City mulls first property tax hike in years

HARLINGEN — City commissioners are considering the first property tax increase in years.

Last night, commissioners discussed a possible tax rate increase of as much as four cents per $100 valuation.

“I’m just putting it out for discussion,” Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn said.

Mayor Chris Boswell said commissioners will schedule a meeting to discuss the matter.

City officials have proposed a $41 million general fund budget with a $15.1 million cash reserve fund capable of operating the city for 133 days in case of an emergency.

For seven years, the city’s property tax rate has stood at 58 cents per $100 valuation.

Under the current tax rate, 1 cent generates $328,945.

But the proposed budget would come with a cut in street repairs while continuing to operate without a fund used to replace vehicles, Uhlhorn said.

Uhlhorn said he’s concerned the city stopped funding the replacement of patrol cars and other vehicles.

In 2010, the city scrapped a general fund account used to replace patrol cars and other vehicles, City Manager Dan Serna said in an earlier interview.

The city does not plan to buy police cars for the upcoming fiscal year, Serna said.

Serna said he plans to pull $500,000 from cash reserves to fund a street improvement project.

This year, the city took $500,000 from cash reserves to fund $1.5 million in street repairs, Serna said.

“When we proposed that balanced budget, there are some things we are deferring that in the future we will pay for,” Uhlhorn said. “I know the citizens are always concerned about improving the appearances of the city, the appearances of the streets.”

Commissioner Victor Leal said he’s had similar concerns.

“I’ve had these thoughts for a couple of years about how we can go about stopping deferring things,” Leal said.

Boswell requested Serna project the city’s revenues and expenditures through the next five years.

The city’s property tax rate falls below those in San Benito, Brownsville, San Juan, Weslaco, Pharr and Edinburg, Uhlhorn said.

Even a four-cent tax increase, Uhlhorn said, would keep the city’s tax rate lower than those in most of those cities.

In 2004, commissioners cut the property tax rate from about 59 cents to 58 cents.

Two years earlier, commissioners raised the tax rate from 54.1 cents to 57.9 cents.