Travis County citizens can look forward to higher tax bills next year, while their county officials are looking forward to higher salaries.
On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to approve their new $1.2 billion budget and tax rate for the next fiscal year, raising taxes roughly $126 for the average county homeowner (the county is taking roughly $400 more per year compared to 11 years ago.)
What are commissioners doing with the influx of your cash? They’re pocketing a lot of it.
Commissioners raised their own salaries by 14 percent in the new budget, stockpiling an extra $16,000 this year. On top of that, they already have another pay increase planned for next year; assuming they approve that, they’ll have boosted their $106,000 salary up to $151,817 in just three years.
“I think all of us are aware that this is probably not the most acceptable budget to the majority of the public,” said Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the lone Republican on the court. He called the raises “embarrassing,” but voted for the new budget anyway.
“I feel the need to bring forward the message that I’ve gotten from taxpayers, and this is not comfortable at all […] especially when they say, ‘I guess I’ll have to leave Travis County,’” said Commissioner Margaret Gomez. “We’ll just face the heat on this because of some of the things we want done in Travis County to be progressive and to respect people’s rights and needs.”
Yet despite the court’s decision to pad their individual bank accounts, they blamed their tax increase and spending decisions on the state government.
“Given what the Legislature has done, we find it necessary to [raise taxes] 8 percent in order to continue to deliver on these plans that we were asked to make by the constituents,” said County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.
“We are responding to terrible public policy, and we are having to do uncomfortable things,” Commissioner Jeff Travillion said.
While a $16,000 raise is apparently uncomfortable for Travillion, the “terrible public policy” he and Eckhardt refer to is a new statewide property tax reform the court has loathed.
Here’s what the law does: Effective next year, if a county government wants to raise your taxes more than 3.5 percent in a year, they have to host an election and ask you for permission first.
“It is unfortunate that the Legislature has put local governments in Texas in this position,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said. “I think it’s important for us to warn people that we are going to have to be taking a very, very careful and harsh look at what we are going to be able to provide and what we are going to be able to pay for.”
Clearly, the court is in a tight financial situation, since they just spent $18 million total on raises for their offices next year.
Meanwhile, for the average Travis County homeowner, the only raise they’ll receive is on their tax bill.