GUIDE: Understanding the language used by local governing bodies

Here is a list of commonly used words one might hear while listening to a city council meeting or reading through an commission agenda.

Here is a list of commonly used words one might hear while listening to a city council meeting or reading through an commission agenda.

Reading a city council or school board agenda is hard enough without the added jargon. Here is a list of commonly used words one might hear at a local government meeting or while flipping through a school board agenda. Information was gathered from various entities' documents and codes.

*This is not a comprehensive list and will be updated periodically.


Ad Valorem Tax


Ad valorem—"according to value" in Latin—taxes are based on the value of a transaction or property. The tax can be implemented at the time of the transaction, such as with sale taxes, or annually, like with a property tax. Each city's property tax is different and is set by city council.

See the approved tax rates for San Marcos, Buda and Kyle.





Amendment


Planning and zoning commissioners or council members can propose that a motion or adopted ordinance be changed for anything from a minor technical correction to a complete reversal of the original motion’s meaning and intent. If amendments occur, council will first vote on the proposed amendments and then on the item as amended or without amendments as the case may be.





Annex/annexation
To incorporate a land area into an existing district or municipality, with a resulting change in the boundaries of the annexing jurisdiction.





Bond
When a city, county or school district issues a bond, it is creating a certificate of debt which guarantees the payment of the original investment, plus interest, by a specified future date. Funds raised through the sale of bonds can be used for various public purposes. Certain entities have restrictions on what they can use the money for. Certain bonds may  require voter approval.

Buda, for example, recently completed one of its five bond projects paid for by a 2014 voter-approved bond.





Capital Improvement Plan 
City or county government and school districts create Capital Improvement Plans, or CIPs, that list specific projects needed to improve the school district or city/county through the next few years. CIPs are updated at least annually. CIPs are approved along with the budget each fiscal year and can be amended throughout the year. The first year of projects typically has funding secured.

As an example, about $49 million is budgeted for 2018 projects approved in San Marcos's approved CIP. 





Certificate of Occupancy
A building cannot be occupied without having a certificate of occupancy. It is an official document that states the building conforms to all zoning and building codes.





Consent Agenda
A consent agenda lists items that have usually already been discussed and are ready for adoption. Elected officials can pull items from the consent agenda if they wish to speak about it further.





Development Agreement
A development agreement in Texas is a contractual agreement between a city and a property owner or company that is interested in developing a piece of land.  Agreements can supersede certain rules, regulations and policies applicable to development of a property for a specified period of time, usually in exchange for certain concessions by the owner.

PGI Investments, which will develop the property at the intersection of I-35 and Yarrington Road, is an example of a developer agreement.





Easement
An easement is a piece of property owned by another for specific purposes or to gain access to another property. For example, utility companies often have easements on the private property of individuals to be able to install and maintain utility facilities.

For example, the Alliance Regional Water Authority, which is building a regional water pipeline to provide more water to cities along I-35, will need to acquire easements to build.





Executive session
Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, governing bodies can schedule or call a closed meeting, or executive session, to:

  • Discuss specific personnel matters;

  • Consult with the attorney;

  • Discuss the value or transfer of real property;

  • Talk about security issues and personnel;

  • Consider prospective gift or donation to a governmental body;

  • Discuss certain economic development matters;

  • Talk about information relating to the subject of emergencies and disasters;

  • Discuss any test that individual need to acquire to renew a license or certificate;

  • Deliberate competitive matters relating to a city-owned electric or gas utility for which the city council is the governing body.







Extraterritorial Jurisdiction
An unincorporated area of land outside of a city’s limits.







Mixed-use development




The development of a site or building with two or more principal or primary uses including, but not limited to residential, office, manufacturing, retail, public or entertainment uses.

The Lindsey Hill project, proposed to be built in place of the Lamar complex in San Marcos, is an example of a mixed-use development.









Motion
A proposed decision or action relating to a particular agenda item. For example, if the item is about transit options, a council member may put forward a motion to build a subway instead of light rail.





Municipal Utility District
A Municipal Utility District is a limited and independent government agency that helps developers find alternate ways to finance infrastructure, such as water, sewer, drainage and road facilities. MUDs can provide services such as parks and recreation, deed restriction enforcement and solid waste services.





Overlay
A land use designation on the General Plan Land Use Map, or a zoning designation on a zoning map, that modifies the basic underlying designation in some specific manner. For example, overlay zones are often used on areas with special characteristics, like flood zones or historical areas. Development of land subject to an overlay must comply with the regulations of both zones.





Planned Unit Development (PUD)
Land use zoning which allows the adoption of a set of development standards that are specific to a particular project. PUD zones usually do not contain detailed development standards. Those are established during the process of considering proposals and adopted by ordinance upon project approval.





Plat
A plat is a map of a lot, parcel, subdivision or development area where the lines of each land division are shown by accurate distances and bearings.





Public Improvement Districts (PID)
A Public Improvement District uses money assessed against property owners in a specific area to fund various types of improvements or maintenance.





Quorum
The minimum number of elected or appointed officials needed to hold a meeting.





Referendum
A voter challenge to legislative action. When enough signatures are filed, the governing body must either rescind its decision or place the issue on the ballot for a vote.





Unified Development Code 










The Unified Development Code—which can also be referred to as a Land Development Code—consolidates all development-related regulations, including zoning requirements, subdivision regulations, design and development standards and review procedures into one document. 

The city of San Marcos is currently going through an overhaul of its land development code, called Code SMTX.
















Variance
A property owner can receive an exemption from certain zoning regulations because compliance would result in a particular hardship upon the owner. A variance may be granted, for example, to reduce yard or setback requirements, or the number of parking or loading spaces.





Zoning
Zoning divides a city into various districts, with regulations on what type of development is allowed, and what sort of amenities must be provided, within each district. There are primary, citywide zones that carry throughout each neighborhood, but neighborhood-specific zoning can be implemented as well.




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