Devine council votes to freeze property tax rates for over 65

By Anton Riecher
By a vote of 4-0, the Devine City Council approved an ordinance to freeze property tax rates for residents over the age of 65, mirroring previous measures taken by the county and school district.
“I couldn’t be more in favor of it personally,” Mayor Butch Cook told the audience for the June 20 regular session.
On a motion by District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey, seconded by District 2 Council Member Michael Hernandez, the council approved the ordinance stating that no Devine property owner will pay more in city property taxes than the year of their 65th birthday.
Effective beginning the 2022 tax year, the tax relief ordinance also applies to permanently disabled citizens unable to work.
District 5 council member Debbie Randall chose to abstain from the vote.
Johnette Dixon, chief appraiser for Medina County, described how the county tax freeze works.
“Whatever they would pay in 2022, anyone who is over 65 right now would pay whatever 2022 taxes were from here on out,” Dixon said. “The rate can come down but can never go above it.”
Former District 4 County Commissioner Jerry Beck spoke in support of the action, saying it meant relief from “skyrocketing appraisals.” Devine resident Bill Montgomery also spoke in support of the ordinance.
“The city isn’t going to be out any major amount of money,” he said. “The value of my property is still going to go up.”
Mayor Cook initially wanted to table the ordinance until a draft could be prepared. However, Dixon warned that it would have to be in place before the appraisal district’s tax certification scheduled for July 20. Otherwise, the tax relief would not apply until the 2023 tax year.
City Attorney Thomas Cate recommended proceeding with a vote on the ordinance to assure making the deadline.
Dixon earlier addressed the council regarding the proposed 2024 budget for the Medina County Appraisal District approved by its board of directors.
“Our 2024 preliminary budget proposal is $1,585,200,” Dixon said. “Our final budget last year was $1,559,155, which is an increase of $26,000.”
Part of the increase is the number of protest hearings scheduled by taxpayers, she said. At present, the district has nearly 4,500 protest hearings scheduled, almost 500 more than last year.
For the entire county, the 2023 preliminary taxable value issued by the appraisal district in late April totaled $309.3 million, a $32.3 million increase in value from the previous year. From that increase, the appraisal district generated an additional $159,000 in revenue.
Devine’s pro rata share of that taxable value in 2024 is $22,801, an increase of $963 from 2023
“So, of that $159,000, we are asking for $936 more dollars” from Devine to fund the appraisal district in the coming year, Dixon said.
Ritchey used the opportunity to criticize the appraisal district process.
“From what I understand, the entire appraisal process is very opaque and any disagreement with the board is met with some rather subjective opinions and response. How can we drive through this process more transparency and more objective standards in the appraisal of properties?”
Dixon said the best way to challenge any appraisal is by using comparisons with other property nearby.
“If you can find comps in your neighborhood that’s what we do,” Dixon said. “We first look in the neighborhood. If we find comps we use those. We try to get as close to the subject as possible. From that point, if there aren’t any in that subdivision directly then we can expand out to the school district and we’ll try to find something as much like the property as possible.”
On a motion by Ritchey, seconded by Pyron, the council passed the budget increase for the appraisal district.
Aside from the property tax ordinance, Ritchey placed two other items on the council agenda – consider upgraded software for governmental budgeting and review options to ease bureaucratic challenges to local building contractors. Both items were tabled.
Under software, Ritchey asked the city staff to review a possible transition to ClearGov software designed to streamline the annual budgeting process by improving the collection, creation and communication of their budgets.
The item was tabled because the city is currently taking applications for a new city administrator. Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez advised that the applicants may have their own opinion on which software is best for the job.
On Ritchey’s request to make challenges to contractors easier he said that a “multitude” of contractors he has talked to refuse to work in Devine.
“Their explicit feedback is the city is too difficult to work with, requiring a lot of documentation and additional inspections over what they would expect in other places,” Ritchey said.
Mayor Cook also reported similar complaints from contractors he has dealt with. However, Ritchey nor Cook were ready with what Pyron referred to as “concrete examples.”
“We need some concrete examples rather than complaints like ‘I’m just annoyed that I have to fill out this paperwork,” Pyron said.
Rodriguez said the main reason contractors are required to fill out fresh paperwork about themselves for each project is to make sure their required licensing has not expired. It was noted by Randall that the city has not had a code compliance officer for nearly two years.
Ritchey countered that he did not necessarily want to bring immediate action before the council.
“I just want to start a conversation,” he said.