As taxable property values rise in Jersey Village, city officials have planned several projects for fiscal year 2022-23 while maintaining the same $0.7425 per $100 valuation tax rate as the previous year.

About $16 million in capital improvements includes work on the new Jersey Meadow Golf Course clubhouse and convention center, Seattle Street reconstruction, flood mitigation efforts along the south fork of White Oak Bayou, home elevations, and improvements to the fire station and golf course, according to the budget documents.

The Jersey Village City Council unanimously approved the city’s $18.6 million general fund budget Aug. 15 ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. Highlights include the hiring of six new full-time firefighters/paramedics to combat an ongoing shortage, an increase in the budget for the annual Founder’s Day celebration, wage increases for many part-time city employees, and cost increases for energy and fuel for city vehicles due to inflation.

“Everyone on council is very cognizant regarding the fact that expenses are going up everywhere, and expenses are certainly going up for the city as well. We didn’t want to put the entirety of that burden on our citizens through property taxes, ... which is why we pushed for the increase in the homestead exemption [approved in June] and why we’re trying ... to keep the tax rate as low as possible,” Mayor Bobby Warren said during the Aug. 15 City Council meeting.

Prioritizing projects

Between preliminary budget discussions in July and the budget approval Aug. 15, city officials recommended postponing several projects to keep the tax rate as is.

“We had some projects that would have been part of the [capital improvement plan] that we just don't have the money for this year to do all of those ... just given the tax rate and the priority of adding firefighters this year,” City Manager Austin Bleess told Community Impact Newspaper.

This included a $50,000 covered parking project at the fire station, a $43,000 Christmas tree, a $150,000 sandbox renovation project at Carol Fox Park, $3.5 million in street projects, $300,000 in decorative street lighting, $30,000 in dog park improvements and the $11 million City Hall construction. California-based KHJR Real Estate Advisory Services is developing a 43-acre town center off Hwy. 290 and Jones Road, which could include a new City Hall.

Several major projects are still slated to move forward next fiscal year, however, including the city’s golf course clubhouse and convention center. City Council in March authorized Bleess to enter an agreement with FGM Architects on the project, and $6.3 million was included for this project in the FY 2022-23 budget. He said the project is in the design phase, and potential designs should be ready to share with City Council and the public in the coming weeks.

Additionally, work on the Seattle Street reconstruction will continue with a $3.4 million contribution from the city.

Another $600,000 is going toward the E-127 flood mitigation project in partnership with the Harris County Flood Control District to improve drainage along the south fork of White Oak Bayou. This project is also in the design phase, and construction could begin in FY 2023-24, Bleess said.

The tax rate

Jersey Village City Council members reviewed and discussed the budget proposed by city staff for more than five hours July 18-19. Calculations at the time were based on a tax rate increase to $0.760157 per $100 valuation.

“I don’t like a situation where we’ve got to raise taxes, but at the same time, expenses are going up. All of the supplementals are recurring costs that are absolutely necessary. When you go through and you look, there’s no splurging. It’s all under public safety and maintaining our current facilities and doing the things that everyone agrees city government should be doing,” Warren said July 19.

Days later, the Harris County Appraisal District provided the city with certified taxable property value estimates July 25. Since the certified estimates were about $59.8 million higher than preliminary estimates, staff then recommended keeping the current $0.7425 per $100 valuation tax rate.

Bleess said because of the state’s deadlines for cities to approve budgets and set tax rates, city officials had to prepare the preliminary budget before the HCAD sent the certified values.

“It’s something that we’ve raised with our state representatives as well to see if we can’t get something that works better with the timelines. It’s just how we have to function right now under state law,” Bleess said.

The city’s projected property tax revenue is up nearly 10% year over year.

Although the tax rate itself will not be increasing, the average Jersey Village resident will be paying about 2.5% more in city property taxes due to increased property values, according to city documents. Council approved an increased homestead exemption from 14%-20% of the appraised value in June.

A resident whose home was valued at $300,000 and had both the 14% homestead exemption and the $100,000 over-age-65 homestead exemption paid $1,173 in taxes to the city last year. This year, if that same resident’s home increased to a $330,000 valuation, the homeowner would pay $1,218 in taxes to the city in the coming year—a $45 increase.

Former Mayor Andrew Mitcham spoke in favor of the proposed tax rate increase on July 19, but other residents spoke out asking the city to cut additional projects and not increase taxes.

“You ended up looking at things to remove from the budget to be able to keep it at the rate that it is currently ... and you guys continue to continue wasting more and more of the taxpayers’ money on the golf course,” said Mark Maloy, Jersey Village resident and former council member, at the Aug. 15 meeting.