Council eyes tax rate decrease with service increase
By LPR Staff
An unprecedented spike in property values and the addition of more than $18 million in new properties has allowed the Lockhart City Council to make a variety of bold budgeting decisions.
During a marathon budget talk on Tuesday evening, the Council considered a number of financing options that will
allow the Council to address several outstanding projects that have gone neglected for years, with what councilmembers are calling a “minimal impact” to the taxpayer.
On average, according to Finance Director Jeff Hinson, property values in Lockhart rose 7.5 percent, according to the certified appraisal roll approved on Tuesday night. That increase, along with a proposed $2 per month increase to the City’s transportation fee (currently $4 per month), will allow the City to inject nearly $300,000 into materials for the road and street department, clearing the way for crews to address repairs and maintenance on oft-neglected streets throughout town.
Additionally, the City could add a Victims Services coordinator, a drug interdiction officer and several computers and trainings to the Lockhart Police Department, and offer city employees a three percent cost of living raise with the projected revenues.
Because of the value increase, this can all be done, while still lowering the tax rate.
“At least for this year, let’s take advantage of this while we can,” said Councilmember Brad Westmoreland. “We don’t know if we’re going to get this kind of opportunity again.”
Mayor Lew White echoed the sentiment, reminding the council that they had each set priorities at the beginning of the budget cycle, and that streets, public safety and employee raises topped the list of those priorities.
Some councilmembers balked at the possibility of a $0.7260 per $100 of valuation rate, however, noting that a rate of $0.7114 would still be sufficient to balance the budget.
“If we can hold back a little bit on the spending, and take some of the pressure off the taxpayers, I think we should,” Councilmember John Castillo said.
The difference between the two rates would amount to an annual difference of approximately $15 for the owner of a $100,000 house.
“We have the chance to do things that we haven’t been able to do for 15 or 20 years, and we’re arguing about [this small an amount?]” Councilmember Jeffry Michelson said. “I think that we have to really look at the fact that we might not get this chance again, and this is a good start to do a lot of things that we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
The consensus of the Council was to move forward with the rate of $0.7260, below the rollback rate of $0.7264. The current tax rate is $0.7333.
The Council will hold public hearings during August, the first scheduled on Aug. 15, prior to their final vote on the budget and tax rate in September.
In other business, much of the Council’s meeting was chewed up in discussions of street closures for the wildly-popular Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show in February.
Event promoter Joel Gammage approached the Council with an expanded request for street closures; in addition to closing the downtown area, he requested a closure of Commerce Street from downtown, all the way to Highway 183 and the location of his family business, Texas Hatters.
“When this thing started, it was started to benefit our business,” said Texas Hatters owner Joella Gammage Torres. “But the events downtown don’t benefit our business, because people don’t make it all the way to our location.”
Initially begun in the Texas Hatters parking lot, the Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show has grown exponentially over the last seven years, now recognized as one of the top three shows in the state.
While the show itself draws widespread support from the community, and particularly retail businesses in the downtown area, the idea of the closure of Commerce Street, along with the potential closures of the cross streets at Live Oak, Hickory and Bee, caused heartburn for area businesses, principally HEB, whose representatives said they worried not only about the potential loss of business, but the traffic dangers that could be presented if the store could only be accessed from Highway 183.
“That would cause a log-jam at our drive through,” said Donald Burdett, the store’s unit manager. “And that’s not safe. We have to think about what’s safe for the customers, safe for our partners, and safe for our community.”
Additionally, Councilmembers and City Manager Vance Rodgers expressed concern for the 28 residents of Commerce Street, and the impact the event might have on the residential neighborhood.
Initially, the Council considered tabling the measure altogether, but pressure from Gammage’s wife, Catrin Bennett Gammage, led them to offer tentative approval of closure of only the areas bordered by Highway 142 at the north, Blanco Street to the west, Highway 183 to the east, and Prairie Lea to the south.
Additional street closures will be considered after a site plan and additional logistical research has been done. The measure will come back before the Council in October.
In brief news, they approved specific use permits for the installation of two manufactured homes on the East Side, one on Monument Street and another on the adjoining property on Sabine. The manufactured homes will be occupied by a mother and son.
The Lockart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Third Floor Council Chambers of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex. The meetings are open to the public, and are available for online viewing at www.lockhart-tx.org.