City governments oppose Texas bill addressing tax reform


BROWNWOOD, Texas - Hundreds of law enforcement personnel and city government officials were at the Texas State Capitol in Austin this week to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 2, which they say would give the state government more power over municipal finances.

Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols was among those in the senate hearing room Tuesday waiting to testify against the bill.

"What you have is the state of Texas coming down trying to control local government and tell local government how to impose taxes," Nichols said on Wednesday.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt filed S.B. 2, describing it as a sweeping property tax reform and relief bill.

One of the changes he's proposing is to make it easier for taxpayers to challenge tax hikes through elections.

Brownwood City Councilman Larry Mathis opposes this bill, saying it "would not be a good thing."

Under current taxation laws, cities are allowed to impose a net tax increase of eight percent. Anything above that, and the public can petition to hold what's called a rollback election.

But Bettencourt's proposed bill calls for reducing the tax cap threshold for an election to four percent.

The city's main revenue source is property taxes, with a huge chunk given to public safety items, according to the city's finance director Walter Middleton.

"It directly affects our budget," Nichols said. "It directly affects us providing the life-saving things that we do in our communities."

Middleton said the police, fire, and emergency management departments cost the city $8.2 million. They represent nearly half of the city's $32 million budget that it spreads out among 30 departments.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released in February showed 20 percent of Texans stated the legislature should address lowering property taxes, making it the top polled issue.

Mathis called S.B. 2 bad policy for rural Texas and said it isn't the answer for addressing taxes.

"It would be a direct assault on all of your safety items, in particular, a community like Brownwood where it takes up a large part of our budget."

Chief Nichols said personnel costs represent more than 80 percent of his budget.

"[This bill] could potentially lead to a reduction in personnel."

S.B. 2 was currently still within committee as of Wednesday and has not been voted on.

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