Falls Divided Over Proposed Tax Hike

People in Wichita Falls had the chance to sound off to City Council about a proposed property tax hike Tuesday. The issue has residents and city government split.

City staff is recommending a 2 cent per $100 in assessed value property tax increase. That, they said, will yield $880,000 for infrastructure repairs. Mayor Glenn Barham said the city needs to spend $9 million a year to keep up with street repairs. The tax hike would only bring next year's infrastructure repair budget to $2.6 million.

Several residents spoke out at the second of two public hearings on the proposal. Their main concerns were raising taxes in a down economy and that it seemed like councilors had already made up their mind in favor of the increase.

Some people were in favor of the move. The main argument in favor of the tax hike was the fact that the money will be targeted toward added value for the city.

District 3 Councilor Rick Hatcher was the only council member who spoke out against the tax increase. "There's never a good time to raise taxes," he said. "I believe this is an especially bad time for a tax increase."

Hatcher believes the city should wait until economic conditions improve before spending money on street repairs. He said he recognized the need, but he thinks the city is on the verge of better times.

Mayor Barham said he doesn't see that as a viable option. He said this is the best option to get started on a massive project without raising the money all at once or saddling the city with debt through a bond initiative.

Hatcher also took issue with a two percent pay raise for city staff in the budget. He said even if more revenue starts coming in, much of it could be earmarked.

The raise is dependent on an increase in sales tax revenue of one percent each month for the first six months of the budget year. Mayor Barham said he feels the raise, with conditions, is a fair compromise.

City Council is set to vote on the proposed tax hike and the 2010-2011 budget next Tuesday. That regularly-scheduled meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. at the Municipal Auditorium.

Tim Barnosky, Newschannel 6.