BROWNSVILLE — State District Judge Janet Leal today is expected to consider whether the city of Harlingen’s newly passed four-cent tax hike stands up in court.
In a hearing in 103rd state District Court, former City Commissioner Robert Leftwich plans to request Leal grant a temporary restraining order to nullify commissioners’ first vote on the property tax increase.
Yesterday, Leftwich argued the vote is invalid because city officials violated a new amendment to the Texas Open Meetings Act requiring governments to give residents a chance to speak out on issues before a vote.
In his case against the city, Leftwich argues officials failed to give residents a chance to speak on a proposal to increase the tax rate from about 58 cents to 63 cents before commissioners voted Sept. 4.
House Bill 2840, filed by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, became law Sept. 1.
Mayor Chris Boswell, who was subpoenaed to appear at today’s hearing, has said he gave residents a chance to speak before commissioners voted on the first reading of the ordinance boosting the tax rate from 58 cents to 63 cents per $100 valuation.
Leftwich said he has presented the court with evidence including the meeting’s agenda and the meeting’s videotape.
“The evidence is pretty overwhelming,” Leftwich said yesterday. “There was a violation of the law that we feel is pretty apparent.”
Leftwich said the case marks the first lawsuit filed as a result of House Bill 2840.
“She’s going to set a precedent,” Leftwich said, referring to Leal’s ruling.
Ron Lozano, an attorney representing Leftwich, said he subpoenaed Boswell and Finance Director Elvia Treviño to appear as witnesses in the hearing.
“Both witnesses have relevant facts on the issues at hand,” Lozano said.
City attorney Ricardo Navarro declined comment.
Leal denies first request for TRO
On Sept. 16, Leal denied Leftwich’s request for a temporary restraining order aimed at stopping commissioners from voting on the second and final reading of the ordinance boosting the tax rate from about 58 to 63 cents per $100 valuation.
Apparently, city officials had expressed concern the temporary restraining order could prevent commissioners from approving a $47.8 million general fund budget before Monday’s close of the fiscal year.
Officials are counting on the tax increase, which would generate $1.3 million a year, to balance the budget.
During a special meeting Sept. 17, commissioners voted to approve the second and final reading of the ordinance boosting the tax rate from about 58 to 63 cents.
Commissioner Frank Puente cast the lone dissenting vote.