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City council eyes tax hike

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

As budget talks come down to the wire and a vote on next year”s tax rate looms on the horizon, the Lockhart City Council eyed difficult decisions on Thursday evening about what action the city should take.

Despite an increase in taxable property on the certified tax roll presented by the Caldwell County Appraisal Distri

ct this summer, the city”s operating expenses have increased considerably, effectively backing the council into the corner of having to raise taxes simply to meet their budget requirements, without offering any additional staff or services. Whether or not city employees will receive a pay raise next year is still up for discussion.

Currently, the City of Lockhart levies tax in the amount of $0.7090 per $100 of valuation, or about $709 for a $100,000 home. To meet the expenses set forth for the upcoming fiscal year, the council is considering raising that rate to $0.7292 per $100.

That rate, by law, is the highest the city can charge without opening up the possibility of a rollback election, a taxpayer-driven initiative to reduce tax rates.

Of note in the upcoming budget, the Lockhart Police Department has asked for a new patrol car, and expects to hire an additional police officer and a cadet. Those expenses, approved by the council during a previous budget workshop, are expenditures that city administration called necessary to maintain the level of protection currently offered by the department.

District 3 Councilmember Lew White called the proposed budget “bare bones,” and said he was concerned that until the expected growth spurt as a result of construction of SH130, the council is in the unenviable position of having to raise taxes, just to cover personnel expenses.

District 1 Councilmember Kenny Roland encouraged the council to consider embracing another tactic with the upcoming budget – setting a tax rate higher than the rollback rate, and explaining to voters what they would be getting for their money.

“Right now, what we”re seeing is that we have to raise taxes, but we can”t give the people anything new, improved or better for their money, because we”re trying to keep the taxes low,” Roland said. “But if we went ahead and raised the rate, so that we could do some park improvements, and do more road improvements, and offer a better quality of life, I think that most of them would understand that.”

Roland said if an increase was approached correctly, the citizens would likely accept the increase because of the benefits to higher taxes, rather than triggering a rollback election.

To offer anything more than a 1 percent cost of living increase to city employees, the council will have to set a rate higher than the rollback rate, something some members of the council simply refuse to do.

“I don”t want to set a rate any higher than the effective rate [the tax rate that will generate the same amount of tax revenue as collected this year],” District 4 Councilmember Richard Banks said. “But if we can”t do that and fund this budget, then I absolutely will not support a rate any higher than the rollback rate. In a time when the economy is so bad and our people are struggling so much, [I refuse that much of an increase].”

An official record vote on the proposed tax rate will be taken during the council”s next meeting, on Aug. 18.

In other business, over Banks” objections, the council voted to close S. Commerce St., between Highway 183 and Blackjack Street, to truck traffic.

The initiative was introduced by the Lockhart Police Department after several residents of the mostly residential street complained to the department about commercial trucks using the street as a means to avoid stop lights on Highway 183.

Lummus said a traffic study of the area revealed upwards of 50 commercial trucks, such as semis and concrete trucks, used the street on any given day, cutting through the neighborhood before heading east toward Bastrop. Most, he agreed, do so simply to avoid the intersections of Highway 183 and FM20 (State Park Road and Blackjack Street).

Banks, who was first confused about which street would be closed to truck traffic, argued vehemently that residents of his district, too, complained about truck traffic, and said he would not support a measure which did not also include Main, Guadalupe, Medina and San Jacinto Streets.

White cautioned Banks against the council attempting to perform traffic control, and reminded him that state contributions were made to the construction of some of the streets he mentioned, with the specific intent of making them thoroughfares between Highway 142 and FM 20, keeping that truck traffic out of downtown Lockhart.

Still, Banks was unswayed, accusing the other members of the council of “not caring” about the needs of the residents of District 4.

The measure passed 6 – 1, and a request was made to City Manager Vance Rodgers that research and studies be done to examine the level of truck traffic in the areas Banks mentioned.

In brief news:
The council voted to raise the fee for unreturned cat and dog traps, because the cost of those items have increased. The current cost of the fees, as written in the animal control ordinance, do not fully cover the replacement cost of the traps.

They also voted on a “housekeeping issue” to merge the fees charged for animal adoption. Under the existing ordinance, the adoption fee was listed separately from the fee for a discount voucher to spay or neuter adopted animals, as required by the adoption contract. Animal Services Director Melanie Tucker asked that the fees be merged, but not increased, merely to simplify the process.

The discussion prompted Banks to grill Tucker about the number of adopted animals who are not spayed or neutered, and demanded the council change the existing ordinance to ensure that all animals adopted from the Lockhart Animal Shelter be “fixed” prior to release at adoption. The other councilmembers expressed concern about the cost of such a program, and asked Tucker to report back during the next budget cycle as to the impact such a requirement might have on adoptions.

The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.

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