Commissioners' Court declines vote on
Issue to be decided by county voters,
Officials concerned over tax freeze ramifications
By Richard Zowie
Times Guardian Staff Writer
The Comal County Commissioners' Court declined to vote on whether or not to implement a Prop 13 tax freeze for senior citizens and disabled residents at its June 10 meeting, clearing the way for a petition to get the measure on a ballot later this year. The petition must contain five percent of the county's registered (approximately 2,597 persons).
The proposition is expected to be placed on either a September 11 or November 2 ballot. Once the petition to put the measure onto a ballot is received, the signatures must be verified. The county judge must then order a public vote at least 62 days prior to the election for the vote.
Once on a ballot, the proposition would read: "The constitutional amendment to permit counties, cities and towns, and junior college districts to establish an ad valorem tax freeze on residence homesteads of the disabled and of the elderly and of their spouses."
If Prop 13 is passed, it cannot be repealed.
Eight seniors spoke before the court voicing their support for Prop 13 and were confident they could come up with the signatures needed to put in on a ballot. They had hoped the court would vote on the measure rather than spend tax dollars to put it to a public vote.
"We learned that it would cost the county about $15,000 to hold an election," said Sigfrid Swenson. "Since 84 percent of Comal County votes for this tax freeze last September, do you want to spend this money again to find out we want this tax freeze?"
Wayne Rudolph told the council about a study done the week before in Williamson County. They studied the impact of the Prop 13 tax freeze and found it to be quite small, he said, adding that the freeze was implemented over a span over time, costing that county one percent in total revenue the first year.
Karl Schier urged passage of the measure, saying it would help out senior citizens on fixed income who have to dealing with spiraling costs.
The court declined to vote on the proposition, saying they would prefer to leave the decision up the voters in the county. Because the law prohibits the court from calling forth an election on the proposal, the court told the audience that the vote would now be in the hands of a petition.
Considering the reactions from County Judge Danny Scheel and from most of the commissioners, that's probably just as well.
"I was elected to serve all members of Comal County-including young families, people in their forties who are still trying to make ends meet as well as senior citizens and the disabled," said Scheel. "Unless you're someone like [billionaire Donald] Trump, it's not an easy life.
"I cannot in good conscience ask for something primarily for the elderly that will negatively affect those are under 65," the judge added. "What bothers me is that this [tax freeze] will cause everybody else's taxes to go up. What I propose is for you to get a petition. You say you can do it easily and quickly, and I respect that. I won't support a vote on this without it going to the entire electorate, once they understand what the entire ramifications of this situation are."
The judge also told the audience that freezing taxes for the seniors and disabled would make it more difficult for the growing county to continue to provide various services to residents.
Jack Dawson, County Commissioner No. 1, said seniors deserve the tax freeze.
"They've paid taxes for a long time, and it's time to give them a break," he said.
The commissioner added, though, that he supports putting the measure to a public vote so the county voters can decide on it.
Jan Kennady, County Commissioner No. 4, said she has received mixed reactions from her constituents and prefers that the voters of Comal decide on it.
Cristina Zamora, County Commissioner No. 3, said that though she realizes that senior citizens and the disabled are in need of help, she's concerned with the language in the proposition.
Along with Scheel, County Commissioner No. 2 Jay Millikin voiced the strongest opposition for the measure. Using a chart, he showed that of those in the county who were 65 and over, 1,227 of them owned properties worth $200,000 or more. Twenty-three had properties valued at $500,000 or more and Four had properties valued at $700,000 or more.
"It is inappropriate that the legislation on this is broad instead of covering those who genuinely need help," he said. "If we on the court voted this in, 15 years from now the future commissioners would wonder why we passed it. If we could pick and choose who needed the tax freeze-that is, those with lower incomes and the disabled-I'd support it. Otherwise, this is flawed. What responsibility does the county have to provide tax benefits for those with million-dollar homes?"
David Renken, Comal County auditor, voiced concerns about how the county would able to raise funds if the tax freeze is implemented.
"Our tax assessor collector has went through a calculation on what the impact would be in years to come if this were implemented," Renken said. "His projections for the first year would be roughly $200,000 [in lost revenue], and in year four it would be $800,000. In order to make that up, it would have to be shifted to other taxpayers, either by raising the tax rates or raise values dues. It'll have to be shifted to other ratepayers, whether they're under 65 or if they're commercial property owners."
Renken echoed Millikin's thoughts that Prop 13 should apply only to those who are in genuine need and have fixed incomes.
"You'd think there would be some type of means testing allowing a city to help those who really need help," he said. "If you read the text of prop 13, it is pretty broad and vague, which happens in a lot of instances. In theory, this sounds good but once you get down to the nuts and bolts, it gets a little more dicey and there are as many questions as there are answers."
In other business, the court did the following:
· Final approval of Tye Preston Memorial Library subdivision and grant variance along South Access Road on the southeastern side of the lake. The subdivision, which will receive water from the Canyon Lake Water Supply Corporation, will consist of two lots on 11.6 total acres.
· The court also decided against enforcing Order #107, which would prohibit Fourth of July fireworks such as "skyrockets with sticks" and "missiles with fins", do to the recent rains.
· The court also accepted the resignation of Nicholas Shores as board member of Emergency Services District No. 6 and replaced him with Jerry Bailey.