the meters were read separately this month and will be read separately going forward.
In another action related to Turner Place, the council voted to approve an economic development agreement that previous members of the city council agreed to but was not documented. The agreement calls for a 30% per year rebate of property taxes paid for 2022 and 2023.
The final issue on the agenda related to Turner Place was a proposal that the city provide an exemption to the emergency medical services fee paid by residents at the complex. Whitney residents who opt to pay the $5 EMS fee on their water bills are not charged for ambulance trips. City staff reported that it has become time consuming to keep up with the changing number of Turner Place residents who are opting in and out, which determines how much Auten should be charged on his water bill.
Staff recommended waiving the fee for the complex, noting that staff hours could be better used providing other services to the city’s residents. The council approved the waiver.
The council considered an extension of the city’s tax abatement agreement with AVSM Investments for the HealthNow Urgent Care facility in Whitney. Owner Ayushi Agarwala told the council that the initial agreement was for three years, although she initially requested six years. At that time, she said that the council agreed to revisit the issue to determine if the incentive would be extended.
The company is requesting a five-year tax abatement, noting that improvements and new investment are ongoing at the location.
Action was tabled on advice of the city attorney, who said that she would like to review the council minutes relating to the first agreement before action is taken.
In other action, an interlocal cooperation agreement was approved with Whitney Independent School District regarding the school resource officer. Interim Officer Chris Chadwick will continue serving as the school resource officer on a permanent basis and will be dedicated to that position. The new agreement specifies that Whitney ISD will pay for all expenses related to the position since the officer will not be utilized by the department on patrol duties.
A lease/purchase agreement was approved to allow the police department to obtain a vehicle from Cap Fleet with money from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. The agreement is for a 2023 Dodge Durango at a total cost of $67,900, which includes installation of all police equipment.
EMS Supervisor John Martin presented information from Emergicon, the company that handles billing for the city’s ambulance service, indicating that the city’s fee schedule has not been updated since 2014 and is significantly lower than surrounding agencies. With the increased costs of operations, it was recommended that the city increase its fee schedule. Because residents who pay the ambulance fee on their water bills are not charged beyond what their insurance pays, the increase will not impact citizens.
A revised mobile food vendor ordinance was approved by the council to replace the ordinance that was approved in 2020. The ordinance allows mobile food vendors to operate in the city if they obtain a permit and abide by the city’s regulations and health and safety requirements.
The council approved advertising in The Lakelander to solicit candidates to fill the council member position vacated by Jerry Barker when he became mayor. Candidates will be invited to submit letters of interest and a resume.
The council approved the Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce’s plans for the annual Pioneer Days festival on Saturday, October 1. The chamber was initially requesting a longer parade route that would travel through residential areas this year, but after a review by Police Chief Hugh Corbin, it was determined that this route would create safety and traffic issues.
The chief reported that the proposed route would have blocked all entrances to downtown Whitney for 45 minutes to an hour, would require extra staff and barricades at intersections, and several areas would be unsafe for participants if they were walking or on tall vehicles. In addition, the proposed route would have required the Texas Department of Public Safety to approve highway closures.
After meeting with the chief, the chamber determined that the traditional parade route will be used again this year.
The council also approved a lease agreement with the Hill County Salvation Army, allowing the organization to continue operating an office in the city annex for three years at a cost of $1 per year.
A request to use the city’s fields at the city park for a benefit softball tournament on Saturday, October 8, was approved by the council.
The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Thursday, October 20.