The Robstown City Council last week unanimously approved a tax increase, despite objections from several residents who said they wanted to see improvements in the city before supporting tax hikes.
The council voted 6-0 on second on final reading for an ordinance establishing a new tax rate of $0.999748 per $100 of assessed valuation for the 2007-08 fiscal year.
The new rate takes effect Oct. 1 and includes a maintenance and operations rate of $0.785356 and an interest and sinking fund rate of $0.214392.
The city could have opted for an effective rate of $0.944457 per $100 of assessed valuation to raise the same amount of revenues as the current rate of $1.0185 for the fiscal year that ends in September, excluding new property.
But the city opted for a new tax rate 5 cents above the effective tax rate, the maximum increase allowed by state law, as city council members defended the action.
So, in effect, the city decreased the tax rate by almost 2 cents from $1.01850 in 2006-07 to $0.999748 in 2007-08, while raising projected tax revenues by $115,000.
The city council also unanimously approved an ordinance on final reading at the Sept. 10 meeting establishing the city's 2007-08 budget of $6,639,246, an increase of about $450,000 from the current budget.
Mayor Rodrigo Ramon Jr. said he would have liked to have lowered the city's property tax rate to the effective rate of about 94 cents, but he said he supported the 5-cent increase above the effective rate to build a fund reserve for extensive road repairs.
"I do not want to go up on the taxes if we're not going to be able to redo the streets," Ramon said.
The city will only reap about $115,000 from the tax hike, city officials said. But Ramon said once the city has built a sufficient fund balance, it could sell bonds for major road improvements.
"We have a plan of how we can reconstruct the streets, and that's one of the top priorities we have," Ramon said.
Ramon said the city planned to issue $3 million to $4 million in bonds in March 2009. The city's financial advisors say a more favorable bond can be obtained with a fund balance, the mayor said.
Once the bonds are sold, Ramon said the road repairs could begin in March or April of 2009, taking two to three years to reconstruct 90 to 100 percent of the streets in Robstown.
"We've already done 20 percent," he said.
Several residents spoke against the tax increase before the city council voted.
"I want to know why you're going to raise taxes, for what reason?" asked Dalia Lopez of Robstown, who requested that the tax rate ordinance be tabled. "I don't see anything in Robstown to make me see why we should raise the taxes."
Lopez said Robstown residents have already incurred much higher electric bills and many can't afford higher property taxes. She said the city should plant trees, clean the alleys and keep tractor-trailers off city streets.
"Our streets are falling apart," Lopez said. "So why are you raising taxes when we have so many code violations? It just doesn't make any sense to me. I have lived here for so many years, but I have kept quiet. Please consider the people that don't have the high taxes that you want."
Rose Gonzales also said Robstown residents on fixed incomes couldn't pay more in both property taxes and electric bills.
"We're being dealt a double-whammy here," Gonzales said. "At the rate we're going, it's going to be too expensive to live in Robstown."
Lydia Seacrest said she only lives in Robstown because of her parents.
"Taxes are for improvement," Seacrest said. "I don't see any improvement."
Victor Orona also said he hasn't seen any kind of improvements since returning to Robstown 11 years ago.
"You guys have made a lot of promises, but we have not seen them," Orona said. "Let's see Robstown grow and produce, but I haven't seen any of it."
J.C. Gonzalez of Robstown said the city needed to freeze employment positions and cut its spending or risk becoming a ghost town. He said he would like to recall some city leaders from office.
"You need to look out for the long-term future of Robstown," Gonzalez said. "I'm actually looking at a house in Calallen. It's too expensive to live in Robstown."
City Councilwoman Arlene Rodriguez said the city has made cuts, frozen hirings, and a lot of improvements are taking place.
"We're working on a street plan," Rodriguez said. "We know, No. 1, our streets have never been worse. We don't want our utilities raised either. But the only solution to improve is to go up (with taxes)."
Rodriquez said city officials are also working on a plan to park tractor-trailers outside the city to preserve the streets.
"We're working with what we've got and we're not giving up," she said.
Lillie Gutierrez of Robstown asked why the city would pay for a parking lot for tractor-trailer operators to park outside the city, saying it was unfair.
Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Elias Vasquez said it was a way to reduce truck traffic in the city and help many Robstown residents who make a living driving 18-wheelers.
Vasquez said that although a "low tax rate invites economic development," he was asking citizens to "pitch in and share, help us out to show people we're doing something ourselves."
"So we're building a reserve, something Robstown has never had, so we have a little something in the bank," Vasquez said. "We want to help Robstown and we need your help. I ask the community to sacrifice also. Robstown is moving forward."
Councilwoman Anissa Zilka said city leaders had a plan to fix streets, but "the plan had fell through because all of the streets need fixing."
Zilka said the $115,000 extra in projected tax revenues was an investment in future road repairs.
"You can't even fix one street with that kind of money," Zilka said. "The reason we're raising taxes is so we can have an allotted amount that is there so we can go get the money we need to fix the streets."
Zilka also said the city has frozen positions and made improvements. But she said the city needed money for road repairs and a dedicated Emergency Medical Services building, rather than continuing to house EMS personnel at the fire station.
"I believe the council has done a lot for this community. If you can't see them, you're a little blind," Zilka said. "We've got to fix what we can with what we've got. I'm not saying it's right to raise taxes. I'm saying it's right to fix Robstown."
Councilwoman Sybil Tipton said the city would be in worse shape if city leaders had been "twiddling thumbs."
"We all live here too. My mother's on a fixed income," Tipton said. "None of that stuff happened overnight and it's going to take some time to fix it."
Councilman Abel Tamez also defended the tax increase.
"In order to have good things, you have to invest a little," Tamez said. "We are on the same team as you guys. I believe what we're doing is for the betterment of Robstown."