Council splits vote on next year’s tax rate
Cemetery tax fails, ad valorem rate holds steady at 0.7090
By LPR Staff
In a highly divisive vote on Tuesday evening, the Lockhart City Council agreed to hold the tax rate steady at 0.7090 per $100 of valuation for the coming tax year. The proposed budget, which will be approved next month, includes a pay increase for city employees
which caused heartburn for some councilmembers.
Councilmembers Paul Gomez and Richard Banks were vocal in their opposition to the proposal, both insisting the city should adopt the effective tax rate of 0.6878 per $100, which would generate the same amount of revenue for the city. However, that revenue would not cover pay increases under civil service, nor would it allow for longevity pay increases or cost of living adjustments.
“This is a tax increase any way you slice it, and I can’t support that,” Banks said. “I don’t know how it is in other districts, but in my district, people are losing their jobs or having their hours cut, and I made a promise that I wouldn’t support a tax increase.”
Gomez echoed Banks’ concerns, also indicating that while he supports and appreciates the city employees, they too should understand the constraints of the city’s business model and the need to lower taxes for property owners.”
“Just because we have a little extra money doesn’t mean we need to spend it,” Gomez said. “When the appraisal district presented their budget, we told them we couldn’t support their pay increases because we wouldn’t be able to offer our employees a pay increase – and now here we are, giving that pay raise.”
Gomez said if economic conditions were better, he would wholeheartedly support increasing pay for the employees, but said he was concerned the economy would continue to slump before it improves.
On the other side of the argument, Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram said offering all employees a pay raise is the only fair course of action.
“Under civil service, we have to give the civil service employees a raise,” he said. “It’s not fair to the rest of our employees who work just as hard and are just as important to the city to not offer them the same.”
Bertram said the city council has worked hard to increase pay rates to a comparable level with other communities in the area, and said he was concerned denying the pay raise would cause a departure of well-trained employees who might seek employment elsewhere.”
After extensive discussion, the tax rate passed with a vote of 4-3, with Banks, Gomez and Councilmember Dick Weiland voting against.
The budget process is not yet complete, and the council will hold two public hearings next month to hear public input about the proposed budget and tax rates.
In other business, impact fees came back to the forefront of discussion as the owner of a new business approached the council to ask for impact fees to be reduced or waived for the restaurant he intends to build near the Best Western Hotel.
Steven Bintoni appeared before the council after having been charged in excess of $11,000 for impact fees in association with the Huddle House restaurant he plans to open in Lockhart. Officially, Bintoni said he was appealing the calculated fees, but although the math was correct, he suggested that his funds could be better spent elsewhere in growing his business and providing jobs in Lockhart.
“I’m committed to coming here and being a part of this community,” he said. “And I’m trying to stretch my dollars as far as I can. That’s why I’m here asking that you either reduce or waive these fees altogether, and then I can use those funds to pay employee salaries, or benefits, or to make donations to local events and organizations.”
Under the current ordinance, the council had no real choice but to deny the appeal, because the math used to calculate the fees was correct.
However, City Manager Vance Rodgers said he’d been working with Bintoni to make compromises to reduce his costs and would continue to do so.
Councilmember Kenny Roland used the situation as a springboard to ask the council to reconsider the impact fees in an effort to draw additional businesses to the area.
Because reconsideration of impact fees was not on the agenda, not much discussion of the notion was possible, but it was suggested that impact fees and economic development would return to the front burner as a priority for the council in the near future.
In brief news:
The council approved a contract with Central Texas Highway Constructors which will have the construction company bearing the cost for repair, upgrades and easements associated with utility facilities, including a 5” water main, which are in conflict with planned construction of State Highway 130.
They approved a bid from Westhill Paving, of San Marcos, for crack sealing of several local streets.
The Lockhart City Council regularly 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 televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.