Killeen-area taxpayers are about to see a big hit to their wallets.
Central Texans who live inside Killeen city limits pay taxes to the city, Killeen Independent School District and Central Texas College District, as well as to Bell County.
And come October, the tax rates for three of those four entities may be going up.
Already the Killeen ISD board has voted to raise taxes by 15 cents in order to fund a $426 million construction bond approved by the district’s voters in May. The new rate is $1.26 per $100 valuation.
That increase is expected to bump up the taxes by $223 per year for the owner of a $121,311 home — the average price for a home in the district.
On Tuesday, Killeen residents will learn how much more their taxes are going to rise.
The Central Texas College board of directors is scheduled to vote on a 0.843-cent tax hike that will yield a nearly 7 percent increase in revenue for the college — or about $780,000.
According to calculations by CTC, the new rate would mean a $209.12 tax bill for the average home, valued at $141,012, in the CTC district’s jurisdiction. This is an increase from last year’s amount of $192.80 worth of taxes imposed on the average homestead, which was then valued at $137,816.
Also Tuesday, the Killeen City Council will consider adopting a tax rate of 75.75 cents per $100 valuation — just over three-quarters of a cent higher than the current rate. The increase would bring the city an additional $420,000 a year, city figures show.
If all the new rates go through, Killeen residents would see a total increase of about 16.6 cents on their annual tax bills, beginning Oct. 1.
That doesn’t sound like much, until you look at the total tax bite facing property owners.
Added up, the tax bill for Killeen, Killeen ISD and CTC would be just over $2.16 annually — up from the current rate of nearly $2 even. Add in the county’s unchanged 45.1-cent rate, and the total jumps to $2.61 for every $100 in assessed property value.
The 16-cent increase for the coming fiscal year represents a tax bump of $240 for the owner of the average KISD home listed above. However, for owners of more expensive homes, that number grows proportionately. And for homeowners with property valued at $250,000, the resulting $580 increase coming this fall is hardly inconsequential.
What frustrates many residents about the tax increases is that because of rising property values, all area taxing entities are already seeing increased revenue, even if they leave their rates unchanged.
For example, Bell County anticipates an increase in property tax revenue of $1.6 million, chiefly due to increased property valuations and new properties on the tax rolls.
However, even with the added money, the county is looking at a gap of about $4 million between revenue and expenditures, which could necessitate dipping into the county’s reserves.
Obviously, it costs money to run a city, county, school district or college.
But residents have a right to ask why they’re being asked to pay higher rates to make ends meet.
That’s an especially good question, given the fact that in some cases, the level of programs and services is decreasing rather than increasing as tax revenues rise.
In Killeen, for example, last year’s budget called for cuts in programs at the Lions Club Park Community Center and reduced hours at the Killeen Community Center, as well as the elimination of 25 vacant positions in the city’s police department.
And while this year’s budget doesn’t contain as many cutbacks, it also falls short in the areas of street maintenance and police overtime, so it’s not surprising that some residents are skeptical about the higher proposed tax rate.
That’s especially true since the budget proposed by City Manager Ron Olson is balanced even without a tax hike. Approval of an increased rate would mean the council would have to go back and rework funding levels in the current proposed document.
The KISD tax increase is directly tied to the construction of new schools and renovations of older facilities in the district, so the benefits are clear, at least conceptually. However, for residents without school-age children or those who are military-connected and won’t be here when the new schools come on line, the 15-cent tax increase is no doubt harder to reconcile.
It all comes down to what each entity can afford, given their respective budget constraints.
In some cases — such as in Killeen and Harker Heights — the budget is heavily impacted by the state-mandated disabled veterans property tax exemption. Though Killeen receives some compensation from the state, the exemption still strips nearly $4 million from the city’s tax revenue. In Harker Heights, the exemption costs less — about $1 million — but it’s a bigger percentage of the budget.
In the case of Harker Heights — which hasn’t raised its tax rate in 20 years — the loss of revenue means less money to spare, and this year that meant not being able to fulfill the Hill Country Transit District’s request for a sizeable funding increase. As a result, the city is likely to see reductions in bus service provided by The Hop beginning next month.
Taxpayers are right to expect their respective taxing entities to live within their means — especially when they are required to do the same.
But the problem comes when these entities are forced to make tough choices to balance the budget — whether that means reducing services, eliminating programs or cutting positions. Something has to give, and some taxpayers are bound to be affected.
With higher taxes, higher fees — which some rightly note are essentially taxes — and a steadily rising cost of living, it’s fair to ask at what point residents will reach a tipping point.
Essentially, how much more can local taxing entities ask for before the voters rebel?
As long as these taxing entities provide more for the taxpayers’ money — such as better schools, increased services or additional programs — voters are likely to see higher taxes and fees as a workable tradeoff.
But when residents are faced with public safety cuts, reduced recreation programs and cutbacks in bus service, it gets a little more difficult to simply take tax and fee increases in stride.
Ultimately, it’s up to the elected officials on our city councils, school boards and college board to be good stewards of our money.
And it’s up to diligent taxpayers to make sure they live up to that responsibility.