When Jerry Bark was appointed as public relations director for the City of Harker Heights, one of his responsibilities was to spend a lot of time in Austin keeping watch on the bill-filing frenzy during the current meeting of the 85th Legislature.

Bark shared a report with the City Council at its workshop Tuesday about some of what he has seen and heard in the halls of the Capitol.

Bark told the Herald, “My being there gives us an understanding of how many bills are being filed every session that are not city friendly. It gives us an opportunity to tell legislators about Harker Heights and where it’s located. I think we’re making progress but we won’t know until the end.”

According to Bark’s report, roughly 2,400 bills and joint resolutions were filed in the final three days leading up to the March 8 deadline. The 60-day total is at 7,821 bills, which is about 500 more than the last session and the second highest in history. Bills can still be filed, if the elected official can persuade their colleagues to suspend the rules on a bill-by-bill basis.

As committee and floor action picks up in the legislative session, Bark will keep track of ones that are most detrimental to Harker Heights by relying on his fellow department heads, Legislative Updates by the Texas Municipal League, relationships with state Rep. Brad Buckley and state Sen. Dawn Buckingham’s staff and use of the City of Harker Heights Legislative Platform, which was created by city leaders that outlines priorities for legislators to consider.

“In my visits with Rep. Buckley and Sen. Buckingham I try to get the message across that we’re here to help them. For example, if legislation comes down that could hurt code enforcement, I’m on the phone with our department heads and getting an update.”

He noted two, in particular that deal with property taxes — Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2:

1. SB 2 lowers the threshold from 8% to 2.5% for a rollback election.

2. Requires automatic tax election if the rollback rate is exceeded.

3. School districts are not exempt from the rollback rate

4. Small taxing units would remain at 8%

5. Additional wording the bill would rename he effective tax rate at the “no-new-revenue tax rate and renames the rollback rate as the voter-approved rate.

House Bill 2 would set the taxing limits of entities statewide:

1. 2.5% cap for cities and counties,

2 Community colleges, emergency service districts and hospital districts remain at 8%

3. CO debt service is rolled into the new revenue formula calculations

4. Unused increment is allowed to roll forward, cumulatively for up to five years.

The bill is now in the House Calendars Committee.

Bark said the budget bill has passed the House, school finance is under House debate now, then property tax reform bill will come up.

Supposedly, the Senate is awaiting all three bills from the lower chamber before moving on them.

Bark said, “We will continue to advocate somewhere in the middle.”

City Manager David Mitchell told the Herald, “We are a step ahead when it comes to covering the activity in Austin. Jerry is passionate and does have some lobbying activity. We’re very proud of the efforts that Jerry is involved in.”

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