After a series of hearings, and a debate over whether to lower the tax rate, Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a $348 million budget for the 16-17 fiscal year.
Leading into the final budget hearing, County Judge Craig Doyal proposed dropping the property tax rate by a quarter of a cent per $100 dollars in valuation, however, Pct. 3 Commissioner James Noack did not think the quarter cent cut went far enough, and instead proposed cutting the tax rate by a full cent.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Mike Meador initially was vocally opposed to any reduction in the tax rate, and during one hearing questioned the responsibility of lowering taxes, saying, “I don’t know if we want to risk that.”
The cuts were to come out of the Capital Improvement Fund, as Doyal explained, “In this year’s budget we were able to set aside some capital funds for capital projects going forward. We had $13 million last year, we’ve proposed $13 million this year. If we drop that capital fund to $11.7 we can drop the tax rate by a quarter of a cent.”
Rallying public support for his plan, Noack argued for a more substantial cut:
“What I’m proposing is that we cut the rate by a full penny, something that is both measurable and meaningful… If the county is going to be able to set up a reserve fund, so should the citizens. Now it’s time that our taxpayers are the ones who get to experience meaningful relief.”
In the end, after public input and support expressed by taxpayers, the court voted to approve Noack’s plan and cut the tax rate by one cent, from $.4767 to $.4667. Instead of making the cut from the CIF, commissioners decided to cut the annual cost of living adjustment of county employees from 3% to 1%.
That move drew visible dismay from many bureaucrats in the audience.
The County Auditor informed the commissioners that the COLA for their own salaries could not be changed in time for the budget deadline because of the time required for public notice. After backlash from a self-proposed 10% salary increase, commissioners were unwilling to cut the COLA of county employees while leaving their own intact. They promptly rescinded their vote on the tax rate, and later reconvened and approved the cuts out of the CIF as originally proposed.
While reducing the tax rate is a step in the right direction in securing meaningful tax relief for Montgomery County property owners, a long term, comprehensive solution is going to require reforming the appraisal process. What little relief taxpayers see is often eaten up by rising appraised property values in the fast developing suburban county.
The Montgomery County Appraisal District Board of Directors is chaired by a former county commissioner, Ed Chance. In addition to Chance, two current county commissioners, Mike Meador Pct. 1, and Charlie Riley, Pct. 2, also sit on the board.
While Doyal does not believe that having the same officials setting policy for property appraisals and also setting the tax rate is a conflict, he did acknowledge that appraisals are a significant problem in Montgomery County.
“We’re in a position where we’re seeing appraisals go up every day,” said Doyal. “I hear every day from people that their appraisals are completely out of line, which is really the big hit that people are taking.”