City council faces dilemmatic choice, meeting tonight

Tonight, the West University Place City Council meets at 6:30 in the Municipal Building at 3800 University Boulevard.

Two items of interest – taxes, and an unusual lawsuit against the city.

City council to set tax rate
The Chief Appraiser of the Harris County Appraisal District set West University Place property values for 2016 at $6,185,974,556, an increase of 7.79% from 2015. Chapter 26 of the Texas Property Tax Code requires the city council to adopt a maximum tax rate and schedule two public hearings.

The tax rate for 2015 was 33.179 cents per $100 value. The proposed maximum tax rate for 2016 to be considered at tonight’s meeting is 31.68 cents per $100 value.

This is a proposed tax rate decrease, but it would be a tax revenue increase because of the almost 8% increase in property valuations.

To add some confusion to the mix – it is unlikely the city council will ultimately implement the proposed maximum rate adopted tonight. This rate is a legally required starting point to begin the annual budget discussion. But at a meeting on Monday, October 17, the city council will adopt the city’s annual budget and then they will adopt a tax rate that funds the budget. The actual tax rate finally implemented will likely be lower than the rate the city council will adopt this evening.

City council in legal lockbox
The city council was pushed into choppy legal waters by a ruling from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Corporate mega-giant AT&T sued the ZBA for overturning the ruling of West U’s chief zoning official and its city attorney. Now the 127th Judicial District Court is waiting for the ZBA to respond to the lawsuit.  LAWSUIT

However, the ZBA has no budget or litigation authority. So decisions about the litigation and any related costs are decided by the city council and the associated costs are borne by West U taxpayers.

Who does the city council defend? The city staff and city attorney? Or the ZBA? This lawsuit puts councilmembers in a dilemmatic situation. If they back the ZBA, they will be taking the position that their own zoning official and city attorney don’t understand the zoning rules and law. However, if they don’t back the ZBA, what kind of support message does that send to West U’s volunteer boards and commissions?

The discussion about the lawsuit will be behind closed doors, a right given city councils under Section 551.071 of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

George Boehme

George Boehme is the Managing Partner of and West University Essentials magazine.

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