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Budget, tax hearings coming soon

Thursday, August 22, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Budget and tax rate season is upon us once again. As Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo told City Council at Tuesday’s work session, the city will hold three public hearings on the $4.2 billion budget, beginning today at Council’s meeting, described by Van Eenoo as starting at 1 p.m. and by Mayor Steve Adler as “after lunch.”

Forty-two people had already signed up to give Council their take on the matter as of Wednesday evening. The budget is just one of 117 items on Thursday’s agenda.

Citizens will have another opportunity to comment on the budget at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Aug. 28. In previous years, departments have prepared and presented individual budgets to Council, but since City Manager Spencer Cronk took over, those presentations are a thing of the past. Council members have all the documents and can read about each department at their leisure.

Van Eenoo explained that Council may adopt the budget on Sept. 10, but if there is not sufficient agreement, they can try again on Sept. 11 and 12. Council is scheduled to hold tax rate public hearings on Sept. 13 and 19, but will not set the tax rate officially until Sept. 25.

Generally speaking, the tax rate is set before the budget is adopted. However, Van Eenoo noted that tax rate hearings and adoption have been separated from the budget process “due to the delay in the certification” of the tax rolls.

He told Council on Tuesday, “When you adopt the budget, we’ll tell you what the tax rate you need is, and then you’ll just go through the process of adopting the tax rate.”

Van Eenoo did not elaborate, but those who pay attention to property taxes know that the Travis Central Appraisal District decided to do away with informal appraisal meetings this year, resulting in the need to set formal hearings for more than 100,000 taxpayers to protest their appraisals. As a result of so many hearings, TCAD was delayed in setting property values.

The Travis Appraisal Review Board, which certifies appraisals for TCAD, certified 95 percent of those appraisals last week, giving taxing jurisdictions what they need to proceed with setting tax rates and adopting budgets.

Council will also be considering three budget policies, including one related to tax increment financing zones. Council has expressed a desire to create more affordable housing through the use of TIFs. The current policy is that no more than 5 percent of the city’s tax base will be in TIF zones. The proposed policy would allow 10 percent of the city’s tax base to be in TIF zones.

Those who want to increase the percentage will argue that it makes sense because of the city’s need for more affordable housing. Others may argue that it is unwise to tie up future revenues when the city is already projecting budget deficits due to the 3.5 percent cap on new revenues.

Photo by John Flynn.

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