WCESD #4 calls sales tax election for Nov. 3

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By Christine Bolaños

Williamson County ESD #4 Commissioners in a 4-1 vote have called an election for Nov. 3 to ask voters to approve raising the local sales tax in the ESD 1 cent. If passed, the revenue would be used to help fund a new fire station.

Eighteen months ago, the state comptroller estimated the revenue the ESD would get from a sales tax rate of 1 cent would raise $300,000.

“In order for our growth to stay up with demand I think we really need to do this,” ESD Board President Sandra Taylor said at Monday’s special board meeting. “If this passes this will set us up in order to back off on the property tax next year and then that way we could continue to grow and get our station in and then start preparing for the next one.”

Secretary James Crabtree disagreed saying property tax will cover funding needed to keep up with demand. He expressed reservations about charging people a higher sales tax.

“I’m not in favor of raising sales tax. I’m not sold on it. I think there’s a way to keep with the growth, if we kept it (the ad valorem tax rate) at 10 cents (per $100 property value). Home appraisals are going to keep going up,” Crabtree said.

Taylor pointed out that raising the sales tax could open up the possibility of lowering property tax in the future.

“Sales tax is one of the highest in the nation. It’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, just one cent,’ but that adds up. I can’t remember an entity saying, ‘Give us more taxes and we’ll cut your taxes later,’ and actually having that happen,” Crabtree responded. “It’s so hard once you get that money to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to give it back.’”

The ESD wants to complete two additional fire stations within five to six years. Assistant Treasurer James Baker pointed out this is something that would be helped greatly if the 1 cent sales tax is approved.

“Not only do we have to build it we have to staff it,” Taylor added.

Baker expressed concern that the ESD would fall behind in meeting demand without the 1 cent.

Treasurer Todd Jackson reminded his fellow board members that regardless of whether or not they opted to hold a sales tax election it is up to the voters to decide on the 1 cent sales tax increase.

“I’m struggling with what it’s going to take to build two fire stations and staff them and I know we can’t get there with just property taxes,” Jackson said.

Residents within city limits are not eligible to vote. The responsibility of paying the sales tax would be shared with people who don’t live in Liberty Hill, who make purchases in the area serviced by the ESD.

Taylor suggested going for the 1 cent instead of the full 1 ¾-cent rate. Baker agreed.

The board then took a vote with Crabtree placing the lone dissenting vote.

“If it passes in November it takes effect beginning of next quarter, which is Jan. 1 (2016), so it’d be sometime in late April before you get your first check,” said Cliff Avery, who is executive director of Texas State Association of Fire and Emergency Districts (SAFE-D).

Last year, commissioners earmarked $30,000 to run a political campaign for the sales tax election.

Of the 8.25 percent sales tax, the state collects 6.25 percent. On sales made within the City of Liberty Hill, the City keeps 1 cent for its General Fund, ¼ cent for its Street Maintenance Fund, ¼ cent for the Liberty Hill Public Library and ½ cent for the Economic Development Corp.

Also at the Aug. 17 special meeting, the board approved implementing bilingual election requirements; implementing direct recording electronic voting systems in addition to paper ballots; authorizing Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln to perform election duties; notice of election and a contract for election services.

Public hearings on the proposed sales tax rate are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 at the Liberty Hill Fire Station, 301 Loop 332 in Liberty Hill. Avery also recommended the board hold a town hall meeting the first week of October.

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