The City of Harlingen’s proposed tax scheme is on hold due to a lawsuit arguing the city broke the law and denied citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns before approving the tax hike.
Earlier this year, Texas Scorecard reported on the City of Harlingen’s attempt to raise the property tax rate by 4 cents. The proposed tax hike will amount to a 7 percent increase and comes ahead of a pro-taxpayer property tax reform set to go into effect in 2020.
However, that tax hike is in limbo due to a challenge from Robert Leftwich, a Harlingen citizen and former city commissioner.
This year, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2840 by State Rep. Terry Canales (D–Edinburg), which amends the public comment process for local government meetings. Under the bill, local governments must provide citizens an opportunity to voice their opinions at any meeting before the consideration of agenda items.
Leftwich alleges that on September 4, the city commission denied him a chance to speak before taking a vote on first reading of the ordinance. Mayor Chris Boswell and the city commission deny the allegations.
In district court, Leftwich’s case was dismissed by Judge Janet Leal on grounds that she did not have standing to issue a ruling after the city made a jurisdictional plea. This led Leftwich’s lawyer to comment to The Valley Morning Star that he had suspicions the decision was political. Leftwich claimed the judge dismissed the case without hearing evidence, including a video he claims shows Boswell denying citizens the right to speak before holding a vote on the hike.
The funds raised by the proposed tax rate are intended to fund $1.3 million in one-time capital expenditures, including police cars, fire trucks, a library elevator, and a city hall generator. All of this unfolds as the city prepares to begin construction on their “Destination Park,” a multimillion-dollar super park and event center with several attractions but a hefty price tag—$8.5 million.
That price is just an estimate and could change, as officials are already considering a $1.2 million retractable roof over the baseball park. The super park will feature an entry court, pavilion, amphitheater, and an athletic court, among many other features; local officials say they intend for the super park to generate more sales tax revenue.
Phase one begins following the city’s awarding of a $3.3 million contract to a construction company. This comes at a time when property tax revenues in Harlingen are skyrocketing, the citizens are grappling with costs incurred from flood damages, and the city also plans to raise the property tax rate by 4 cents.
In response to the case’s dismissal, Leftwich stated he intends to appeal to the 13th Circuit Court of Appeals.