In a 3-2 vote, Bexar County commissioners voted Friday to set forward a reduced property tax rate in fiscal year 2022 that would save the average homeowner $4 a year.
Commissioners had previously agreed to maintain the property tax rate at $0.301097 per $100 of valuation. After much back-and-forth, the new proposed property tax rate for Bexar County is now $0.299999 per $100 valuation — a reduction of just under .001098 cents. Commissioners Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) and Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) voted against the measure, while Commissioners Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3), Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff voted in favor.
DeBerry proposed the reduction. County Manager David Smith estimated that it would result in a $1.7 million decrease in property tax revenue for the county each year, and the average homeowner in Bexar County would save $4 a year.
Friday’s meeting does not put the new property tax rate in place; commissioners are scheduled to formally approve it and the 2022 budget on Tuesday.
Rodriguez suggested DeBerry’s move was “based on the next election” rather than truly making a difference for homeowners, noting the average savings would come to 33 cents a month.
“There’s ways to get meaningful relief and I am all for it, but I think it takes more time than a few days before we adopt a budget,” he said.
He pointed to departments and programs that did not have their funding requests fully met, such as an ask from some judges for more support staff for Bexar County Children’s Court.
“We’re shortchanging those programs that make an impact on people’s lives, that save lives,” he said. “I just think that’s the wrong choice.”
DeBerry stood firm that the decrease was a significant step and said the county has been “generous” with its funding of departments and nonprofit agencies. Residents are struggling to pay their bills in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, she said, while the county will receive $389 million from the federal government in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.
“I think it’s laudable that this court and courts before us have not increased tax rates for 40 years plus but during a pandemic … if we can’t do it now, when do we do it?” she asked.
“We deserve some kind of tax relief and I plan to build on that incrementally,” she added.
Clay-Flores pointed out that ARPA funds are limited and will be spent quickly.
“My concern is that in the middle of the pandemic, we don’t know what our projections are going to be next year. We don’t know when COVID is ending. And we can never get that money back,” she said.
The reduction means “less money when constituents call me to say that there are potholes, or small startup nonprofits [that need] seed money,” she said. “That’s less money for me to fight for in my precinct.”
With the proposed tax rate reduction and other budget amendments approved Friday, the proposed budget increased by $8.28 million. The total budget was previously set at $2.8 billion, but that included the entirety of the ARPA funds the county plans to receive.
Sheriff nabs budgetary ‘win’
After a contentious discussion Tuesday over a proposal to reduce staffing in the sheriff’s office, Bexar County commissioners voted unanimously Friday to maintain the number of law enforcement deputies in that department.
The original budget recommendation from county staff included eliminating 12 deputy sheriff positions who handled civil processes and adding 12 constable positions who would do the same work. After much protest from Sheriff Javier Salazar, commissioners restored those 12 positions to his department.
Rodriguez proposed keeping the 12 positions on Friday, and DeBerry added the requirement that they must be patrol positions. She also said once more that the original recommendation to delete a dozen sheriff deputy positions was not made from emotion.
“I wasn’t happy about the fact that this was characterized as ‘defunding’ because it was never about that,” she said. “This was about trying to help his department and unburden him from an administrative function.”
Wolff reminded Salazar even though he’s getting more law enforcement positions, he must still focus on getting more detention officers and reduce excessive overtime at the jail. Salazar said he would do so.
“I appreciate this and consider it a win in my book,” he said.
County commissioners are slated to approve the final 2022 budget and property tax rate on Tuesday.
Editor’s note: Due to incorrect information initially provided by the county, the proposed new tax rate was incorrect. The story has been updated with the correct figure.