By Bill Spinks

In Texas, a big marker of the approaching fall is not only the start of football season, but also governmental budget season.

The Waxahachie City Council figuratively put its toe to the pigskin purse with a public hearing Tuesday night, discussing the city’s proposed ad valorem property tax rate and budget for fiscal year 2020-2021.

However, the only actual vote taken was to set the date for the final vote to adopt the new tax rate. That will take place at the next regular council meeting this coming Tuesday.

The new fiscal year tax rate, which will go into effect Oct. 1, is proposed at 66 cents per $100 valuation, a two-penny drop from the current rate. Of that rate, 49.2 cents will be applied to maintenance and operations and 16.8 cents to interest and sinking. The no-new-revenue rate, which the city is required to calculate because of new state legislation, is 63.04 cents.

The 2020-2021 budget as presented will see an increase of more than $2 million in property tax revenues, even with the two-cent drop in the rate. More than half of the increase is because of new property added to the city’s tax roll this year. Because the average taxable value for homeowners grew by almost $12,000, the average tax bill will rise by about $37 per year.

Chad Tustison, city finance director, said the city property tax makes up only 28 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill. The majority is levied by the Waxahachie ISD, with Ellis County also taking a 16-percent cut.

Tustison also said he has been encouraged by sales tax receipts, which has remained strong in Texas despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but he warned that future events could still affect receipts negatively.

The total city budget will be $90.2 million, of which $45.4 million will go into the general fund for day-to-day city operations and will be funded by property taxes, sales taxes and user fees; and $28.7 million will go into water and wastewater and will be funded by monthly water bills. The remainder are restricted funds set aside for specific purposes, such as the Waxahachie Community Development Corporation fund, debt service, waste management and cemetery upkeep.

Tustison broke down the general fund further, with public safety given the largest share at almost half of it. Other functions given large slices of the pie were public works at 17 percent, or about $7.9 million, and general government at $7.5 million, or 16 percent. Tustison expects a projected ending balance of just over $22 million at the end of FY 2021.

Several residents spoke, noting that tax bills continue to rise in the city despite rate cuts, and some expressed concern about being able to live in the city with the amount on their tax bills going up.

"Our budget workshops are open public meetings," Mayor David Hill said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. "We have two of those during each cycle and the public is invited to those. That is your opportunity to see what the budget looks like and see how it’s all divided up. It’s not done behind closed doors. We’re watched closely by regulators and we have people in our finance department who … do a yeoman’s job at what they do."

Tuesday’s upcoming regular meeting at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers will be moved one day later than normally scheduled because of the Labor Day holiday.

The only other action taken during Tuesday’s meeting was an amending resolution to extend the FM 813 closure on the northeast side of town by one week because of some weather delays, at the request of James Gaertner, city public works and engineering director.

The closure, which was approved by the council in the form of an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation on July 20, was put in place between Spring Creek Drive and Grove Creek Drive in order to install a box culvert and drainage system for the nearby North Grove development.

The highway is targeted for reopening on Sept. 9. Until then, detours remain in place via North Grove Boulevard, U.S. 77 North, and either Butcher Road or Grove Creek Road.