A last-ditch effort to trim the city’s budget and return savings to the taxpayers fell short again as the City Council voted 7-0 to maintain the tax rate at 71 cents for the 11th consecutive year.
But the council has already taken steps to offer a homestead exemption for the first time in the 2020 fiscal year.
The council had an hour-long discussion on Sept. 12 about the philosophy of rising property tax appraisals, what the city does with the additional revenue and what the Texas Legislature should do about it next year.
“We also can’t continue to balance the budget on the backs of our existing homeowners and continue to raise taxes at our current pace,” said Councilman Casey Lewis. “That’s unsustainable and it’s unfair and it doesn’t fall in line with the philosophy that growth pays to growth.”
While Mansfield’s tax rate didn’t change, a hot real estate market and desirable school district have sent property appraisals soaring in Mansfield and throughout Tarrant County. It leaves some Mansfield residents feeling priced out of their homes. But there’s no easy solution.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who is campaigning for the Nov. 6 election, has proposed a cap on how much a home’s property tax appraisal can go up each year.
“It is time to fix this broken system,” Abbott said in his campaign video.
Mayor David Cook said the real solution will come from Austin but Abbott’s plan wouldn’t necessarily reduce taxes, just the annual appraisal increase.
“We’ve got to get to Austin and have our state legislature take care of how property taxes are assessed,” Cook said.
City Manager Clayton Chandler said a 20 percent homestead exemption, the maximum allowed in Texas, would cost Mansfield more than $6 million. “You’re talking about huge cuts to make that happen,” Chandler said.
“There has been a huge effort made in this budget to get to where we are.”
Last month, Cook urged city staff to look for $900,000 in savings in the budget. He made it clear he didn’t want to get rid of merit raises for employees. He wanted to look for savings with the city’s share of employee health insurance costs.
The $900,000 is how much property appraisals will go up for existing property owners citywide, excluding new construction.
“It is late in the process and I’ve been focused on this number,” Cook said. “When people talk about being taxed out of their house in Mansfield, that number equals $900,000. I would like to see us start working on strategies in February or March so we can have a homestead exemption ready by July 1, 2019.”
The council approved the 2019 fiscal year budget as staff presented 5-2 with Cook and Lewis voting against it.
Councilman Mike Leyman said he wants to see the city’s rising sales tax eventually take some of the burden off taxpayers. He said he brought that up last month but got no support.
“All these discussions should have been held some time ago,” Leyman said.
The budget includes six firefighters, four police officers and the funds to purchase land and start design on a fifth fire station.
Other positions will likely be left unfilled, such as executive secretaries and planning and zoning director, while the city continues to grow at a fast pace, Chandler said.
The city took another hit when the Mansfield Jail lost a $7.4 million contract that it didn’t anticipate, Chandler said.
Cook established two subcommittees to explore ways to cut costs. Leyman will chair a budget committee with Lewis and Councilman Terry Moore. And Councilman Larry Broseh will chair an insurance subcommittee with Cook and Councilman Brent Newsom.
Trash service will stay the same
The City Council voted unanimously to renew its contract with Republic Services to continue offering trash services for another five years, though the cost will go up. Customers currently pay $11.49 per month for twice-a-week trash and bulky pickup and once-a-week recycling pickup.
The new rate will be $13.10 per month. Senior citizens and handicapped residents get a $1.05 discount on the monthly rate.
The rate will go up from year-to-year but it’s capped at 3 percent. If Republic Services wants to raise the rate higher than that, they will need council authorization.
A few months ago, Republic Services proposed converting to once-a-week automated trash pickup. The rate increase would have been smaller in that case because Republic would be using a robot arm instead of manual labor to pick up the trash.
But residents balked at the once-a-week option, saying they like the flexibility of the current service and don’t want to use the 95-gallon bins for trash.
A survey conducted by the city found 72 percent of Mansfield residents are happy with the current trash service and more than 60 percent opposed changing it.