Leander ISD rate increased 1.211 cents; Cedar Park and Leander to remain unchanged
Leander ISD, the City of Cedar Park and the City of Leander passed their annual budgets and tax rates in August and September. LISD taxpayers will see an increase of 1.211 cents per $100 valuation on their property tax bill, while both cities’ rates remain stable.
At the rate approved Aug. 23, the tax bill on an average LISD home—with a taxable value of $216,295—will increase $42.44, according to the district. Ellen Skoviera, assistant superintendent for business and operations, said LISD increased its tax rate in accordance with its debt repayment schedule. Through 2010, LISD sold millions of dollars in bonds to fund construction, major maintenance, technology and transportation, and now has about $228 million left from money approved during the 2007 bond election, according to district documents.
“The debt service schedule is not going to change unless we [refinance] the bonds, which will happen in the next few years, or if we sold more [bonds], which we haven’t done,” Skoviera said.
The $310.8 million LISD budget allocates $61.5 million for debt payments and $237.7 million for the general operating budget. The self-sustaining food service budget totals $11.6 million.
LISD has spent the past two years cutting the budget, but there is still a strong focus on education, Skoviera said. Librarians and instructional coaches now fill the role of the recently eliminated campus technology instructor position—one example of how employees districtwide compensate for budget cuts, she said.
“I wouldn’t say that what we’ve been able to accomplish with the budget isn’t without cost,” she said.
The 2012–13 budget also focuses on leveraging existing resources by allowing students to bring their own technology to school.
“That can relieve the system somewhat because some children already own these devices,” Skoviera said. “So by being able to use what we can, we can hopefully focus the resources we need on those who don’t have resources.”
Despite cutbacks, LISD added 140.75 new positions at a cost of approximately $6.5 million.
City of Cedar Park
The creation of 11 new positions highlights the $102.2 million Cedar Park operating budget, supported by a property tax rate of $0.493501 per $100 valuation. Assistant City Manager Josh Selleck said the city was able to create new positions under a steady tax rate for three reasons: the acquisition of new property within the city limits through annexation and new construction, a slight increase in existing property values, and positive sales tax figures.
“We are really beginning to gain momentum in terms of sales tax, mostly related to projects we have incentivized with our economic development program,” he said. “Our economic development department, over many years, has worked at bringing in new retail opportunities and building a commercial portion of our city that really helps to offset the tax burden on our residential taxpayers.”
The new staff positions accompany the city’s growth, especially in the police budget, which expanded by 15 percent to add four positions and a fleet of up to 15 take-home police cars, as well as funds for new side firearms and Tasers.
Selleck said the positive sales tax numbers, combined with funds acquired when the Cypress Canyon and Deer Creek neighborhoods were annexed, allowed the city to avoid some large public safety expenses in the 2013 budget. City Council amended the budget in order to purchase a new fire engine and a safety dispatch system that could have otherwise affected the tax rate.
“We were able to take care of some of those big one-time needs through money that came in through the annexations and other revenues that came in higher than anticipated,” he said. “We are fortunate enough to have that opportunity, and those are the things we do to mitigate the potential increase to the tax rate.”
City of Leander
Growth also helped the City of Leander maintain a stable tax rate of $0.67042 per $100 valuation—approved Sept. 20—which supports the $61.4 million operating budget. The city experienced a 7.6 percent tax base increase—about half of which came from new construction and half because of increases in commercial and nonresidential property values. However, existing homestead values dropped 1 percent–2 percent, Finance Director Robert Powers said.
“Even though those went down, we had enough growth in new construction and commercial values to make up for a slight decrease in average home values,” he said. “It enabled the city to keep a stable tax rate and utility rate compared to last year.”
For Leander to maintain its unchanged tax and utility rates in the near future, the city must reach certain growth benchmarks. Tax base growth takes into account property values and new construction, while utility rates are determined by the amount of commercial and residential water usage.
“If the tax base grows 5 percent a year, which for Leander is a moderate year, plus what we have in place with sharing some of the operations budget over to the debt side, there shouldn’t be any need to raise taxes [while we] maintain existing services,” Powers said. “Our rate modeling predicts less than a 1 percent–2 percent increase in water rates over the next three years if we achieve at least 7.5 percent annual growth. If growth is around 3.5 percent annually, then it is possible we would need to increase water rates next year by 5 percent.”
Leander shifted about $200,000 from the general operating fund—equal to 1.2 cents of the overall tax rate—to the debt service fund and also refinanced some of its debt in order to maintain a stable tax rate during the next several years.
“We’ve lowered our debt payments almost a million dollars a year over the next six years, and that will keep us from having to raise the tax rate or severely cut back on existing services,” Powers said, adding that City Council has the authority to set the tax rate.
The city could hold a bond election in the next few years, depending on staff, City Council and resident input, Powers said. City staff members have already identified several unfunded future needs, such as personnel positions in public safety and human resources, street maintenance and city baseball fields at Benbrook Ranch Park.
This story was updated Sept. 24.