Hearing set for tax hike plan

City moving ahead with proposed for 4-cent increase

HARLINGEN — Residents today get a second chance to speak out about plans to raise the city’s property tax rate for the first time in 14 years.

This evening, city commissioners are set to hold the second and final public hearing into the proposed 4-cent hike that would boost the tax rate from a little more than 58.8 cents to 63 cents per $100 valuation to balance a proposed $47.8 million general fund budget.

The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the second-floor Town Hall Meeting Room at City Hall, 118 E. Tyler Ave.

Two weeks ago, angry residents bitterly opposed the proposed tax increase projected to generate $1.3 million a year.

“I welcome citizens’ input and comments,” Mayor Chris Boswell said yesterday. “It’s the public’s right to come out and express their opinion. Obviously, they don’t want to see a tax increase.”

On Sept. 18, commissioners are expected to vote on the second and final reading of an ordinance that would set the proposed budget and tax rate.

So far, Commissioner Frank Puente stands as the Commission’s lone voice against the proposed tax hike.

“I’m still emphatically against it,” said Puente, who referred to the June 24 storm whose floodwaters entered many homes. “My constituents are totally against it. I think it’s bad timing in light of the disaster we had. I’m asking the mayor and commissioners to reconsider and see if we can find the money.”

Despite residents’ harsh opposition, City Manager Dan Serna said he continues to call for the 4-cent tax hike to help fund drainage upgrades.

“We’re moving forward,” he said. “We appreciate all the feedback and input from our citizens. The budget we’re proposing is something I’m comfortable with. It allows us to continue to provide a level of service our citizens deserve and helps us make capital purchases for our police and fire departments and helps fund our portion of drainage grants and improvements.”

However, Puente called on commissioners to consider using the city’s $17.5 million cash reserve to help fund the drainage upgrades and capital expenses.

“As I’ve said before, we could use our reserves that we can always replenish in the future,” he said.

But officials say they already plan to dip into cash reserves to help fund some of the proposed expenses.

Drainage projects

To help fund the drainage projects, officials plan to cut the city’s $17.5 million cash reserve fund, capable of operating the city for about 135 days, to $15.1 million, enough to run operations for about 91 days.

Earlier this month, commissioners agreed to fund $1.6 million of a $2.7 million drainage project while the state finances about $1.2 million.

The project will help to curb flooding in the area along Ninth Street from Jackson Avenue to Pierce Avenue and 13th Street from Tyler Avenue to Pierce Avenue, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez has said.

Meanwhile, commissioners also earmarked $100,550 to widen a drainage ditch running along 13th Street in an area between Matz and Montezuma roads.

Commissioners also agreed to set aside $342,194 to widen a drainage ditch running between Lincoln Avenue and Dixieland Road.

As part of the city’s proposed budget, Serna is calling for one-time capital improvements including $390,000 for nine police cars, $128,166 to fund fire department equipment including 12 air packs, $87,000 for a bucket truck, $320,000 for an emergency generator for City Hall and $163,800 to fund the public library’s elevator control.