SAN ANTONIO – A “symbolic” property tax cut sparked some tense debate in Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday as the court passed a $2.8 billion budget.
Commissioners voted 3-1, with one abstention, to cut the tax rate for the county’s portion of property tax bills from $0.301097 to $0.299999 for every $100 of valuation. That equates to somewhere between a $3 to $4 savings a year for the average homeowner, staff said.
However, due to higher property values, homeowners will likely end up paying more than they did before anyhow.
On the other side of the balance sheet, decreasing the tax rate cuts about $1.7 million of revenue from the county’s general fund, compared to if commissioners had kept the rate flat. Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebecca Clay-Flores and Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez argued unsuccessfully to their colleagues that the tradeoff was not worth it.
After the pair’s attempt to keep the tax rate flat failed, Clay-Flores abstained from the subsequent votes to implement the lower tax rate.
“I abstained from voting on this because I am not going to tell my constituents that I’m saving you four measly dollars. I represent Precinct 1, which has been left behind for far too long. Four dollars does nothing for my community,” Clay-Flores said.
The tax reduction was the idea of Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry, who acknowledged that the savings were small. However, she said it was about incremental change and pointed to her requests to consider homestead exemptions for the county and hospital district’s portion of property tax bills.
“So it is symbolic that this court has taken the action to say that we are moving from a decrease standpoint in the right direction,” DeBerry said.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert and Judge Nelson Wolff voted with DeBerry to pass the lower rate.
Wolff, who called the budget process “probably the most contentious one that I’ve been through here toward the end,” also referenced the incremental change of the property tax rate when speaking with media after the meeting.
The commissioner’s court has either reduced the tax rate or kept it flat since at least the mid-1990′s, when the tax rate was $0.38885, according to a graph staff presented in the original budget presentation.
“You look at 38 (cents) going down to 30, and if you’ve never done that, taxpayers would be paying hundreds of millions of dollars more in taxes,” Wolff said.
Discussions about the tax rate became entwined with requests for an additional $1.9 million for a children’s court and domestic violence, though DeBerry objected to the two issues being conflated.
“We’ve got to dig into this budget,” DeBerry said from the dais. “And believe me, there is room to cut the fat, but it is not going to come at the expense of children or women.”
The commissioners ended up agreeing to set aside $1.9 million for the court as part of the budget, though it’s not yet clear from where the money will come.