In a dozen cities across the state, Texans voting in local elections are being asked to approve millions in new city spending and debt, together with new property taxes to pay for it.
These cities have placed multimillion-dollar bond propositions on the May 7 ballot. Their combined total is $2.3 billion.
All of the borrowed money would have to be repaid, with interest, by property taxpayers.
San Antonio is proposing the biggest bond package. The city’s six propositions total $1.2 billion. With interest, the city estimates the bonds would cost taxpayers more than $1.8 billion.
The biggest chunk, $471 million ($719 million with interest), is for “streets, bridges, and sidewalks,” with $272 million ($414 million with interest) for parks and recreation projects.
City officials say the bond program doesn’t include a “planned” increase in the property tax rate.
Fort Worth’s five bond propositions total $560 million, the second-largest package on the May ballot. With interest, the city estimates the cost to taxpayers will top $845 million.
About two-thirds of the money—$369 million ($558 million with interest)—is designated for “streets and pedestrian mobility,” with another $124 million ($187 million with interest) for parks and recreation.
In a separate city charter amendment on the ballot, Fort Worth is asking for huge pay raises for the mayor and council members. If approved, the mayor’s annual salary would triple from $29,000 to $99,653, and council members’ pay would jump from $25,000 to $76,727.
Fort Worth officials also say they don’t expect to raise the city’s property tax rate to repay the bond debt.
However, that doesn’t mean local citizens won’t face property tax increases.
Cities can always raise future tax rates, since voters approve all extra taxes needed to repay bond debt as part of bond propositions. But they won’t need to raise rates with property appraisals skyrocketing.
As property values increase, property owners’ tax bills increase even if the rate stays the same. If cities don’t lower tax rates enough to offset rising property values, property owners pay higher amounts in taxes—a tax increase.
And regardless of the rate at which the debt is repaid, borrowing and spending money that must be repaid with property taxes increases local property tax burdens.
Voters should also consider that any new bond debt approved in May will be added on top of existing debt (local debt data can be found on the Texas Bond Review Board website).
San Antonio currently owes $2.3 billion in property tax-backed debt principal and interest. Fort Worth’s current debt obligations total $1.1 billion.
According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the state’s total local debt burden (including principal and interest) was more than $365.3 billion in 2019, or a debt of $12,500 for every Texan.
Cities aren’t alone in proposing big borrow-and-spend packages that will increase local debt and property tax burdens.
At least 107 Texas school districts have put a combined $16 billion in bond propositions on the May ballot.
Now it’s up to local voters to decide if proposed bond-funded projects are needed and whether they’re a good value for taxpayers in the community.
If the answer is “no” to either question, then citizens can vote “no” and ask local officials to come back with better proposals.
Early voting runs through May 3. Election Day is Saturday, May 7.
Below is a list of cities with bond propositions on the ballot. Click on the name of the city for bond details. Bond amounts include principal only:
Burleson – $86.0 million (2 propositions)
Cedar Park – $158.8 million
Fort Worth – $560.0 million (5 propositions)
Haltom City – $25.0 million
Kerrville – $45.0 million
Live Oak – $18.0 million
Longview – $45.6 million
Mansfield – $155.5 million (5 propositions)
San Antonio – $1.19 BILLION (6 propositions)
Shavano Park – $10.0 million
Windcrest – $5.0 million
Winnsboro – $11.0 million (8 propositions)