Hidalgo County passes nearly 12% tax increase in $296M budget

dfwnewsa | October 2, 2023 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

Hidalgo County passes nearly 12% tax increase in $296M budget 1
Hidalgo County Commissioners during a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. (Courtesy: Hidalgo County/YouTube)

EDINBURG

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— After a busy budget season, officials in Hidalgo County approved a nine-figure budget and a 57.5 cent property tax rate during a pair of special meetings here last week.

The $296.4 million budget includes a 4% across-the-board pay increase for county employees, including elected officials and county law enforcement officers. The county’s lowest wage earners will also be guaranteed a $13 minimum wage.

County commissioners also unanimously approved a property tax rate of 57.5 cents per $100 valuation.

It’s the same tax rate approved by the county last year; however, the county expects to generate millions more in revenue from that rate due to skyrocketing property appraisals.

TAX HIKE

It is effectively an 11.8% tax increase, Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes explained when he made the motion to approve the 57.5 cent rate during Thursday’s meeting.

The motion was seconded by Pct. 3 Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal before the commission unanimously approved it. Precinct 4 Commissioner Ellie Torres was not present.

Keeping the tax rate the same will allow Hidalgo County to generate nearly $34.4 million above what the tax rolls generated in 2023, according to the 2024 budget’s coversheet. That’s a 15.36% increase in revenues.

But for some residents, the taxes are becoming too big a burden to bear.

“It’s becoming almost to where we can’t afford just the basic necessity of housing, which is ridiculous. It’s becoming criminal, almost, that it’s so much that we have to pay,” said Eric Ramirez just before the commissioners voted.

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The Hidalgo County resident, who wore a McAllen Fire Department T-shirt, implored commissioners to not raise taxes.

“I’m working already three jobs. I’m gonna look for a fourth job just to make sure that my family’s provided for,” Ramirez said.

Nor was he alone in asking the commissioners to consider county residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

Community advocate Fern McClaugherty, calmly lambasted the commission.

“If you go with that tax rate — which is raising taxes — and I want you all to have the guts to tell the taxpayers,” McClaugherty, a member of Objective Watchers of the Legal System, or OWLS, said.

“Don’t say, ‘Oh, we left it at the (same) tax rate. We’re so precious.’ You’re not! You raised the tax rate. You could lower it. You could lower it to the 51.42 (cents),” McClaugherty said, referring to the “no new revenue” tax rate under which the county could generate the same amount of revenue as last year.

WHERE THE MONEY IS GOING

After listening to the comments from Ramirez and McClaugherty, the commission turned their attention to voting on the tax rate. Their unanimous vote joined two similar votes taken just a few days earlier.

During a separate special meeting last Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the $296.4 million budget, and the issuance of $44.3 million in new debt.

While the budget’s 4% cost of living increase includes county law enforcement, such as corrections officers, other members of the law enforcement ranks will see a slightly larger pay bump.

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For instance, new sheriff’s deputies and deputy constables will see a 7.64% increase in the coming year — from $46,832 to $50,410, according to pay tables provided by the county.

Elected officials will also see a 4% increase to their pay.

Hidalgo County passes nearly 12% tax increase in $296M budget 2
Hidalgo County Commissioners during a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. (Courtesy: Hidalgo County/YouTube)

County commissioners will receive a $112,753 salary compared to $108,416 in 2023. Meanwhile, the county judge’s salary will be $131,545 — up from $126,485 in 2023.

Members of the commissioners’ court will also get $7,000 more for their auto allowance compared to last year, for a total of $15,000 each.

Other expenditures of note include:

>> A zero-dollar allocation for the new county courthouse, which remains unfinished. Hidalgo County is expecting the matter to head to litigation and it is unknown when the facility — whose construction is two years behind schedule — will open.

>> Almost $35 million for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, which represents an increase of more than $2.3 million.

>> Just over $41.6 million for the Hidalgo County Jail — an increase of nearly $5.1 million over last year.

>> $17.6 million for the Willacy County Jail, which Hidalgo County began leasing in November 2022 to deal with overcrowding at the Hidalgo County Jail. To date, the Willacy County Jail facility is not yet housing prisoners.

>> $1.68 million for rural ambulance service in Precincts 1 and 3 — an increase of $1.05 million. Earlier this year, the county took on additional costs to provide ambulance services after the city of Pharr severed its contracts to provide such service via city-owned Pharr EMS.

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>> $1.2 million for the Palm Valley Animal Society, which contracts to handle stray dogs and cats found in the county’s unincorporated areas.

In all, the $296.4 million approved budget includes an additional $21.6 million in appropriations above what county department heads originally requested, according to a copy of the budget book which the county published on Sept. 19.

The budget also includes an unassigned fund balance, or rainy day fund, of almost $60.9 million — enough to fund 73 days of operation, according to county figures.

Finally, the commissioners also approved the issuance of new debt via some $44.3 million in certificates of obligation, or COs.

The COs will go toward several large infrastructure projects, including the eventual demolition of the current county courthouse, building a new animal control facility, bringing county buildings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, road infrastructure improvements, vehicle purchases and more.

Though the commission approved the budget and tax rate last week, as required by state law, the county’s fiscal year doesn’t begin until Jan. 1, 2024.

The post Hidalgo County passes nearly 12% tax increase in $296M budget appeared first on MyRGV.com.

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