Property tax freeze in Lytle on hold

By Anton Riecher
A motion to further investigate the financial impact of a proposed property tax freeze for city residents either over 65 or disabled was approved by the Lytle City Council Monday by a 4-1 vote.
The motion was made by District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez, seconded by District 3 Alderman David Emery, to delay taking any immediate action on the tax freeze. District 5 Alderman Charles Cate who placed the item on the agenda, opposed that motion as he wanted to move forward with the freeze.
“We’re going to have the same figures in six months that we will have in two weeks,” Cate said. “We’re only hurting our residents.”
Michelle Berdeaux, chief appraiser for Atascosa County, told the council that fast action to approve the ordinance would be necessary since the appraisal district is scheduled to certify the tax roll by July 21. Values must be presented to the taxing entities by July 25 to start budget workshops and rate hearings.
“We’re getting ready to start the tax rate calculations,” Berdeaux said. “If you don’t move quickly it will not be on the tax roll before we mail bills.”
In Atascosa County which carries the largest portion of the city’s taxable value almost 200 property tracts or nearly 13½ percent would be eligible for the tax freeze, Cate said. Rodriguez expressed concern that until certified values are available the financial impact of the tax freeze remains unknown.
“I don’t see the rush in trying to get this done by this timetable,” Rodriguez said.
Cate noted that many Texas municipalities have implemented similar measures to stem the impact of rising property taxes on the elderly.
“It does not exempt them from paying taxes,” Cate said. “It freezes their tax value once they turn 65. We’d still be collecting taxes but it would just help alleviate the folks who may be on a fixed income.”
Berdeaux explained that the freeze does not apply if the property owner either acquires more adjoining property or expands their home.
“Then the freeze would be adjusted by the amount of tax that was added,” she said.
Lytle has previously implemented a homestead exemption for property owners over 65 who received a $10,000 exemption, Berdeaux said.
“What you are talking about will freeze that tax amount at the (age 65) level, whatever is established,” Berdeaux said. “If it goes down, the property owner automatically pays less.”
Cate said that Devine passed a similar tax freeze for its eligible taxpayers in June, Cate said.
“While it is able to help the residents I think it also makes the city an attractive place for people to move to,” he said. “If one city has this in place and we don’t they might go there. I just see it as a means for us to help folks out and take care of our own people.”
The council also voted to conduct a workshop to discuss a proposed tax abatement program at 6:30 p.m. July 25.
In other items added to the agenda by Cate, the council voted unanimously to develop plans for replacing and upgrading the city’s water distribution lines. However, action on a proposal to upgrade and improve city road and streets to accommodate future development was tabled.
The council voted to award a $5,046 contract to Advanced Water Well Technologies to remove the wellhead and pump from long dormant City Water Well No. 1 to accommodate the Edwards Aquifer Authority in its plans to use the well to better monitor the aquifer.
City Administrator Matthew Dear reported that the authority had agreed to cover half the cost of the wellhead and pump removal.
Dear reported to the council that the city had received a violation notice from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality regarding the need to complete mandatory water quality testing for copper and lead in its newest water well.
Mayor Ruben Gonzales stressed that the violation was not based on findings but due to a testing oversight.
Dear explained that the new water well required a specific set of tests to be performed quarterly during its initial year of operation. The tests are performed both at the well and again at where water goes into the distribution system.
Ordinarily the testing is only done three times a year, Dear said.
“We did one and were expecting to do it like we normally do but we missed one in between,” Dear said. “We’ve already done the missed test so we can go back to the normal routine.”
During the information items portion of the agenda District 2 Alderman Richard Hughes asked if additional lighting could be installed at the city park baseball fields for evening hours. Dear said that plans to improve the lighting had been postponed due to other city issues.
“We started down that path a while back but had to put the stop to it because of some major improvements needed at the sewer plant,” Dear said.
He said the city staff has been investigating the use of hotel occupancy tax money to fund the ball field lighting improvements. However, that can only be justified if it can be shown that the park had effectively generated funds for the hotel industry.
The estimate on improving the lighting is nearly $300,000, city finance director LaNet Hester said.
Mayor Gonzalez reported that the Veterans of Foreign Wars is planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new post on July 19, the 100th birthday of local Pearl Harbor attack veteran Gilbert Meyers. Meyers, to whom the post is dedicated, also contributed the land for the new building.
Gonzalez also gave an update on Texas Department of Transportation improvements to Interstate 35. Beginning Tuesday new stripping will be added to convert access roads from one-way to two-way traffic.
Improvement plans also call for closing down FM 3175 lanes crossing beneath I35 for extensive repair.
“It’s the only way to get that road done before school starts up again,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to hurt for several weeks.”