White Settlement looks to raise property taxes

It's not every day that residents ask the City Council to increase the property tax rate. But a standing-room-only crowd at the White Settlement council meeting this week did just that.

Faced with a 16.4 percent drop in property values -- the largest in Tarrant County -- city officials are trying to balance the $8 million operating budget proposed for the next fiscal year.

During this month's budget workshop discussions, several council members suggested leaving the property tax rate at 68 cents per $100 of assessed value and taking $402,000 from reserves to balance the budget.

But City Manager Linda Ryan cautioned against that idea because the city has to help pay for the Farmers Branch Creek flood control project. The $18 million project, being built with the help of the federal government, would replace three bridges and widen the creek.

Voters approved a $6.1 million bond package in 2005 to fix the flooding problem.

Ryan suggested increasing the property tax rate to 82 cents, the amount needed to bring in as much revenue as White Settlement collected this year.

However, she added that an increase to 77 cents would keep the city from having a substantial shortfall and that most property owners' taxes wouldn't increase because of the lower property values.

The council is scheduled to adopt the budget and the 77-cent tax rate at its Sept. 14 meeting.

The proposed budget calls for laying off one full-time and two part-time employees while freezing eight vacant positions, including assistant city manager.

Alan Price, who spoke during Tuesday's meeting, said he doesn't mind a higher property tax rate, although his taxes will probably go up.

"I don't want to cut services," Price said. "I don't want to see things [city departments] closed down."

Price criticized the council members who wanted to keep the 68-cent tax rate and tap into the city's reserve funds.

"They are like little kids. They can't make up their minds," he said. "... Don't take money out of reserves to rob Peter to pay Paul."

Paula Vess said she has been following the budget discussions and also favors the increase.

"I don't want to see cuts in services for senior citizens, fire or police," Vess said. "The council needs to look at all of the issues."

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696