Following two public hearings and four council workshops, the city of Mission adopted a tax rate of 0.5212 per $100 evaluation.
Ordinance #4835 was passed during this week’s regular city council meeting, officially adopting the property tax rate for the next fiscal year in Mission. After freezing the tax rate in his first year as mayor, Dr. Armando O’caña and the council raised it by 3.5 cents.
City Manager Randy Perez presented the proposed tax rate during the city council meeting. He said the ad valorem tax rate is for the use and support of the municipal government of the city of Mission for fiscal year 2019-2020.
“[It is] providing for appropriating each levy for specific purposes providing for when taxes shall become due and when the same shall become delinquent if not paid,” Perez said, noting there are $10,000 exceptions for the elderly and disabled. “The tax rate for the fiscal year 2019-2020 is 0.5212 per $100 property value.”
In addition to adopting the tax rate, the ordinance still establishes the previous year’s tax freeze for the elderly and disabled members of the Mission community, and Perez said this ensures that their total amount of ad valorem taxes paid will not increase.
“The interest and sinking rate, I&S, is 0.09, and the maintenance and operation, the M&O is 0.4303, with a total tax rate of 0.5212,” Perez said. “Staff recommendation is approval of the ordinance.”
During the reading of the tax rate and the vote, council member Jessica Ortega-Ochoa stepped out of council. Mayor Pro-Tem Norie Gonzalez Garza, council member Beto Vela, council member Ruben Plata and O’caña all voted in favor of the tax rate, making the vote 4-0.
During executive session, council deliberated for over an hour about the possibility of implementing a legal temporary sign ordinance. The item was discussed because the city has had to deal with political campaign signs and billboards being put up in Mission before the allotted election period.
In Mission, temporary signs for campaigns may be put up during the election period, which is 120 days before the candidate’s election day. The signs in question by the city were for candidates whose election period does not start until Nov. 4, 2019.
During the public comments Javier Peña, an attorney representing Everardo Villarreal, who is running to be commissioner of Precinct 3 against incumbent Joe Flores, spoke on the rights of free speech.
“This is a small town, so rumors run rampant,” Peña said. “I’ve had several clients who have asked me to come and speak to the city council about this measure that is being proposed – the temporary sign ban.”
Peña continued, saying that the rumors in question state that the city is attempting to implement a ban on billboards for political campaigns.
“Content-based speech restrictions are frowned upon by the United States Constitution, it’s a violation of the first amendment,” Peña said. “So if there is an attempt to ban political signs, it’s going to face legal scrutiny and will likely be struck down.”
Peña added that along with the rumors that the city is going to ban political signs, there are more talks about city officials targeting specific politicians and their campaigns.
“That brings in not just the first amendment of the constitution, but Article 1 Section 10 of the United States Constitution, which prohibits any governmental entity from passing any law or ordinance that would invalidate and impact any existing contract,” Peña said. “And as I’m sure all of you are aware, in order to put a sign on a billboard you have to sign a contract with the billboard company.”
According to City Attorney Gus Martinez, the way the ordinance is written now, the city can take down any signs on homesteads because they fall within city limits.
However, billboards cannot be removed by the city because they are not listed specifically in the ordinance and because they are erected on property owned by private companies.
O’caña’s official comment on the matter was that the ordinance was written and approved by Mission, so that’s what they’re going to follow.
“We have an ordinance, we need to enforce it,” O’caña said. “If it’s confusing, it’s confusing, but that’s the ordinance right now.”
O’caña said that ordinance was developed and unanimously voted on by previous city leaders, and while it can be amended, there is a process. He noted that Mission is not going to start the process of amending the ordinance until after this election season, because it will require two public hearings to approve any amendment and it will become even more confusing for candidates if the changes are implemented in the middle of the election cycle.
“It’s lessons that we learn, so we can correct it for the next election,” O’caña said. “Most of the candidates already have their plan.”
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 27, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.