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County issues first FY2011 revenue estimates, projects tax hike

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Travis County commissioners have received their first look at projected revenue numbers for FY2011. Those figures include $336.6 million in property tax revenues. That number is, in turn, based on a projected 3.61-cent increase in the maintenance and operations (M&O) portion of the property tax rate.   


The report, a very preliminary overview of the status of the county’s General Fund, shows just over $405 million in estimated new revenues for the period that begins October 1. When coupled with a projected $78 million carryover from FY2010, that number rises to roughly $483 million in possible total revenues for the new fiscal year.


The $78 million represents $16.1 million more than the amount currently budgeted for the FY2010 carryover. If reached, the $483 million in resources would account for a $26.4 million “budget-to-budget increase.”


In a letter to the court, county Auditor Susan Spataro called the tax revenue figures “conservative” and the document itself a “broad-brush estimate.”


Indeed, the formal submittal was a two-page document that featured Spataro’s letter and a simple, two-column look at the current and upcoming fiscal years.


“We have not yet had time to analyze in any detail all the information submitted to us from the county’s offices and departments,” Spataro wrote in the letter. However, she added that in “making use of current year forecasts, we believe that we can give you a useful look at next year’s resources.”


Revenue estimator Blain Keith ran through the figures for the court. In his presentation he explained the process by which his office had arrived at its first conclusions. “We do get (an initial) run from (the) tax (office),” he said, “but our other revenues right now are based on what we’re forecasting for this year.”


In something of a footnote, Keith noted that he expected the county’s interest income to continue its fall. “We’re not expecting … interest revenue to even do what it’s doing this year,” he said. “If you’d asked me last year if I thought I’d be saying that this year, I would say, ‘No way; interest revenue can’t get any lower.’ Well I was wrong; it can.”


“We’re almost to the point (where) we’re paying people to let them use our money,” he added. 


Judge Sam Biscoe used the question period to ask Keith about the number that he worked in for “new residential and commercial projects.” Keith told Biscoe that his figure was $1.684 billion “for new property.” Though that number represents a slight uptick from a February estimate (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 17. 2010), it remains far below that of previous years.


After Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told her colleagues that the number was “almost half” the one for FY2009, Keith told the court that he was “surprised that it was this large.”


Despite the somewhat gloomy tone, Keith was almost upbeat about the figures. Outside the hearing he told In Fact Daily that the county’s revenue forecast “looks pretty good right now.”


“We’re bringing in a little more revenue than we had anticipated, (and) that’s always good when you’re in the budget business,” he added.

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