The Driscoll City Council unanimously recently approved a 4 cent property tax rate increase, over persistent objections from members of the community who attended two public hearings on that issue in August.
The council members said they sympathized with residents who would be impacted financially with a tax rate increase. They went on to describe what a sacrifice the increase would be in their own lives. They added, though, that it had to be done to see the city begin to progress in a positive direction.
The tax rate was increased to 89 cents per every $100 of property valuation.
City Accountant Isabel Chapa said a lot of people are on fixed incomes, but the city still needs to be able to provide services to its citizens.
City Commissioner Sara Zavala said she is not well off financially, and with three separate taxing entities to pay, she often has to wait until her tax refund arrives before she can pay her taxes, which usually occurs late.
“But we have to move forward,” Zavala said, in connection to why she approved the increase.
Chapa added that a lot of citizens in the community fail to pay their taxes altogether, which constrains the city in their ability to pay their annual debt service payment. The city still owes $681,000 from a previous bond, which officials hope to see paid off over the next nine years.
City Commissioner Mark Gonzalez said a moderate tax increase at this time would allow the city to avoid having to make much greater tax increases in the future.
City officials had previously placed much of the blame for current tax revenue constraints on a decision made last year to provide tax relief to the citizens of Driscoll.
To do so, city leaders approved decreasing the tax rate by nine cents. Mayor John Aguilar said he wanted to avoid trying to increase the tax rate all at once back to the previous level, hence the more gradual 4-cent increase that was approved.
According to valuations the city received from the Nueces County Appraisal District, the average home valuation for Driscoll was $54,000.
Chapa said this would mean a 4-cent tax rate increase would translate to an additional $29 per year in property taxes per household.
In other city business:
• The council appointed four residents to the Driscoll improvement Development Corp.
The city has been hard pressed to restart the DIDC over the last six months, since the organization has remained dormant and annual financial reports to the Texas Comptroller’s Office were due.
City staff was unable to submit the financials themselves, since a meeting of the DIDC was required to approve the financials, and no quorum among the previous members of the group could be brought together. In June, the city council removed DIDC Chairwoman Mary Reed from the organization.
Aguilar said during the Aug. 31 meeting that Reed moved forward with reporting the DIDC financials to the state without checking with the City of Driscoll, and that numbers she had submitted were incorrect.
Reed stated that the numbers she provided to the state were the financials up until the time the organization had stopped meeting, which as chairwoman of the organization at that time, she was still responsible for reporting to the state.
A look at the confirmation sheet Reed received after reporting showed over $7,000 in revenue and $41,000 in expenditures, which was used for the construction of the building and restroom facilities at the city park, along with sidewalk construction, barbecue pits and the construction of a small outdoor gazebo.
What the reporting numbers didn’t account for was the sales tax revenue the organization had received during the subsequent months while the organization did not meet, and the ancillary office expenses of the organization, which the city paid for the during those intervening months, Chapa said.
The city had yet to be reimbursed by the organization for those expenses, since the DIDC had not held a public meeting to approve expense payments, Chapa said.
The DIDC receives 33 percent of the sales tax allocations that the City of Driscoll receives from the state, Chapa said, and had a total revenue of $14,000.
Council members approved the appointments of Sara Zavala, Louisa Olvera, Odelia Galvan and Yolanda Sanchez to the DIDC board.
With the deadline for financial reporting at Aug. 31, there was not enough time to have the new members decided on a meeting time, post notice, and hold a meeting to approve the completed finance report. Texas Open Meeting laws requires an organization to post notice at least 72 hours before a meeting is held.
Chapa contacted the state comptroller’s office following the Aug. 31 meeting, and was given confirmation that the reporting could be submitted late.
Aguilar said he felt confident the DIDC would be able to post notice and meet in time to consider the financial report and if approved, submit it to the Comptroller’s Office.