Leander Looks to Cut Taxes, Spending - Texas Scorecard

As cities across Central Texas prepare to raise taxes, one town is going against the grain with a different proposal: letting citizens keep more of their own hard-earned cash.

Leander City Council, with a freshly elected reform-minded majority, is preparing to pass a budget where they will actually lower the tax rate below the “effective” rate—meaning that, unlike most of their neighbors across the state, many Leander property taxpayers should actually see a decrease in their tax bill next year.

Last week, the Leander City Council voted 5-1 to set a proposed tax rate of $0.541867 per $100 of taxable value. That rate is 1 cent lower than the current rate and six-tenths of a cent lower than the effective tax rate—meaning that it’s actually a real tax cut.

While small, the move is a substantial step in the right direction for Leander taxpayers who had been subjected to increase after increase for over a decade.

Indeed, previous Leander City Councils demanded more and more of their citizens’ money all while building a wall of expensive construction rules, straining their citizens and keeping new businesses away from their streets, effectively creating a high-tax ghost town that was desolate of anything but homes.

While surrounding cities such as Cedar Park and Round Rock were flooded with new places to work, shop, and eat, Leander blocked growth.

But last year, citizens finally took back control, electing a new mayor and council member who both pledged to be pro-business and pro-taxpayer. And just a few months ago, Leander residents again elected three more reform-minded council members who also campaigned on breaking the city’s self-inflicted drought, a victory that finally shifted city council’s power into the hands of pro-taxpayer members.

The new council quickly acted, firing the old city manager and seemingly charting a path toward prosperity and out of the slump past councils and the city bureaucracy created.

“The city needs to go [in] a new direction with a focus on economic development and lessening the tax burden on property owners,” Mayor Troy Hill said in May, following their decision to fire the city manager. “Our council felt a change was necessary to make this happen.”

By proposing a budget that actually shrinks the size of government—even if only a little bit—Hill and the other four reform-minded members of the Leander City Council are making good on their promises.

However, the vast majority of Leander taxpayers would likely still say they’re over-taxed; the average homeowner is now paying a whopping $400 more per year to their city government than they did in 2012.

These taxpayers know there are still more available savings and efficiencies their local officials could use to reduce taxes further, and it would be encouraging for the city council to explore them. On that topic, redirecting economic development monies to infrastructure, further winnowing of regulations, and a forensic audit are all relatively simple reforms the council should consider.

The Leander City Council has stopped the situation from getting worse for taxpayers, and that is undoubtedly a win. But there is still a lot of work to do—and citizens still have time to encourage the council to do it.

The public meetings regarding the city budget on September 5 and 19 are great places to start. The details can be found here.