Meetings continue at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at Gun Barrel City Hall to address questions
By David Webb
GUN BARREL CITY–Fifty residents quizzed city officials last week at the first of a series of scheduled town hall meetings on a proposed city ad valorem tax set for the Nov. 4 ballot.
The residents at the Sept. 11 meeting included full-time residents and weekenders who packed City Hall to hear city officials present the plan to raise the property tax from zero to $0.2599 per $100 valuation. Only full-time residents will be eligible to vote in the election, but weekenders also raised concerns about the new tax liability they would face if voters approve the measure.
Mayor Jim Braswell kicked off the meeting by telling the audience the city could not provide the services residents will need on sales tax revenue alone. “It’s a three-letter word I hate to hear,” Braswell said of the proposed tax. “On the other hand, what I want to see done for this city that you tell me you want can’t be done of sales tax revenue.”
Braswell noted there are 35 empty store fronts in Gun Barrel City, and those business failures represent decreasing sales tax revenue.
Braswell said city officials would no longer pursue a previously announced plan to use new property tax revenue to fund $11 million in bonds for widespread road improvements and upgrades to police and fire protection services. Instead, the estimated $1.1 million in annual revenue from the tax would be directly spent on improvements on a lengthier schedule.
Braswell said city officials could not by state law campaign for the tax, but he asked residents to consider what they could do to improve the city’s quality of life. “We are not here to sell you on a property tax,” Braswell said. “If you don’t want it, vote no. If you want to give back a little to the city, … ask what we as citizens can do to be proud of our town?”
City officials said Gun Barrel City is one of only four cities in the state with a population of more than 4,000 residents that does not assess a property tax. They noted Gun Barrel City is the second largest city in Henderson County and the Cedar Creek Lake area, and that most of the other cities surrounding the lake assess a property tax. Payne Springs was said to have the lowest rate at 3 cents per $100 valuation, but that tax was repealed several years ago. Kemp has the highest tax rate at 92 cents per $100 valuation, according to a document distributed at the meeting. However, a City of Kemp spokesperson told The Monitor the city’s tax rate is 89.3564 cents per $100 valuation.
Braswell said the city needs to become more aggressive in fighting illegal drug activity that spawns other types of crimes, and that it will require the hiring of more police officers and equipment. It costs $100,000 to put another officer in a squad car on the streets, and it cost $250,000 to reconstruct one lane of one mile of road, city officials said.
Braswell said if voters approve the measure, city officials would make the promised improvements and be transparent about the expensing of the funds.
“I’m proud of this little town,” Braswell said. “We are the hub of the lake. We’re going to do nothing but get stronger and better.”
Braswell’s comments met significant criticism from some members of the audience who complained the new tax is starting off too high after being zero, that property taxes are inequitable because residents with more expensive homes pay more for the same services than owners of less expensive homes and that city officials would likely be asking to increase the property tax in future years.
Some residents complained that Gun Barrel City officials had failed the community by not building a public boat ramp that would attract more visitors to the lake. One resident suggested the City Council postpone requesting for the tax increase until it builds more “trust” with the community or that it decrease the amount of the tax.
City officials said they are considering a plan to purchase land that could be used for a public boat ramp, and that the new property tax revenue would help free up some sales tax revenue to help achieve that goal.
After the meeting, Braswell acknowledged many residents seem resistant to the property tax, but he expressed optimism that residents will realize how important its passage is to the city. “I think it’s going to be a hard fight, but we have all the faith in the world we are going to get this through.”
Braswell said the council and other city officials would continue to hold the town hall meetings on the property tax every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall until the election. “We’ll be here every Thursday as until no one shows up,” he said.
The proposed property tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home after exemptions to pay $259.90 in taxes annually.
There will be a $10,000 homestead exemption and a $15,000 over 65-years-old exemption from the appraised value if the measure is approved. Disabled veterans would receive an exemption of up to $15,000 based on the percentage of disability if they are under 65.
The disability exemption would expire when the resident reaches 65 because the over 65 exemption would begin, officials explained.