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New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - August 14, 2005, New Braunfels, Texas Page 6A — Herald-Zeitung — Sunday, August 14, 2005 TAX CONTINUED FROM Page 1A Some tax bills have doubled in IO years $ 160,OOO. So while the city and county have kept the tax rate about the same, the tax bills for those properties have climbed to close to $4,000 before exemptions. The rising tax bills might be frustrating for property owners but it is good news for city and county officials, who count on every penny of their tax rate bringing in as much money as possible. In 1993, one penny put $86,616 into the city’s coffers. Ten years later, one penny brought in $211,617. “We appreciate rising values because they make each penny more valuable,” said City Manager Chuck Pinto, who noted one penny in 2005 is worth $235,265. While rising values enable governmental entities to keep the overall tax rate low, the effective tax rate has skyrocketed along with property’ values. According to the state’s Thith in Taxation laws, the city or county has, in effect, raised taxes if the value of a penny rises, even if the ov erall tax rate does not change. Pinto spends a good portion of the beginning of every budget cycle explaining the delicate balance to city council, because council members ulti mately have to answer to their constituents. He begins his explanation by creating a city with $100 in taxable property and a tax rate of 50 cents. lf property values in Pinto’s city double to $200 the next year, tile effective tax rate drops to 25 cents. The city leaders have raised taxes if they leave the rate at 50 cents. Higher value holds tax rate steady The tax rate in Comal County has changed very little in the last decade. But when commissioners talk about holding taxes, they may not be telling the whole story. While the rate has changed little since 1992, the value of property in Comal County, and therefore the amount of taxes collected, has nearly tripled. In 1992, the value of property in the county was just more than $2 billion. Thirteen years later, the property value has climbed to more than $6 billion, accounting for a threefold increase in actual tax collections. County’ commissioners say Comal County has been able to keep its tax rate low through careful fiscal management. But there is no question that one of the things that has helped keep the rate low is die county’s rate of population growth and the new construction that comes with that growth — along with increased appraisal values. The rate of growth in property value was slow in early ’90s, but ballooned midway through the decade. In 1995, the county’s property value jumped 12 percent. A year later, the value increased 11 percent. The county’s tax collections rose at equal amounts each year. Much of the growth has come with new development — housing near Canyon Hike and around New Braunfels has skyrocketed as thousands of new residents moved to Comal County to get away from the metropolises of Austin and San Antonio. With each new resident has also come the need for more governmental services. As more people come in, roads see more traffic and need more repairs. More roads have been built and then given to the county for maintenance. More residents mean a greater need for law enforcement. More residents also lead to the need for more courthouse personnel, more planning staff and more support personnel. Meeting the demand for new services without raising the tax rate is a goal County Judge Danny Scheel and the commissioners have had for years. “An adopted tax rate applied to the assessed values provides funds needed to meet the demands for our services," Precinct I Commissioner Jack Dawson said. " There have been budgets where the tax rate has decreased because the taxable values increased Property Tax Value Per Billion Hi City of New Braunfels I I Comal County SS .2 ®    2    i    n sa* 111 I -ii"' *imi“ rn 11 I I Kl IIM. Ill 1992    1993    1994    1995    19%    1997    1998    1999    2000    2001    2002    2003    2004 8 2005 sufficiently to meet the needs of the county.’’ Appreciating market is slowing down The increases in appraised values set by the Comal Appraisal District is a sign of an appreciating market in Comal County—of increased demand. The county does collect more taxes by virtue of this growth, but Dawson points out tile growth also causes more expense in providing services. That’s not the only problem, he added. “ There is generally about a 24-month lag between when these folks arrive and require services, and when appraisals on their properties are assessed and collected,” Dawson said. “This increase from growth generally only covers increased services to the new people — and is two years behind to boot.” Another problem, according to Dawson, is die increase from growth doesn’t address inflation or cost increases on the services already being provided. The county has little or no control over inflation and sometimes — particularly in the cases of unfunded state mandates for indigent defense, health care or meeting jail standards — little or no control over the costs. “Assuming a 3 percent to 4 percent inflation, if revenue is not raised by a like amount, the county starts out in the hole by that amount,” Dawson said. “Some costs, such as insurance and medical expenses for indigent health, inmate health and public health, have increased more like IO percent to 15 percent per year.” Other services the state mandates include public defense, juvenile probation, roads, autopsies, additional courts and staff, evaluations through the courts for those believed to be mentally ill, homeland security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and additional law enforcement. Earlier this month, County Judge Scheel admitted he could no longer keep the rate stable, pointing to the need to offer pay raises to county employees to make up for several years of belt-tightening as well as meeting the requirements of freezing taxes for seniors and the disabled. When Scheel presented his budget to commissioners, it included a 2-cent tax increase. “In Comal County, the county judge and commissioners are extremely conservative on the expenditure side,” Dawson said. “In 1996, the tax rate was 29 cents. Today, its 33 cents — an increase of only four cents in IO years. We have one of the lowest county tax rates in the state of Texas." Last year, Dawson helped add 2-percent cost-of-living-increases for employees into the budget and called for a one-cent tax rate increase that Scheel managed to avoid. In his campaign for a third term in office, Dawson was pounded for recommending the See RATE, Page 8A WOOD FLOORS WAS $6*9?Sq. Ft. NOW $l*39Sq. Ft. CERAMIC TILE WAS Sq. Ft. 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