City of Amarillo answers questions regarding upcoming tax-related election

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — To account for an approved budget increase of more than 22%, Amarillo voters will have the chance to go to the polls in November, ultimately making the decision of how much the city’s portion of their property tax bill will increase. 

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, this comes after the city approved a tax rate of $0.48404 in August, triggering a November election. This consists of a maintenance and operations rate of $0.40493 and a debt service rate of $0.07991.

The funds the city would collect from the extra revenue would go towards the following items: 

  • Improvements for parks, athletic fields, trails, other facility and maintenance needs; 
  • Six new police department personnel, associated vehicles and equipment; 
  • Additional police/fire equipment; 
  • Street pothole repairs and resurfacing; 
  • Pay adjustments for Amarillo Emergency Communications Center staff; 
  • A 1% increase in compensation for police, fire and city employees. 

Laura Storrs, an assistant city manager for the city of Amarillo, answered five questions which have been raised by Amarillo residents on social media and through public comment which relate to this upcoming tax rate election. 

If the proposition passes, how much would my property tax bill increase? 

Storrs said the increase would solely impact the city’s portion of a citizens’ property tax bill, consisting of approximately 19% of the total bill. If the vote passes, the city’s portion of the tax rate would increase to $0.48404, which is approximately 22% higher than the city’s rate of  $0.39681 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. 

Because the city’s portion of the tax rate is only a chunk of the overall bill, the rest of which goes to the public school district, the county of residence, Amarillo College and the water district, Storrs said it would increase a citizens’ property tax bill by approximately 3.5% if other entities do not make changes in their tax rate. 

“A citizen pays the total tax bill, not just a piece to the city and a piece to the school district separately. It’s all one,” she said. “Since we are a smaller portion of the overall property tax bill, even with the increased rate that we are looking at, it comes to about a 3.5% increase for a taxpayer.” 

If the vote fails in November, the tax rate for the 2021-22 fiscal year would result in the voter approval tax rate of $0.44334, a rate which is $0.0407 lower than the rate council voted on. This voter approval tax rate, mandated by Texas law, is still higher than the city’s rate of  $0.39681 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. 

However, city officials stressed that the rate for the 2021-22 fiscal year would not increase for residents ages 65 and older. 

Can the city use its excess revenue funds to fund the improvements, not needing a property tax increase? 

Storrs said the city would not be able to use its excess revenue funds to fund the improvements the full tax increase would bring because of the city’s minimum reserve policy. 

Storrs said the city keeps a 90-day operating reserve for its general fund, in case unforeseen circumstances occur which impact funding coming to the city or the amount of expenditures the city would have to make. 

“That’s millions of dollars but it’s the same, on a personal level, where instead of possibly living paycheck to paycheck, you set some money aside in your savings, in the bank, in case something ever happens,” Storrs said. “It’s just a good way, from a financial standpoint, to ensure that things are healthy on into the future and that if things don’t go according to plan, you have something to fall back on.” 

Can the city use revenue from sales taxes or hotel occupancy taxes to fund the improvements, not needing a property tax increase? 

Storrs said the city cannot use revenues collected from sales taxes or hotel occupancy taxes to fund the improvements this proposed tax increase would bring. 

While the city has set record high sales tax revenues in 2021, Storrs said those excess revenues can be spent on one-time purchases, with officials not expecting those historic levels to continue. 

“We could take those dollars, those one-time dollars that we saw from the record sales tax collections this year, and allocate them towards one-time projects,” she said. “But you cannot put those additional police officers, ongoing maintenance at parks, ongoing street repairs, anything like that. You get it one time and then it’s finished.” 

For hotel occupancy tax, Storrs said state law restricts what those funds can be used for. Those funds can only promote tourism, which includes funding the Amarillo Civic Center Complex operation, paying for debt on Hodgetown and paying for debt on the downtown parking garage. 

How does this upcoming Proposition A election differ from 2020’s Proposition A election? 

In 2020, 61% of voters voted against Proposition A, a $275 million bond funding improvements and additions to the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. In the Proposition A on the ballot in 2021, Storrs said none of the funding would go towards that project voted down by voters in 2020. 

“Proposition A, back in 2020, was to improve the Civic Center, renovate the Civic Center and add an arena. Proposition A this year is to approve a tax rate that has already been adopted by council that will provide funding for additional police officers, additional police staff, police and fire equipment, parks funding and street funding,” Storrs said. “…It’s not going to fund city facilities. We are not putting any of the funding into the Civic Center or anything like that. It’s completely unrelated to the Proposition A from 2020.” 

If the Proposition A vote fails in November, what improvements would the city receive in these areas under the voters approval tax rate? 

If voters do not approve the Proposition A measure on the ballot in November, the city’s tax rate for the 2021-22 fiscal year would be the voter approval tax rate of $0.44334. This is still a tax rate increase for voters from the previous fiscal year. 

Because of the increase would not be the full amount, Storrs said some of the first responders positions would not be filled if the measure does not pass. This would also impact new first responders equipment as well as funds which would fund additional pothole repairs and street resurfacing. 

Not passing the proposition in full would also take away approximately $1.5 million in parks funding, Storrs said. 

“What that would look like to the community is the funding that is approved would help kind of maintain our maintenance, bring it up to a better standard as far as maintenance is concerned of our existing park amenities,” she said. “But it would not allow capacity for us to add on some of those additional park amenities that we have been hearing from our community.” 

The voter approval tax rate would give the city the ability to maintain its services that it provides to citizens currently, Storrs said. 

“It’s more of maintaining what we need just to get by right now and not being able to kind of put some additional items out there, some additional improvements out there in the community,” she said. 

For more information from the city of Amarillo about the upcoming election, visit the Amarillo Tax Rate website.

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