By Bill Spinks

The Waxahachie City Council Monday night unanimously tabled a resolution giving direction to the Ellis County Tax Office for calculating the voter approval tax rate for the 2020 tax year.

City manager Michael Scott said because of the statewide COVID-19 disaster that was declared by Gov. Greg Abbott in March, Waxahachie has the ability to raise property tax rates up to 8 percent without the requirement of voter approval, according to the Texas Tax Code as amended by House Bill 2 in 2019. In normal times, the maximum rate is 3.5 percent.

Scott and city attorney Robert Brown both said the resolution before the council was not to raise the tax rate, but to request the county Tax Office to calculate revenues at the higher rate.

"My intention as city manager is to deliver to you all a budget with a reduced tax rate," Scott said. "My intention is to lower the tax rate by at least 2 cents. What this resolution would do is it will allow us to look at the numbers and look at the projects and priorities and figure out exactly what fits and what doesn’t within that 2 cents-plus decrease."

Councilmember Melissa Olson made a motion to deny the resolution, but the motion died for the lack of a second. Olson made a second motion to set a 3.5 percent upper limit, but that motion failed to draw a second as well.

Councilmember Kevin Strength moved to table the resolution, saying the city needs more information before committing to any tax rate. The council had already scheduled a Tuesday morning workshop on the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget, and Strength noted that it was the first time the new budget would be discussed.

"We’re not raising the tax rate right here," Strength said. "What we’re doing is looking at the options we have. For the last four or five months we’ve entertained lowering the tax rate. I don’t know what this is about, but we do have to have all the information that we need to make a decision because we’re not looking at today, we’re looking at a 5-year plan … What happens in year 3, 4 and 5, we can’t predict."

The council heard from seven public speakers, all in opposition to a property tax increase. The first speaker, local anti-tax advocate Amy Hedtke, urged the council to keep taxes low.

"People are already under serious financial problems this year alone," Hedtke said. "The city, county, and state have shut down businesses and made it impossible for people to pay their own bills. The last thing we need is a tax increase by any area of all the entities that are involved in raising property taxes. The rate needs to be low and the appraisals need to be lower."

Another speaker, Christopher Haley, asked councilmembers to table the resolution to plan for what to do in the event the tax rate is not raised — an action the council ultimately chose to take.

Other items

• Consent agenda item approvals included a $14,225 budget increase for downtown development professional services that will be reimbursed in full by the Texas Department of Transportation, and a $25,000 contribution from the Waxahachie Community Development Corporation for the Optimist Club pool improvement project.

• The council continued to July 20 a change in the planned development zoning for the Dove Hollow development, which is located adjacent to and south of Grove Creek Road.

• Councilmembers also continued until Aug. 3 a zoning change for a tract located at the southeast corner of Parks School House Road and East Main Street. The zoning of this property is proposed to change from Single Family-3 to Planned Development-Multiple Family-2.

• Responding to an earlier comment, Mayor David Hill said that the city received about $2 million in COVID-19 funding from the state as part of the CARES Act, but had only spent about $440,000 to date. The unspent balance will have to be returned to the state.

• The council held a workshop before the meeting to discuss bids for solid waste service.