BELTON — Don’t take everything at face value.
That certainly applies to the city of Belton’s proposed 65.98-cent tax rate for 2020.
At first glance, it appears the rate is staying the same for the seventh straight year. But dig deeper into the two smaller figures — the debt service rate and maintenance and operation rate — that make up that value and that is not the case.
“It’s the current total rate, but it’s not the current individual rates,” Councilman David K. Leigh said. “We’re going up on our (maintenance and operations rate). We’re going down on our debt service. And we’re going to use some cash to move from one place to another.”
The city is shifting .62 cents — or about $78,000 — from its debt service rate to its maintenance and operations rate.
The proposed operations and maintenance rate is 57.12 cents. That rate was 56.5 cents in the 2019 budget.
The proposed debt service rate is 8.86 cents. It was 9.48 cents in the current budget.
The fiddling of the two smaller rates is what led to Leigh and Councilman John Holmes to vote against the proposed rate.
“In the past, we arbitrarily increased our (maintenance and operations) rate by buying down our debt service. This proposal does this again. It reduces our debt service rate even further,” Holmes said. “I’m a little cautious and concerned that at some point we will have to make up the debt service … and it will dramatically increase our (maintenance and operations) rate — or we’ll be forced to raise taxes a couple of cents at least.”
They wanted the debt service rate as well as the maintenance and operations rate to stay at their current levels. The current tax rate has a debt service rate of 9.48 cents and a maintenance and operations rate of 56.5 cents for an overall tax rate of 65.98 cents.
The remaining five Council members voted in favor of continuing to tweak the tax rate — a strategy that also occurred last year.
“I think we’ve gone far enough,” Leigh said of the city’s strategy of increasing the maintenance and operations rate and decreasing the debt service rate.
Councilman Craig Pearson said he was uncomfortable disagreeing with his fellow Council members.
“I’ve said since I came on Council that I’m not going to vote for an increase in taxes until we’ve done everything that we can possibly do, including taking down our cash balance to our minimum. We’re nowhere near that,” Pearson said. “We’re taking what I think is a prudent step, maintaining our tax rate with the good conscience of our citizens. While, at the same time, doing what I believe is a prudent one last time opportunity to buy down the debt service while still having plenty in our cash balance.”
Councilman Dan Kirkley — who motioned for the proposed tax rate — said this was the appropriate direction to go because of future challenges and the new tax rate restrictions that will be implemented next year.
Despite the overall tax rate is proposed to stay the same, residents should expect to see a higher property tax bill. The Tax Appraisal District pinned Belton as having a certified value of more than $1.2 billion — a 13 percent increase from last year’s value of $1.1 billion.
As property values increase, tax bills will likely see bumps, too.
The average home value in Belton is $177,118. That homeowner will pay $1,094 in city taxes in 2020. That is an increase of $85 from last year’s bill of $1,084. Last year, the average home value was $164,329.
The City Council would have to levy a tax of 61.78 cents per $100 valuation for residents not to see a higher property tax bill. That is the effective rate, and can be broken down into a 52.92-cent maintenance and operations rate and a 8.86-cent debt service rate.
The city of Belton is .01 cent short of its rollback rate of 65.99 cents, which could have triggered an election, if 10 percent of voters petitioned for it. The rollback maintenance and operations rate is 57.13 cents.
The City Council called for two public hearings on the proposed tax rate. The first will be at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 and the second will be at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 10.
Both hearings will take place in the Harris Community Center, 401 N. Alexander St.