Now one step closer to asking voters to levy a property tax for the first time in nearly thirty years, the Stafford City Council laid out their plan to bring in revenue to meet the city’s needs. 

Under former Mayor Leonard Scarcella, Stafford gradually reduced its property tax revenue while increasing its sales taxes to fill the gap. The city operated under this mechanism for the duration of Scarcella’s long-running term, nearly thirty years, but since his death, new leaders have started calling for a property tax.

Stafford’s current budget spends 48 percent on police and fire, not unlike most cities; however, city council members are saying they are still short of the necessary resources to staff public safety agencies. The city faces a $2.2 million deficit in the upcoming budget and cannot fill police department vacancies. They had roughly the same deficit last year and borrowed from its reserve funds to close the gap.

Many council members ran campaigns on a “no property tax” vow but are now saying they can’t survive off it like in years past. One council member even equated the position reversal on property taxes to “visionary leaders” changing course after events out of their control, specifically referencing President George W. Bush and September 11.

Taxpayers showed up, some in favor and some against, with one woman saying she moved to Stafford specifically because the city levied no property taxes and will fight to ensure it remains that way. 

Under the proposal, they would increase the homestead exemption to the highest allowable by the state—20 percent—and council members say that 80 percent of the property tax revenue will come from commercial taxpayers. The final proposal would come when they consider the budget on July 19. The budget would have a proposed tax rate, or not, and if it does then the tax rate election will be held in November. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.