About the Author
Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Travis County Commissioners consider 3 percent property tax increase
Thursday, June 9, 2011 by Michael Kanin
Travis County is looking at raising property taxes by 3 percent over the current effective rate, if current projections hold for 2012 budget. According to figures provided by County Budget Director Leroy Nellis to the Commissioners’ Court, that bump would result in a roughly $33 increase for the average household on its 2012 tax bill.
The county considers the value of the average home in its jurisdiction to be $266,000. That figure does not include the homestead tax exemption.
Nellis presented the early peek at the budget to the court at its regular Tuesday meeting. There, Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt put the blame for the tax increase firmly on the state legislature.
“The reason why we must contemplate this is not because … overall will you be paying more taxes. It’s that we’ll be collecting the taxes rather than the state–because we’re providing services rather than the state,” she said. “The overall burden is not changing; the responsibility of collecting those taxes is shifting.”
Nellis told the court that the proposed 2012 tax rate would result in nearly $358 million in revenue for the county. That number represents an increase in collections of over $20 million from fiscal year 2011. Coupled with other sources of income, this early version of the county’s budget predicts a total revenue increase of nearly $24 million, a number that would bring all county revenues to over $518 million.
According to a memo from Nellis, budget requests from county departments have also increased. In 2011, Nellis’ office saw nearly $97.5 million worth of requests. For 2012, that number rose by more than 37 percent to just over $134 million.
Still, in a memo to the court, Nellis predicted a lean year. There, he wrote that his office “does not anticipate the ability to include any salary increases for County employees in FY ’12.” He also suggests that they “anticipate challenges in balancing some Special Revenue Funds.”
After the hearing, Nellis echoed Eckhardt’s comments. “Anytime the state cuts expenditures … it trickles downhill,” he told In Fact Daily. “I think that Commissioner Eckhardt was very clear: When you reduce the taxes … paid to the state, they’re picked up by the local governments.”
In what amounted to a rare piece of budgetary good news, budget analyst Tien Dao told the court that Travis officials would be able to drop the fee it charges for collecting the taxes for most taxing entities that have jurisdiction in Travis County. That number will go down by 15 cents, a change that will save tax payers a collective $200,000.
“I think that the (Travis County) tax office is undoubtedly one of the most cost effective operations, maybe in the state,” said Nellis.
Nellis suggested that the court could hold hearings to discuss the budget with various county departments in mid-August. Travis Commissioners will vote on the tax rate for 2012 and the county’s budget in September.
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