Council sets property tax rate (again)

Odessa’s City Council on Friday for the second time ratified the tax rate after discovering the published notice on the tax increase was incorrect.

During the special meeting Friday afternoon the council voted unanimously once again to an increase in property taxes.

City Councilmember Denise Swanner and Mayor Javier Joven both pressed the fact that the tax rate is unchanged from last year and sought to explain that it is not a tax increase as most of the new revenue it will bring in is from new properties that were not on tax roll last year.

While it is true that the majority of the more than $2.5 million in new tax revenue will come from new properties it is incorrect that some homeowners won’t pay more in property taxes this year. Those who have higher appraisals than last year will pay more.

Interim Director of Finance Seth Boles has said the increase will bring in roughly $2.5 million, or 5% more than last year and of that amount $1.9 million will come from new property added to the tax roll this year. That means about $600,000 will come from increased taxes for some homeowners with higher appraisals than last year.

According to materials provided to the city council, an error was made in creating the public notice about the tax increase and the meeting was held to correct the error.

Public notices must be published on the homepage of the City of Odessa’s website and in the Odessa American.

The city is attributing the error to the Ector County Appraisal District. Previously the council had to re-vote on several items due to incorrectly taking action. Once was on the firing of the city manager and city attorney and a second time was naming the new city attorney.

Friday’s vote was to ratify a tax rate of $0.483791 per $100 valuation. While the rate is the same as last year, it is considered a tax increase on Odessans as it brings in more money than last year. Again, a majority of that money will come from new property added to the tax roll, but some will also come from properties that appraise higher than they did last year. The council could have voted to lower the rate and bring in the same amount of property tax revenue as last year.

No one spoke during the Friday public hearing on the tax increase and a summary of the agenda item expressly states the new rate “means the City of Odessa is proposing to increase property taxes for the 2023 tax year.” No such language was included in last week’s materials.

The summary also included rules about public hearing requirements, public notices and when the council is allowed to vote on proposed tax rates. Again, none of that language was included the first time around.

Ross Leake, the committee clerk for the Texas Senate’s tax policy committee, commented on the incorrect posting of the tax rate on X, formerly known as Twitter.

He said the city’s notice contained “glaring miscalculations/errors,” was likely out of compliance with the notice provisions of the tax code and could “subject the adoption of their tax rate to litigation.”

Although the final vote on the proposed tax rate was originally set for Sept. 26, it will now occur on Sept. 28.