Judge rejects attempt to stop today’s tax vote; Calls hearing to review evidence against city

HARLINGEN — A judge yesterday denied former City Commissioner Robert Leftwich’s attempt to stop today’s vote on a proposed four-cent tax hike.

State District Judge Janet Leal denied Leftwich’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop commissioners from meeting at 5:30 p.m. to vote on the second and final reading of an ordinance that would boost the property tax rate from about 58 cents to 63 cents per $100 valuation.

But Leal called for a hearing on the case next week in 103rd District court, Leftwich said, adding a hearing date had not been set.

In his request for a temporary restraining order, Leftwich argued city officials violated a new amendment to the Texas Open Meetings Act requiring governmental bodies give the public an opportunity to speak on issues before they go to a vote.

However, Mayor Chris Boswell has said he gave residents a chance to speak up before the proposed tax hike went to a vote Sept. 4.

On Sept. 1, the new law went into effect.

Yesterday, City Attorney Ricardo Navarro and attorney Ron Lozano, representing Leftwich, met in Leal’s chambers to make their cases before the judge handed down her ruling.

“After hearing out the attorneys for the parties on the application for temporary restraining order, the trial court, in our view, properly denied the application for TRO,” Navarro stated after Leal’s ruling.

Apparently, city officials expressed concern the temporary restraining order could prevent commissioners from approving a proposed $47.8 million general fund budget before the close of fiscal year Sept. 30. Officials are counting on the proposed tax increase, which would generate $1.3 million a year, to balance the proposed budget.

After the ruling, Leftwich said his evidence against the city could lead Leal to nullify the commission’s votes on the proposed tax hike.

“I’m pleased she allowed us to move forward for the benefit of the citizens,” Leftwich said. “She’s going to let us present all of the evidence. She can let the meeting happen and it can be nullified at a later date and recourse could be taken at that time.”

Dispute over meetings

Today, commissioners plan to vote on the proposed tax hike during a special meeting following days of dispute.

Originally, commissioners had planned to cast their votes during the city’s regular meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

However, Commissioner Michael Mezmar, a registered nurse and nurse practitioner, said he couldn’t attend because he’s pursuing continuing education credits to meet license requirements.

So officials called today’s special meeting, which Puente, the commission’s lone voice against the tax increase, can’t attend because said he plans to inspect a roofing project he completed for the Navy’s naval air station in Kingsville.

“I’m a little disappointed considering they’re going forward with the meeting knowing I won’t be there to vote,” Puente said, noting the rest of the commission supports the proposed tax hike.

Late Friday afternoon, officials posted notices to hold the Tuesday and Wednesday meetings, each set for public comment periods, or “citizen communication/input” at the beginning of the meetings.