Drought worse than recession for Burnet County taxpayers

FROM STAFF REPORTS

BURNET — While the majority of Burnet County residents don’t own lakefront property on lakes Buchanan and Travis, the woes of those who do could spill over to others when it comes to the impending county tax rate.

“This drought is worse than what a recession was to Burnet County,” said Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger.

The Burnet County Appraisal District recently released the appraised values for Burnet County properties, and the numbers weren’t good. According to the appraisal district, the total appraised property value dropped by $89 million from last year.

This means county taxpayers can expect a higher county property tax rate this coming year.

Klaeger said some properties on the two reservoirs experienced a 50 percent drop in value.

“That took a hit on us this year,” she said.

County leaders have been working hard for a while to keep the budget as lean as possible. Klaeger said in the past seven years, the county commissioners have not had to substantially increase the rate.

Though county officials knew the impact of the drought on property values was coming, they didn’t expect such a big hit at one time.

Along with the drought impacts, county leaders must also take into account the number of properties that qualify for 65-and-over exemptions. Several years ago, voters approved a measure that froze taxes for residents 65 and older. Klaeger said 47 percent of all the county taxes are now frozen, meaning residents in that age bracket won’t see a county property tax increase.

So what does all this mean?

Klaeger explained that to offset the devaluation and frozen taxes, county residents can expect to see a 6 percent increase to the tax rate for the next fiscal year. The current rate is 39.51 cents per $100 property value. But this won’t be the rate the county uses to determine the new rate. The new rate will be based on what is called the effective rate.

Effective rate is figured by determining what rate it would take, based on the newest appraised values, to bring in the amount of revenues for the current fiscal year. Using that information, the Burnet County effective tax rate is 40.51 cents.

Any tax rate increases would be based on that number.

Klaeger said if the county does adopt the 6 percent tax-rate increase to keep up with the budget, the owner of a $170,000 home could expect to see a $75-$80 increase on his or her county tax bill.

While the county has worked hard to curtail costs, Klaeger pointed out some budget increases are unavoidable, such as insurance, jail expenditures and indigent defense.

“Our cost of doing business will continue to go up,” she said.

While she doesn’t expect any cuts to non-statuatory programs (those not required by the state), such as library, fire and EMS this year, Klaeger warned that if the drought, the drop in property values and the lag in new construction all continue, those programs the state doesn’t require the county to support or fund could see some cuts.

Go to burnetcountytexas.org to look at the 2014-2015 proposed budget as well as the current fiscal year budget.

Picayune staff writer Connie Swinney contributed to this article.

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