By Elsa Maxey
This Monday, the Missouri City city council voted to keep the same tax rate of $0.5284 “for more one year,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Wyatt, when he made the motion. There was a penny and a half increase recommended by city administration due to a shortfall in property tax revenues received by the city, close to $800,000 short of what the city expected to get.
On the agenda there was a one time reading for an ordinance calling for the rate hike, “below the effective tax rate,” which at least one council member referred to as “spin” since he said the tax rate would go up, if they approved it.
After discussions about foreclosures affecting the collected property taxes, lowering of property assessments in some cases while others went up, the focus became the use of the city’s fund balance to offset the budget shortfall rather than increasing the tax rate.
Mayor Allen Owen said that when the city received its tax rolls, they were “3.5 percent less revenue than what it was last year.”
“We told people we would not raise the tax rate,” Wyatt said. “We haven’t looked at what we can reduce,” added Councilmember Robin Elackatt.
Leaving the tax rate the same would mean that about $760,000 would have to be cut out of the current year, advised Interim City Manager Alan Mueller, on an already tight budget adopted by the city in June.
In the end, the city elected officials decided to bring down the fund balance, somewhat akin to the state’s Rainy Day fund, reported to be at just under $6.7 million. The consensus was that its reduction from 21 to 20 percent would not affect bonds, “just make next year more difficult.”
Earlier during the meeting, there was an agenda item for action related to a change order questioned by Councilmember Danny Nguyen. Essentially, he said it had the appearance of circumventing a bid process to the tune of about $400,000 for the okay nod to a contractor already engaged with the city. The item on the agenda called for authorizing the city manager to make a change order on the construction of the $57 million surface water treatment plant for a component that was not included in the original bid.
“We need to have more options and proposals to choose from instead of just one contractor, for this is one of biggest projects, as a matter of fact the largest project in history of Missouri City.” said Nguyen. He said it could have the effect of saving taxpayers thousands of dollars. Assistant City Manager Scott Elmer said that “by law, up to 25 percent of the value” of a project can be a change order. More to come.