Council Members Brent Erenwert, John Scott and Robert Griffon voted against the proposed 2020-21 tax rate of $0.497314 per $100, which is 4.62% less than the existing rate of $0.521439. The remaining four council members voted in favor of the tax rate, but City Manager Morad Kabiri said that is not enough to approve it. As such, city staff will return to the council later with proposed changes, he said.
Even though the rate is decreasing over $0.02, Friendswood residents will likely pay a bigger property tax bill in FY 2020-21 compared to FY 2019-20 because home values have continued to increase. As such, Scott and Griffon argued the tax rate should be lowered further, especially in light of how COVID-19 has affected residents.
Scott said the 2019-20 budget includes $775,000 in general fund revenue above what was budgeted. He said that extra revenue could be used to help reduce the tax rate. Kabiri agreed that is possible but would require revising the city’s budget policies.
“So we have the money to make up the budget deficit, but we’re choosing not to. So while a lot of citizens are not getting pay raises and many are being laid off, we’re gonna ask those same citizens to pay more for your city government because we can,” Scott said.
Scott said he is on the side of residents who have lost their businesses and have not gotten a raise due to the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
“I want you to know I stand with you,” he told the audience.
Council Member Trish Hanks said only residents who saw their appraised value increase over the past year will pay more in property taxes. Scott countered by saying the tax rate is decreasing because, on average, Friendswood residents' home values increased.
Council Member Steve Rockey pointed out the tax rate is $0.01 higher than it otherwise would be because it includes paying for debt Friendswood residents approved in a recent bond election. The tax rate was around $0.60 a few years ago and has since decreased to $0.52, he said.
“I think we’re being extremely fiscally sound, and we are lowering the tax rate from last year,” Rockey said.
Griffon proposed the city not necessarily make budget cuts but merely slow the rate of government growth to keep the tax rate lower. For instance, he suggested eliminating cell phone allowances among city staff.
After the vote failed, Mayor Mike Foreman expressed his disappointment.
“I’m disappointed that we could not agree on that excellent tax rate,” he said.
The FY 2020-21 budget passed 6-1 with Scott opposed. The budget includes $96.32 million in revenue and $95.76 million in expenses.