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Mission city council unable to come to consensus on tax rate

This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 23, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

Following two hours of discussion, Mission city council is still unsure of how they want to set the proposed property tax rate.

This Wed. Aug. 21, 2019, a workshop was held specifically to discuss the proposed tax rate and how it relates to the 2019-2020 preliminary budget.

City of Mission logoCity manager Randy Perez presented several different tables highlighting comparisons between Mission and other comparable municipalities, benchmark tax rates from Hidalgo County, revenue projections, impacts to the taxpayer, 20-year historical trends in Mission, fund balance trends, changes in budget by department and comparisons between personnel & benefits costs and operations costs.

The current property tax rate in Mission is 0.4862, and Perez recommended that the city raise the rate to the rollback tax rate from the county figures: 0.5411 (a 0.055 cent increase). The average homestead value of a residence in Mission costs $135,000, and if this rate is adopted it would lead to a tax increase of $74.12 per year ($6.18 per month).

Included in Perez’s presentation was a table detailing how the budget would look based on one cent increases, from no change to the full 0.5411 proposed change, with added expenditures from the group health adjustment, collaborative commitments made to the Police Department and a minimum wage increase for full-time employees from $9.50 to $10.50. Without any changes to the property tax rate, Mission will end the 2019-2020 fiscal year with $3,045 in the general fund balance.

If the city were to adopt the nearly six-cent property tax increase, the fiscal year will end at $2.2 million in the general fund balance.

In total, seven different potential budgets with their respective proposed tax rates were shown to council.

Perez, Mayor Armando O’caña and City Attorney Gus Martinez noted that because of the cap that will be implemented on property tax rates because of Senate Bill 2, they needed to take advantage and capture revenues this way before next year.

Senate Bill 2, which will go into effect Jan. 2020, will cap the maximum a city can increase property taxes in one year at 3.5 percent. Cities will be able to combine yearly property tax rate increases if increases from the previous three years are not used.

O’caña was in favor of raising the taxes as recommended by Perez, but stated that he would not be if the minimum wage increase was not included in the plans. Jessica Ortega-Ochoa was in favor of an increase, but wanted more detailed information about how each department was using funds in past years and this year.

Council member Ruben Plata and council member Alberto Vela were against raising taxes more than 2 cents, and wanted the public to decide. Council member Norie Gonzalez Garza wanted more information about how each department was spending money and how the budgets were determined.

Perez explained that they used the figures from this year’s budget and included several budget cuts to the majority of general government, culture & recreation and highways and streets departments in the city of Mission, either through personnel or operations.

Plata asked if there was even more fat that the city could trim, and that the directors of the departments find out what they can do with less. Gonzalez Garza added to these questions, wondering if some of the money being allocated toward vacant positions that have not been filled in the city in over 6 months can be adjusted and changed to be more beneficial.

Perez agreed, but noted that the staff has already been creative when it came to slashing their own budgets. He said that the amounts presented were not what the departments were asking for, rather they were already trimmed down as far as they can while operating.

For example Perez pointed out that traditionally, the city has allocated $500,000 toward streets/road material, and used all of that budget multiple years. Following the cuts made by staff, that budget was halved to $250,000 before included in the proposed tax rate chart and presented.

Following the discussion, it was decided that council members would meet with Perez and city staff in pairs this week to have all their questions regarding budget, spending and operating costs answered. They will meet again to discuss how they want to vote at 11 a.m. on Mon. Aug. 26, 2019 before the regular city council meeting at 5:30 p.m., where they will vote on the proposed tax rate.

Following their vote on Monday, public hearings will be held in order for residents in Mission to ask questions and learn more details before voting on the property tax rate.

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