With looming budget shortfalls expected over the next two years, Corpus Christi City council members took a conservative approach to the proposed budget, voting last week to continue planning with the new effective tax rate..

A computer error uncovered this month by the Nueces County Appraisal District led to an increase in the total appraisal estimate for the City of Corpus Christi. The city had worked on a budget proposal that took into consideration a 6 percent decrease in expected property valuations compared to last year. Programs such as the city’s senior centers and library staff saw a reduction in hours, and city employees as a group saw a reduction of more than 60 positions. Operations such as animal control and code enforcement saw some consolidation of duties, as well, in light of this upcoming budget cycle.

The change in appraisal numbers swung the preliminary total by more than eight percentage points, giving the city a two percent increase in valuations compared to last year. Assistant City Manager Oscar Martinez said if the city stayed at the same property tax rate as last year, $0.582, then the city could expect to receive an additional $800,000 in property tax revenue.

The debate at the July 19 meeting was whether to stay at the current tax rate, which would in effect be a tax rate increase, or go down to the effective tax rate of $0.572. The effective tax rate would bring in the same amount of revenue that was collected last year, taking the $800,000 out of the discussion.

“The 2 percent didn’t take us out of the woods. Over a three-year period, the deficit would improve in the 2013-14 fiscal year,” Martinez said.

The budget shortfall is expected to be $7.5 million in each of those years. The city staff recommendation was to hold with the effective tax rate.

Councilwoman Nelda Martinez supported the effective tax rate, as the city has been working these last few months in good faith with the public to keep spending down.

“At least try to find some semblance of stability in our utility rates. I see no relief in our utility rates. I believe if we stay with the effective tax rate, we keep our good faith effort and get some relief to the taxpayers,” Martinez said.

She, like several other council members, saw the possible $800,000 as only a small fix in the much larger issue of finding money for street repair.

“We all want to fix the street problem,” Martinez said. “I don’t want any Band-aids as far as streets. We need a meaningful revenue source for that. We’re not going to fix all our concerns in just one budget cycle. We need some time to give our city manager to continue to work on efficiencies.”

Councilman Mark Scott also urged council members to think ahead to next year's budget cycle.