Despite concern for taxpayers and reticence about matching the 8% rollback rate, Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to approve its $1.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20 and a tax rate of $0.369293 per $100 of taxable value to balance it.
“I think all of us are aware that this is probably not the most acceptable budget to the majority of the public,” said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who represents Precinct 3, at a Sept. 24 meeting.
Currently, state law allows for taxing entities to increase property tax revenue by up to 8% year-over-year. If a taxing entity exceeds that rate—known as the rollback rate—voters have the option to circulate a petition calling for an election on whether to approve the proposed increase.
Under the approved tax rate, the owner of an average-value home will see an annual increase of around $126 in their property tax bill to the county.
“I feel the need to bring forward the message that I’ve gotten from taxpayers, and this is not comfortable at all, hearing from them. And especially when they say, ‘I guess I’ll have to leave Travis County,’” Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez said.”We’ll just face the heat on this because of some of the things we want done in Travis County to be progressive and to respect people’s rights and needs.”
The approved tax rate represents a 8% increase over the effective maintenance and operations tax rate, which approaches the rollback rate and represents a sharp increase over past years.
Between FY 2013-14 and FY 2018-19, the county has raised its effective maintenance and operations rate by an average of 2.7%.
“Travis County has been, I think, exceptionally frugal,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea said.
This year’s budget process has been impacted by the Legislature’s decision to implement a property tax revenue cap, which will take effect in October 2020 and reduce the rollback rate from 8% to 3.5%
“We are responding to terrible public policy, and we are having to do uncomfortable things,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion said.
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt emphasized the need to continue investments in county transit projects; criminal justice planning efforts, including the creation of a general public defender’s office; and compensation for county staff.
“Given what the Legislature has done, we find it necessary to go to the 8% [rollback rate] in order to continue to deliver on these plans that we were asked to make by the constituents,” Eckhardt said.
Once the cap takes effect, the county will be less able to build reserves for long-term investments and capital projects, commissioners and county staff have reiterated for months.
"This is a prudent action on our part in order to have some kind of cushion going forward," Shea said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the annual increase to the average taxpayer and the annual increase in the maintenance and operations tax rate.