Medina County commissioners approved a $35.6 million budget and trimmed the property tax rate 0.8 percent at their Sept. 30 meeting.
The tax decision, enacting the proposed advertised rate of $0.5473 per $100 of assessed valuation, didn’t come without some back and forth between Judge Chris Schuchart and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Beck.
Schuchart said that while the county remains in good financial shape, it has taken on $30 million in debt to finance construction of an expanded jail and a new courthouse annex.
Counting bond debt and cash carryover from last year, the county’s budget actually totals $75 million, with $12 million in the bank.
Even with the 0.8 percent rate reduction, $1,533,818 in additional property tax revenue will pad the 2021 budget. The total tax levy on all county properties is projected to rise to $20,606,728 — an 8.04 percent increase, according to Assessor-Tax Collector Melissa Lutz.
Rising appraised values on existing properties — along with $125 million in new growth, largely from ongoing expansion by Vulcan Materials Co. and new housing developments in northeastern Medina County — ensure a continued increase in the tax rolls.
The growth curve prompted a group of taxpayers from Natalia to call for deeper tax cuts.
Speaking at the Sept. 24 public hearing, they noted that the new rate of $0.5473 per $100 of assessed valuation would boost taxes on an average homesteaded property by 7.46 percent. That will hike the average county tax bill from $840 in 2019 to $903 this year.
Beck, who abstained from the tax vote, said, “I appreciate that a lot of work went into this.” He had said previously that he preferred to set a rate of $0.5138 to keep taxes at 2019 levels.
Agreeing with Schuchart that Medina County is in “excellent financial shape,” Beck said commissioners could afford to give taxpayers a break. He noted that the county has been able to put $1 million into its reserve fund annually, while granting raises to employees.
Schuchart said he was reluctant to reduce the tax rate any further at this time.
“I would rather wait until next year, hopefully after COVID goes away,” he said.
Meantime, Schuchart said, “We should be grateful we’re in a county where [property] values are going up. Think what you’re leaving your kids.”
Beck countered, saying that rising appraised values only help “if you’re in the profession of flipping houses.”
Schuchart responded that taxable values, as established by the county’s Appraisal District, are typically below actual market values.
“People tell me they wouldn’t sell for the appraised [taxable] value,” said Schuchart, who suggested that “90 percent [of residences] are undervalued” by the county.
In other action, the commission:
-Unanimously approved keeping Precinct 2’s special road tax rate at $0.050 per $100 assessed valuation. The tax, approved by Precinct 2 voters five years ago, has funded “75 miles of roads that would not have been built otherwise,” Commissioner Larry Sittre said.
-Approved Sittre’s motion appointing Steven Vester to the Potranco Acres PID (Public Improvement District) Board of Directors. Vester fills the seat vacated by Sittre. The commissioner said he is now off all PID and TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) boards.
-Heard a report by Commissioner Tim Neuman that $348,000 in COVID relief grants had been awarded to small local businesses, as of Sept. 28. Some $111,000 more funds remained to be distributed to companies, as of the Oct. 1 application deadline.
-Heard a report from Schuchart that active COVID-19 cases in the county had dropped to 19 on Sept. 30, from a high of 132 cases on July 21.
If the county’s case count stays under 20 for 14 days, officials can request an exemption from the state’s mask mandate. Schuchart said an exemption would not prohibit people from continuing to wear masks if they choose to do so.
By Kenric Ward