Council to finalize tax rate, budget

The city of Big Spring is expected to cinch up its fiscal plan — and hopefully put a rather confusing appraisal gaff behind it — for the coming year Tuesday, as the panel hears final reading of the proposed 2012-2013 tax rate and budget.The council approved first reading of the rate — 86.5043 cents per $100 property valuation — during its Sept. 11 meeting on a 6-1 vote, with District 4 Councilman Bobby McDonald the lone dissenter.The council has struggled with its proposed tax rate for several weeks due to a problem discovered with the certified taxable values issued by the Howard County Appraisal District.According to City Finance Director Peggy Walker, a mistake made by the Howard County Appraisal District in accounting for the values of property appraisals currently being protested, the rate that would bring in the same amount of tax revenue collected last year — known as the effective rate — is estimated at 88.8275 cents per $100 property valuation, more than 2 cents higher than the proposed rate.The $15,570,750 difference in protested values would drive up the effective rate to 88.8275 cents per $100 property valuation, according to Walker. Howard County Chief Appraiser Ronnie Babcock acknowledged the mistake during the council's Aug. 28 meeting and affirmed the published tax rate is not correct.Walker said Tuesday night the effect the discrepancy will have on the 2012-2013 budget is hard to forecast and could be as high as the $130,000 estimates or considerably lower.“There's no way to pinpoint where we'll come out of this until we know what will happen to those protested appraisals,” Walker said.Unfortunately, according to city officials, there is no time left to make corrections to the published tax rate and avoid the budgetary shortfall in the coming year.According to City Attorney Linda Sjogren, the state-mandated time table for cities to approve the tax rate for the coming fiscal year made it impossible for the council to adopt any tax rate other than the effective rate established by the appraisal district.“We're required to have the tax rate adopted by the end of September,” Sjogren said. “For the city to go above the published effective tax rate set by the appraisal district — whether it's correct or not — it is required to hold a number of public hearings. There is simply no way for the city to get those requirements completed in time.”McDonald said he voted against the tax rate because it was what his constituents asked of him.“There's no way I could vote in favor of a mistake,” McDonald said following the meeting.City officials said any budgetary shortfall created by the debacle would come from the city's reserve funds, which Mayor Tommy Duncan pointed out are ample to handle the fiscal strain.The council is also expected to give final approval to its 2012-2013 budget during the meeting. The budget passed first reading on a unanimous vote during the Sept. 11 meeting.Among other things, the budget features a pay raise for employees (the first in two years), $500,000 for water line replacement, set-aside money to purchase property for landfill use and almost $4 million designated for water purchases.Among the highlights of the proposed budget are:• Pay raises — The council approved a 3 percent pay raise for all employees (excepting senior staff) and held the door open for even more pay increases. Faced with an annual turnover rate of about 30 percent, Fuqua said the city has to do something in order to retain its employees.• Water line replacement — Having replaced water lines on Third and Fourth streets and Birdwell Lane during the current fiscal year, the city will take aim at other areas in the coming 12 months. Assistant City Manager Todd Darden said officials are eyeing the west end of town and the area surrounding the water treatment plant as possible sites for future water line replacement.• Landfill purchases — Fuqua said the city landfill will be full in about four years, and since the permitting process for opening a new landfill also takes about four years, he said the city is reaching a critical stage in deciding the future of the facility.Tuesday's meeting is expected to get under way at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, located at 307 E. Fourth Street. Fore more information call 264-2401. Also, a complete copy of the meeting agenda can be found online at