With property values up for the 2022 tax roll, the City of Liberty is lowering the property tax rate from the current $0.6372 to $0.6122 per $100 valuation. Valuations within the City were $717,135,495, an increase of about 2 percent over 2021.
Of the $0.6122 tax rate, $0.3727 will be for maintenance and operations and $0.2395 will be applied to interest and sinking (debt service). The new rate is considered a “voter approval rate,” which avoids a tax rate election and only requires one public hearing, which the City Council has set for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the next regular city council meeting.
At a special-called meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 23, a resolution setting the new tax rate was approved by Council with only one council member, Tommy Brents, voting against it. Brents told Bluebonnet News after the meeting that he still considers the property tax rate to be an increase due to rising valuations and a city budget that grew by $587,710.
“The City is proposing a lower tax rate than last year, but one that, on average, will likely cost taxpayers more due to higher appraisals. The proposed rate is the maximum allowed by State Law without requiring an election be held to ask voters for approval. I believe most taxpayers would reject this rate if given the choice, so I voted no. It won’t be the last time,” Brents said. “People are hurting. Government budgets shouldn’t keep growing while our personal budgets keep shrinking.”
In explaining the budget to Council, City Manager Tom Warner said this year’s budget was one of the more difficult ones he has prepared in recent years, particularly since two large property tax accounts were under protest. One of the properties under protest will cost the City $38 million in value over last year.
In his memo to Council, Warner wrote, “The value of property under protest and the tax ceilings at the time the certified tax roll was received was $78,107,046 and $104,787,996, respectively. Of the amount under protest, approximately $68,000,000 was for one property. Although an agreement has not been executed on the final value, it is anticipated that the final value will result in a $38.4 million reduction in taxable value.”
We do not know about the remaining $10.1 million property under protest at this time,” Warner said.
The proposed budget trims two positions from the City. Both of these positions were vacant at the time they were eliminated. While property taxes made up the largest revenue source for the budget – 23.5 percent, sales taxes contributed 20.3 percent.
“The Fiscal Year 2022 budget anticipates an increase of 2.3 percent growth in sales tax revenue and a 0.66 percent decrease in property tax revenue,” said Warner in the memo.
Tuesday’s meeting began with a brief executive session. When Council returned, they voted in favor of filing lawsuits against former employees for educational expenses paid for by the City. They did not specify the former employees or the department for which they worked.
Council awarded a contract with Cigna Health for employee health, dental, vision and life insurance. The Cigna plan will increase the health insurance costs by approximately 4 percent and will change some deductibles and co-pay fees. The City will continue paying the total monthly premium for employees, but employees will see the cost for covering their spouse rise from $363.27 to $425.75 per month. Employees with children will see costs go from $207.28 to $243.25 monthly, and costs for covering their family rise from $496.54 to $582.96 per month.
In other business, Council approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to execute an agreement with FMS Bonds, Inc., to serve as the underwriter for the Liberty Ranch bond issuance. This development, which is projected to be 217 lots, is located on SH 146 North across from the new Liberty County Law Enforcement Center.
Council also approved an agreement with Liberty ISD to provide a school resource officer. The school district will provide $5,000 a month to the City for a total of $60,000 per year. Any cost over $60,000 will be paid by the City as the officer will be serving in a dual role and will work as an investigator for Liberty Police Department when he is not assigned to a school.
Police Chief Gary Martin has already hired a person for the new position, Steve Lemons, the former police chief for West Hardin ISD.
“He has many years of experience,” Martin told Council. “The school district pays extra for any training. If they are out of the area for games (and Lemons is needed by the school district), then they pay for his lodging and meals.”