Despite growing sales tax receipts and a more-than-healthy reserve fund of approximately $61 million, Midland County Commissioners are proposing a 9 percent increase on property taxes. If passed, the new rate would allow the county to collect more than $3.5 million in additional revenue from both existing and new properties.

The vote, which took place at last Tuesday’s commissioner’s court meeting, set the maximum property tax rate at 15.5992 cents per $100 valuation. Despite it being the same rate as the prior year, it represents a staggering 9 percent increase over the effective tax rate, which is the rate that would generate the same amount of revenue from the same properties as the previous year (taking into account property valuation changes).

While elected officials often tout their relatively “low tax rate”, it is important to understand that a low tax rate doesn’t mean a low tax bill. Rather, a true picture of a government’s spending habits can instead be seen in its receipts.

In Midland County’s case, despite low rates, their revenue from property taxes has grown 5 percent annually on average due to rising property valuations. Meanwhile, sales tax receipts have grown by an annual average of 9 percent.

The commissioners’ decision comes in the wake of major property tax reform efforts being defeated in Austin. During both the regular and special legislative sessions, a bill authored by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and championed by Gov. Greg Abbott as his “number one priority”, would have empowered taxpayers by granting them an automatic say on property tax increases above a certain amount.

Opposition to the bill primarily consisted of government entities using tax dollars to lobby against taxpayer protections. Opponents claimed that the bill would usurp local control and limit government funding.

While property tax reform measures swept through the Texas Senate with ease, it was killed in the Texas House by Speaker Joe Straus.

Given the popularity of the measure with voters, as well as the looming chance of a second special session, many local governments are hedging their bets by ramming property tax increases through before they’re forced to gain approval by voters.

In this case, it seems Midland County isn’t an exception.

If the bill had passed, Midlanders would have had the opportunity to give an up or down vote on the proposal. But since it didn’t they’ll be forced to rely on the mercy of their local officials.

Residents have an opportunity to voice their support or opposition to the proposed tax increase on August 24 at 3pm and August 28 at 11am. A hearing on the FY 17-18 budget will be held on September 11. All hearings will take place in the Commissioner’s Courtroom at 500 N. Loraine.

Lauren Melear

Lauren Melear leads the West Texas Bureau of Texas Scorecard. When not working, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog, as well as cooking, working out, traveling to the hill country, and cheering on the fightin' Texas Aggies.

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