Numerous residents spoke in opposition to the City of Rockport’s proposed 2020 tax rate increase during the Rockport City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Two residents spoke virtually via Zoom, and Rockport Mayor Pat Rios read eight letters into the record.
Kristie Rutledge and Andrew Kane spoke during the public hearing.
Rutledge urged council members to vote “no” on the property tax rate and provided information about tax increases since 2012.
“I am shocked, I am hurt, and I am scared the City would propose a second tax increase in the middle of another economic crisis the people of Rockport are facing,” said Rutledge. “Mayor Rios, stop capitalizing on our economic hardships.”
Kane presented a number of issues to Mayor Rios, and opposed the idea of increasing debt and raising taxes during the current time.
“Mayor you question the petitions’ motivation at the Aug. 18, council meeting. A phenomenal turnout to sign the petition between a Thursday and a Monday clearly shows the citizens want to be a part of the process before taxes are raised,” said Kane. “Though you said this was put in front of the citizens 25 times, Council Member Cunningham corrected you at the last council meeting by stating the first he saw of the deciding cost was July.”
The remaining comments were letters sent to the council, which were read by Mayor Rios.
None of the letters supported the tax increase.
Rios then moved down the agenda in order to deliberate and act on first reading of an ordinance approving the assessment and renditions for the 2020 taxable property as submitted by the Appraisal District.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Andrea Hattman asked Rios if there is a way the city can make any cuts in the budget.
“We had a hiring freeze on for a while and just recently looked at adding a couple positions because of need,” said the mayor. “So, is it possible? Yes, but you’re talking about (a small cut) out of a $40 million budget.”
Councilman Mike Saski motioned to approve the rate. Mayor Pro Tem J.D. Villa seconded it.
In discussion, Councilman Bob Cunningham said while there is much disagreement among the community regarding the tax rate, he noted the city financially is still doing well after Hurricane Harvey, compared to other nearby communities.
“I hear and feel the comments from so many of the public, who also are hurting, but we also have a duty to ensure that the city will function effectively,” said Cunningham. “I hope the folks who are concerned now, will stay concerned and help meet with us earlier in the process next year. So we can look more seriously at some of the issues they are raising.
“I feel like we have to go with the budget we’ve created and hope for your participation next year.”
Rios then presented a list of nearby cities’ tax rates and stated Rockport is the third lowest in the area. Only Fulton and Port Aransas have lower rates at $.224791 and $.269402, respectively. Other cities he mentioned with higher tax rates are Aransas Pass, Sinton, Ingleside, Victoria, Corpus Christi, and Portland.
Rockport’s approved tax rate is $.421311.
The current tax rate is $.420082.
Cunningham spoke again about the city’s long-term debt.
“I think we all recognize you don’t want to be in too much debt, but on the other hand, debt seems to be perfectly appropriate for the kinds of projects a generation of people are going to use,” said Cunningham. “You should spread that cost over the people who are going to use it, and not put all of that burden on current taxpayers.
“To the extent our debt is largely in infrastructure kinds of projects, that seems to be perfectly appropriate for how you want to use debt to spread that cost across all the people who will be enjoying it.”
Rios then called for a role call vote. The council unanimously approved the new tax rate.