Home Fair Oaks Ranch Fair Oaks Ranch in uproar over tax hike

Fair Oaks Ranch in uproar over tax hike

Budget built on strategic plan to fund services, city manager says

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FAIR OAKS RANCH — Several residents are expressing dismay over a nearly 4-cent increase in the town’s property tax rate, but city officials argue the hike is needed to keep operations running smoothly.

Once thought of as a retirement community, the city lately has seen an influx of new residents including families with children. Services are trying to keep up, authorities said.

“After noticing Fair Oaks Ranch had raised the tax rate over the last several years, I was watching to see if taxes would again be raised this year,” said resident Seth Mitchell, who posted his own findings to a social-media site. “I thought I should speak up. Never before had Fair Oaks Ranch proposed to adopt a rate nearly 4 cents higher than the previous year’s rate without citizen approval.”

The city by law held two public hearings in September on the new tax rate of 36.6 cents per $100 valuation before the City Council approved it. Last year’s rate was 32.9 cents.

The new rate helps to fund a $7.6 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2019, which began Oct. 1.

Officials with the 30-year-old city, which has an estimated population of 9,100, said they’ve been communicating the changes to residents for some time.

“We have built our budget based on our strategic plan,” said City Manager Tobin Maples. “Yes, we’re doing rollback rates, but that’s the cost for these services we are providing. Since we don’t have sales taxes like (nearby) Boerne, we have to deliver the same services on a smaller budget.”

According to a budget summary, “The total property tax rate will raise more revenue than last year by an amount of $839,371, of which $251,309 is raised from new property.”

That figure is also above the rollback rate, officials said — the debt-service portion of the rollback-tax rate is the current year’s debt service payments divided by the property values for the same year.

“We are proposing a tax rate higher than the lower of the effective or rollback rate,” said city Finance Director Sarah Buckelew in a memo.

According to a city memo, “The rollback tax rate is the highest tax rate that the city of Fair Oaks Ranch may adopt before voters are entitled to petition for an election to limit the rate that may be approved to the rollback rate.”

The memo, which alerted residents to budget hearings Sept. 6 and 13, said the new monies will help to hire 12 more city personnel, continue street maintenance, replace aging technology for city employees, and secure police and public-works equipment.

Under the tax hike, owners of a $100,000 home in the city would see an annual boost of $39.70 on their tax bill, officials said. However, median home values in Fair Oaks Ranch range around $400,000 to $500,000, according to online real estate sources.

Residents at the meeting spoke both for and against the change.

Wes Pieper, former mayoral candidate who remains active at council sessions, shares Mitchell’s frustrations with the increase and rollback rate.

“The tax raise is a symptom of everything I’ve seen since I got brought into this fold,” said Pieper, whose land was annexed last year by Fair Oaks Ranch. “I don’t think people grasp what’s going on. We didn’t give them a blank check; we gave them a blank checkbook.”

Mitchell said some denizens feel City Hall doesn’t hear them.

“Both council members and their surrogates on social media have made statements suggesting that to voice your opposition to the tax rate and proposed budget, you must have first attended all the budget workshops and City Council meetings and then come out of those meetings with sufficient knowledge of the budget to describe line by line what items to leave in or out,” he said. “Very few can do that.”

Jaime Patterson, a neighbor and disabled veteran, said the increase might prove too much for some families.

The city’s stance seems to be “just give us all your money and don’t worry about it,” Patterson added.

The city also offers tax exemptions to disabled veterans and those over 65 years old.

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