RICHWOOD — Staff and council thought they adopted a tax rate with a tiebreaker vote last week, but the Brazoria County Tax Assessor-Collector deemed that vote invalid.
After 20 minutes of closed-from-the-public session for Councilman Mark Brown to “seek legal counsel” on his vote, he voted for the motion Councilman Matt Yarborough made and Councilwoman Melissa Strawn seconded to adopt last year’s tax rate of 67.02 cents per $100 of property value.
Those three council members voted for it and the remaining two council members, Mike Johnson and Katie Johnson, were absent.
Mayor Steve Boykin did not vote. By the city’s charter, the mayor only votes in case of a tie.
According to opinions of City Attorney Matt Allen and Texas Municipal League legal counsel, that redo should be sufficient to adopt the tax rate. The tax assessor disagrees.
Interim City Manager Lindsay Koskiniemi said she will seek more clarity on the situation today.
Tax Assessor-Collector Ro’Vin Garrett informed city staff Thursday that their Sept. 16 vote was invalid because a tax revenue increase requires a supermajority, or at least four members of Richwood’s governing body voting for it, she said.
At the Sept. 16 meeting council members, Mike Johnson and Strawn voted for the ordinance adopting the tax rate of 67.02 cents per $100 of property value. Council members Katie Johnson and Yarborough voted against it, while Brown abstained.
Mayor Steve Boykin broke the tie with a vote for the motion, leaving only three members voting for the rate out of a required four.
The tax rate was the same as the current year, but is 9.65 percent higher than the effective tax rate — the rate that would bring in the same amount of total revenue for properties on the tax rolls for both years — meaning it would bring a tax revenue increase.
The adopted tax rate will bring in $177,227 more from existing properties than this year, according to the budget, and $71,848 from new property, but $10,284 less in maintenance and operations revenue.
The increase in revenue will go toward increased debt payments from a voter-approved $5 million bond for drainage, street and sidewalk improvements, and the city will collect less revenue for its maintenance and operations.
The total debt obligation is $354,143, the budget states.
The property tax code requires at least 60 percent of members of the governing body to vote in favor of a technical tax increase, Garrett said.
If the tax rate is not adopted by four in-favor votes by Sept. 30, the city is required to adopt the effective rate because it is lower than the current tax rate, Garrett said. The effective tax rate is 63.1 cents per $100 of property value, which would bring roughly $118,000 less in revenue.
Brown said he felt like “we could have done more” and should have tackled the problem head-on. He chose to abstain last time, but felt like this is a step in the right direction, he said.
Brown called the executive, or closed, session because he wanted to know what the legal implications were of different tax rates and that council was complying with the tax code, he said.
This was the 14th day since they had a public hearing on the tax rate, Brown said, and he wanted to check that they had enough council members present to pass the tax rate.
Allen said he sought several opinions about the matter and is confident Monday night’s vote will work, but added council needed to vote within 14 days of the public hearing.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Allen said.