Council talks budget, tax rate

Official dates were set at Tuesday’s Greenville City Council meeting for public hearings and the final votes on the proposed 2019-20 Greenville city budget as well as the proposed local property tax rate.

Official dates were set at Tuesday’s Greenville City Council meeting for public hearings and the final votes on the proposed 2019-20 Greenville city budget as well as the proposed local property tax rate.

Those dates are as follows:

Aug. 27 – Residents will be able to comment on the proposed property tax rate in the first public hearing about the tax rate.

Sept. 10 – Residents will have a second chance to comment on the proposed property tax rate in a second public hearing about the tax rate, and will also be able to comment on the proposed budget during the first public hearing about the budget.

Sept. 24 – Residents will have a second chance to comment on the proposed budget in a second public hearing about the budget, and the council will vote on both the city property tax rate and the 2019-20 budget.

The current proposed property tax rate for 2019-20 is about 68.2 cents for every $100 that a property is worth.

This is a three-cent increase compared to the current property tax rate of 65.2 cents per $100 valuation.

One of the main reasons for the three-cent increase to the local tax rate is for debt payment for the $15 million street improvement bond for renovations to Sayle and Stonewall Street, that was approved by voters in May.

As for the time frame for those improvements to Stonewall and Sayle Street – as well as the water and sewer lines that run underneath them – city staff plans to begin work on Stonewall in the “late winter” of 2019, and to start on Sayle in June 2020.

The proposed tax rate is projected to raise about $1.89 million – or 15.35 percent – more in revenue compared to the 2018-19 budget.

If the proposed tax rate for 2019-20 of 68.2 cents per $100 valuation is approved by the council on Sept. 24, the amount in local taxes that a resident would pay on a $114,500 house (the average taxable value of a home in Greenville) would be about $780.90.

Throughout the the next five and a half weeks, council members may request amendments to the budget, especially in areas where they might recommend cuts so that the tax rate can be lowered.

“I would push to get us to a rate of 65 cents or below,” Councilman Brent Money said Tuesday. “And, if you want to talk about specific ways to do that, I guess we could.

“I just want to see us continue to ratchet the property tax rate down each year,” Money added.

In the proposed budget, it is projected that each one cent reduction to the local tax rate will result in a $208,738 loss in revenue to the city, according to a presentation given by Greenville City Manager Summer Spurlock at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Also during her presentation, Spurlock compared Greenville’s city property tax rate and median household income to that of 15 “comparison cities.”

Those cities were Cleburne, Rowlett, Wylie, Garland, Denison, Corsicana, Forney, Paris, McKinney, Longview, Plano, Lewisville, Rockwall, Heath and Tyler.

When compared to those cities, Greenville had the fifth highest property tax rate – behind Cleburne, Rowlett, Wylie and Garland – but had the fifth lowest median household income – above Paris, Corsicana, Denison and Longview.

Another tax-related topic brought up at Tuesday’s meeting was a possible freeze on the property tax amount paid by residents aged 65 and older.

The freeze on the tax amount for senior residents – or younger people who are disabled – that some members of the community have been advocating for at city council meetings in recent months is not a freeze on the property tax rate or the property’s appraised value.

It is, instead, a freeze on the tax amount itself, meaning that if a senior citizen were to take advantage of the exemption, and the amount they had to pay in city taxes the year they turned 65 was $300, then they would continue to pay $300 in city taxes year-after-year, regardless of if the tax rate or their property’s value increased.

This has made the proposal attractive to many residents who are living on a fixed income such as social security benefits or pensions.

At the council’s July 23 meeting, Mayor David Dreiling announced that the council does not plan to hold a vote on the freeze until they have “gotten into the numbers” enough in the planning of the 2019-20 city budget.

In response to Dreiling’s comments, former councilman James Evans said he would “begin the petition process” to put the freeze on a future ballot so residents could vote for or against it themselves if consideration of the freeze didn’t appear on the council’s next agenda.

Since there was no official discussion about or consideration of the proposed freeze on the agenda for Tuesday’s city council meeting, registered voters will have the following opportunities to sign the petition.

– Thursday, Aug. 15, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Reecy Davis Recreation Center at 4320 Lee St.

– Monday, Aug. 19 through Friday, Aug. 23, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Terry Driggers Realty Service at 4403 Wesley St.

– Tuesday, Aug. 20, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Senior Citizens Center at 4912 Lee St.

The only requirement to sign the petition is for signees to be registered to vote in Greenville. People who want to sign the petition do not have to be 65 or older.

While four residents did speak in favor of the proposed tax freeze and the council chamber was filled to capacity during the citizens to be heard portion of the meeting with people who came in support of it, Councilman Money warned that such a freeze might make lowering the overall tax rate more difficult.

“Political pressure to freeze taxes for just part of the city makes it more difficult to tow the line for everybody else,” Money said. “To freeze taxes forever for a certain percentage of our population makes me less eager to slash and dash as much as we possibly can … that’s definitely on my mind as I think about what our tax rate should be.”

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Cedric Dean requested that a discussion about the proposed tax freeze for seniors be added to the agenda for the Aug. 27 Greenville City Council meeting.

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email THairgroveReporter@gmail.com.

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