By Anton Riecher
Medina County commissioners gave unanimous consent Thursday (July 28) to add a measure to the Nov. 8 ballot seeking voter approval to freeze the appraisal value on property owned by residents over 65 years old.
Rather than approving Commissioner Jerry Beck’s proposal for commissioners to institute the tax freeze right there in court, commissioners opted instead to call for a vote by county residents in November.
The ballot action was taken before a packed courtroom of older county residents drawn by the scheduled discussion of a proposal by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Beck for commissioners to take action authorizing the freeze.
“This is the first time (the new commissioners courtroom) has been full to standing room only,” Judge Chris Schuchart said. “We thought we had built it big enough.”
Schuhart explained, “You probably don’t want to freeze the tax rate because our tax rate has been going down. This move however, could freeze the value. Schuchart also said he had little doubt the measure would pass.
Of the five members of the court, two of them, Schuchart and Precinct 2 Commissioner Larry Sittre, said they preferred wider approval for the measure.
“If this thing goes forward I would like it to go before the voters,” Sittre said.
Four speakers took the podium to comment on how rising appraisal values had affected them financially. James Callis told the commissioners he was a Navy veteran retired with a disability and living on a fixed income.
“In my area there are a lot of senior citizens and any raising of property values or tax rates really takes a bite out of those on fixed incomes,” Callis said.
Property owner David Logan said he would support a freeze on road taxes as well as property values. Jeanelle Garvin, a county resident for 79 years, thanked the Devine News for reporting the scheduled discussion on its front page.
“I’m aware that this (proposal) will cause a deficit but keep in mind there are hundreds of acres of land being sold in Medina County to the developers who put in hundreds of houses,” Garvin said. “These are not little shacks. We’re going to collect a lot of tax money from that.”
David Ehlinger of Devine said the appraisal freeze would “encourage a little peace of mind in the community.”
Schuchart reported to the audience that 5,582 households in Medina County currently qualify for over 65 homestead exemptions of up to $50,000. Of the $3.1 billion in homestead property in Medina County, only $1.2 billion or 37 percent belongs to owners over the age of 65.
“The total amount of exempt property in Medina County today is $525 million which means about $2.87 million in taxes we don’t collect,” Schuchart said.
Nearly $1.8 million, the biggest chunk of those exemptions, relates to disabled veterans, he said. State exemptions for schools and churches rank second, followed by exemptions for seniors which rank third.
As opposed to “unfunded mandates” from the state and federal governments, action on the proposed appraisal freezes counts as “self-inflicted because we will decide what to do,” Schuchart said.
All of the six school districts in Medina County and the city of Castroville offer an appraisal freeze for property owners over age 65, he said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Lynch said he wanted the audience to realize that the money spent by the county on services and improvement come from their tax dollars.
“I don’t know that it’s going to be a huge hit to the revenue the county brings in,” Lynch said. “If it is that money will have to be made up somewhere else or services will not be as good as they are now.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Timothy Neuman said he wants to “help the people who need it yet provide the services you deserve.”
Sittre said that if the proposal passed it would require the remaining 63 percent of the county’s property owners to help make up the difference.
Beck told the commissioners he would not oppose putting the proposal to a county-wide vote. However, he continued to insist that the commissioners were authorized to take action on their own at the meeting.
“If it means voting for a tax break I’m all for it,” Beck said.
On a motion by Lynch seconded by Sittre, the commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the ballot initiative which will take this issue to a vote.
Schuchart asked members of the audience for more time to review a Declaration of Local State of Disaster regarding levels of illegal immigration. The declaration has been approved by other counties but Schuchart, an attorney by profession, said he had problems with some of the legal language used.
“As a matter of law the document needs to be rewritten,” he said. “There are misstatements in it that are not the law. We want it to be accurate with regard to Medina County.”
For example, the declaration uses the term “invasion” even though case law states that the term cannot be applied to illegal immigration, Schuchart said.
In financial matters, commissioners approved accounts payable totaling $1.595 million and disbursement of funds totaling $8,398 since the last commissioners meeting.
On a motion by Neuman seconded by Sittre, the commissioners accepted a donation from Sutherland Communities subdivision for repairs to County Road 241 from Highway 173 to CR 241 in precinct 1.
In other subdivision related action, the commissioners voted to replat several lots in Country View Estates off Park Road 37 in Precinct 1. The commissioners voted to change a street name duplicated in Potranco Oaks subdivision in Precinct 2.
Action on approval of maintenance bonds for streets in the Hunter’s Ranch subdivision was tabled while Commissioner Sittre gets further clarification on the work to be done involving two subdivision units.
“Once we take the maintenance bond these streets are ours,” Sittre said.
The commissioners also tabled action on final approval of Hunter’s Ranch subdivision, unit 15A in precinct 2 off Potranco Road (FM 1957).
An amended plat to change the name of Mesquite Creek subdivision off CR 4313 in precinct 1 to Paisano Pass subdivision was approved on a motion by Neuman seconded by Sittre.
The court voted to approve the annual renewal of an interlocal agreement with the Medina County 9-1-1 Emergency Communications District. Also approved are negotiations to extend an agreement with the city of Castroville regarding thoroughfare development.
A contract with BIS Digital Technical for technical support at the new county courthouse annex was approved. Also, a work order for the annual elevator inspection at the county’s Devine annex was approved.
The county also approved contracts for photocopy services at various locations and a maintenance contract with Holt CAT for a maintainer, roller and loader at precinct 2.
Commissioners authorized the county to advertise for sealed bids for the renovation of a building at 1508 Avenue M in Hondo for use for extension service education. A motion by Neuman was seconded by Sittre.
The court voted to approve grant applications for the FY2023 Operation Lone Star grant program for the sheriff’s office, the Walmart Local Community Grant for $2,000 covering K-9 expenses and a hazard mitigation grant program for county warning signs through the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
See separate articles on a new school security app and an outstanding report on Veteran’s services in Medina County.