Appraised property values stable for parts of Williamson County
After almost 12 years as the community activities coordinator for the City of Taylor, Fred Switzer retired in July. City officials said his part-time position would not be refilled but instead would be added to a growing number of frozen positions, and his responsibilities will be absorbed by other staff.
Not filling positions as they become vacant, restructuring departments and cutting portions of the budget are all strategies that some governmental entities are using to balance the budget for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
“Our mantra is ‘do more with less,’” said Jeff Straub, Taylor assistant city manager.
Appraised residential property values hovered around the same amounts as 2010 in Williamson County, increasing slightly in Georgetown and decreasing in Taylor and Hutto.
In Williamson County, the average taxable home value rose from $180,014 in 2010 to $180,868 in 2011, a 0.4 percent increase.
Alvin Lankford, chief appraiser with the Williamson Central Appraisal District, said appraised values are reflective of the real estate market. He said some cities in the county saw an increase in appraised values and others a slight decrease.
About 46 percent of residential properties showed a decrease in value, 40 percent increased and 14 percent remained within $1,000 of 2010 valuations. New construction added more than $661 million of net taxable value to the county, offsetting the decrease in market value of nearly half of properties in the county and raising the net taxable value in Williamson County by an estimated 1 percent.
“In years past, our market value had continually been growing … in recent years, it has stayed somewhat flat since 2008,” Lankford said.
Straub said that cities that had traditionally counted on increased property values as a source of more revenue can no longer do so.
The average home value in Georgetown is $184,959, a 1.2 percent increase from last year when it was $182,799.
Georgetown City Council had the first reading to adopt a tax rate of 38.75 cents per $100 in property valuation, compared with the current tax rate of 35.622 cents.
The proposed 3.128 cent increase would mean a homeowner with the average home value would pay $716.72, or $65.55 more than last year on his or her annual bill.
Micki Rundell, Georgetown chief financial officer, said the 8.8 percent actual tax rate increase is primarily related to repaying the city’s debt.
She said more than $55 of the $65.55 increase in yearly taxes for the average home in Georgetown are for 2008 voter-approved street and park improvement bond projects.
Another reason for the proposed higher tax rate is the amount of frozen property increased by $98.4 million this year. Property owners over the age of 65 or who are disabled can file to freeze their property taxes.
“There are less people paying the new rate,” Rundell said. “In theory, we lost $100,000 of revenue related to the properties that froze this past year.”
At an Aug. 29 workshop and special session, City Council members looked at ways to decrease the proposed $40 million general fund budget.
City staff had presented the council with the proposed budget, but council members called the special meetings with the goal of cutting the budget by 1 percent, or $400,000. The budget cuts were meant to address an estimated $980,000 shortfall in the 2013 fiscal year.
Council identified about $430,000 in savings through expense reductions and additional revenue sources for the 2012 fiscal year. However, in the special session that followed the workshop, City Council members added back in some funding they had discussed cutting earlier in the evening and cut some additional areas of the budget.
Areas that council identified included cutting food for City Council members during long meetings, deferring a citizen survey from every other year to every three years, freezing additional vacant positions, closing pools for one extra day per week (excluding the indoor recreation center pool), decreasing fuel budgets and reducing the amount of mowing at city parks.
City staff will still have to calculate the impact of the funding cuts to see how much the proposed budget will be reduced. Rundell said the new budget amount will not be available until the week of Sept. 5. The budget could be modified again at a Sept. 13 meeting. Final approval could be deferred to a Sept. 27 meeting if necessary.
Taylor City Council approved the first reading of the tax rate of 81.3893 cents per $100 of valuation, which is the same as the current rate. The budget is based on the current tax rate, and as of press time, council was scheduled to adopt the budget and tax rate Sept. 8.
Out of the $23.22 million budget, the proposed general fund budget is $10.7 million, increasing from last year’s adopted general fund budget by 1.5 percent.
Straub said the average property value fell from $89,210 in 2010 to $87,600, but the city’s 2010 annexations and growth added more property to the tax rolls.
The proposed tax rate of 81.3893 cents means a homeowner with the average home value would pay $712.97, or $13.10 less than last year on his or her annual bill.
He said that while the revenue collected from sales tax has trended upward recently, city staff is being conservative and predicting no increase from last year.
The city had to incorporate into the budget increases in fuel costs and a 35 percent increase, or about $150,000, to health insurance.
Straub said there are 16 frozen positions in the city’s budget, leaving the city with 140 employees. He said the city has had as many as 158 employees in past years.
No pay raises were included in the proposed budget; however, salaries for public safety personnel do increase on a tiered schedule.
Hutto City Council approved the first reading Sept. 1 for a property tax rate of 51.6545 cents per $100 of valuation for fiscal year 2012. The current rate is 50.758 cents.
Finance Director Micah Grau said the city can use the extra revenue to prepare for the planned bond issues for the fiscal year instead of dipping into its unencumbered fund balance within the debt service fund.
The city plans to issue bonds in the spring of 2012 for construction on Mager Lane, a sidewalk along South FM 1660 and design for the YMCA recreation facility.
In 2010, the average home value in Hutto was $130,410, compared with $126,149 in 2011, according to the Williamson Central Appraisal District. A homeowner with the average home value in 2010 paid $661.94 in annual taxes, while a homeowner with the average home value of $126,149 would pay $651.62 with the proposed tax rate, or $10.32 less.
Grau said the annexation of the Lakeside Estates Subdivision offset the decline in appraised property value.
He said the biggest change to this year’s $8.77 million general fund budget is the $125,000 payment for the Eastern Williamson County Higher Center. The total proposed budget is about $21 million.
The budget includes replacing three Hutto Police Department patrol cars and a scheduled increase in August in the city’s take-or-pay water contract with Heart of Texas.
There are four frozen positions from previous years in the budget, and council approved on Sept. 1 giving a one-time merit pay of $750 to each eligible full-time employee.
The final reading of the budget and tax rate is scheduled for Sept. 15.
Additional reporting by Beth Wade