Budgets and taxes and hearings, oh my

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

August means three things in Texas and those are triple-digit temperatures, back-to-school excitement and the task of creating local government budgets.

Over the next three to four weeks, Williamson County, the City of Liberty Hill, Liberty Hill ISD, and Williamson County ESD #4 will pass a budget and tax rate that could greatly impact area residents.
Each of the four will determine a tax rate and set a budget for next year, deciding where to cut expenses, where to add and how to balance it all in the end.

Each is required to hold at least one posted public hearing before the final vote to approve the budget to allow for community input. Below is a basic breakdown of the schedule and important numbers and issues facing each of the four taxing entities.

A property owner’s tax bill can rise or fall based on two different numbers – the adopted tax rate and or their property value as determined by the Williamson County Appraisal District. Certified property values across Williamson County have risen $5.6 billion in the last year, which means tax bills will increase for many in the county unless tax rates are lowered.

Tax rates are calculated on every $100 in property value, so if a tax rate is $0.10 per $100 valuation and a property is appraised at $125,000, the annual tax bill for that property would be $125.

Budgets are broken down into at least two funds, the General Fund or Maintenance and Operations (M&O) and the debt fund or Interest and Sinking (I&S). The two amounts together make up the final tax rate.

City of Liberty Hill
The current tax rate for the City of Liberty Hill $0.50 per $100 valuation and has been at the same rate since being lowered from $0.5278 in 2015. The total taxable value for the City of Liberty Hill is $316,639,382 versus $258,658,667 last year.

The City grapples with the challenge of a smaller property tax base due to a small population. Last year, one cent on the ad valorem tax rate equated to only $28,000 in City revenues. A large portion of the City budget is funded through one-time fees which is not a steady revenue stream for budgeting.

Liberty Hill also receives sales tax, averaging $118,000 per month so far through 2019.

The current budget passed last September was $2.96 million for the general fund.
The current 50 cent tax rate accounts for a debt service rate of .177365 and maintenance and operations rate of .322635.

If the Council maintains the same tax rate for the upcoming budget, a property valued at $200,000 would pay city property taxes of $1,000.

The new proposed budget is expected to be presented at the Aug. 12 Council meeting, with a budget workshop set for Aug. 19 and a public hearing on Aug. 26. The budget should be adopted at the Sept. 9 meeting.

Liberty Hill ISD
The school district has been working on its budget plan since late May when the picture began to come into focus on how recent legislative decisions would shape public school finance.

The district’s tax rate, which was at $1.04 for M&O and $0.50 for I&S is being lowered by seven cents on the M&O side per recently passed legislation. Instead of the funds coming from local taxpayers, the state is stepping in with money from other sources to try and bridge the gap.

In July, the school board voted to give across the board raises. Teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses with up to five years experience will receive a $2,000 annual increase, and those from six to 17 years of experience will see their salaries go up $2,500. For teachers with 18 years the bump is $2,800 and it reaches $3,200 for 19 years and $3,600 for 20.

A property valued at $200,000 would pay $2,940 in school taxes if the rate is held at $0.97 for M&O and $0.50 for I&S.

A public hearing is scheduled for the Aug. 19 LHISD Board meeting, and the board will also vote on the budget at that meeting.

Williamson County
Williamson County Commissioners voted Tuesday on a maximum possible tax rate of $0.459029 for the new budget. That rate is the same as the current year’s rate. After the vote, the amount can be reduced, but can’t exceed that amount.

Certified taxable values in Williamson County this year increased $5.6 billion over last year, coming in at $69.5 billion.

The County budget is made up of three funds – the general fund, road and bridge, and debt service. The tax rate is currently divided up with $0.251529 going to general fund, $0.04 going to road and bridge and $0.1675 going to debt service.

The proposed county general fund budget is $219,801, up just over $7 million from the current year. The budget as requested by department heads is just over $226 million and Commissioners will meet a number of times over the next couple of weeks as departments make their case for additional funds. The various county departments covered under the general fund requested a total of 156 new full-time positions and the budget office recommended 32 of those.

There is $3.5 million proposed for salary increases, $3.6 million for facilities, $7 million for long-range transportation planning and $9 million for additional capital improvement projects separate from the funds being sought from voters in the November bond election.

The recommended road and bridge budget is $42.7 million.

At the maximum proposed rate, the owner of a $200,000 property would pay $918 in County taxes.
Public hearings on the County budget are slated for Aug. 13 and 20, with adoption of the budget and tax rate set for Aug. 27.

ESD #4
The ESD Board of Commissioners approved the current tax rate of $0.09825 for the upcoming year, which is expected to add just over $100,000 to the budget due to increased property values.

The proposed budget calls for raising salaries by $1,000, which would put the starting salary for a firefighter at $46,000.

The department will also add three new positions, which will be paid for directly from a reduction in budgeted overtime hours. The ESD will be occupying the second fire station in Santa Rita later this month, and will see increased debt and operating costs due to the second station and the recent purchase of land for a third station. The total staff for the ESD is now up to 33, from 12 back in 2014.

The budget is covered by property taxes and sales tax, which has averaged $60,000 per month this year.
At the proposed tax rate, a property valued at $200,000 would pay $196.50 in ESD taxes.

The ESD has public hearings set for Aug. 19 and 26 with budget adoption on Sept. 9.

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