WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Few homeowners and businesses like to see their property taxes raised, but they also want adequate fire and police protection and the salaries needed to provide it.
That’s why many, both residents and their elected representatives, become torn when the two issues come in conflict. That conflict is now before the Wichita Falls City Council. Yet, when it comes to other ways of finding more money instead of taxes, there aren’t a lot of other practical ideas. All this and more was discussed during round two of the public hearings on the city’s new tax rate Tuesday.
“I hope you’ll reconsider. I hope you’ll hold our taxes where they’ve been,” Wichita Falls resident Pat Robbins said.
“Just because you can increase the city tax rate, doesn’t mean you should,” said Wichita Falls resident Ann Bishop.
“Here’s the deal: accept the lower rate,” Wichita Falls resident Larry Robinson said.
These are just some people not wanting a property tax rate increase when city council votes on either the same rate as last year at $.72988, the maximum rate at $.763323 or a rate in between the two by next Tuesday.
Those in favor of the higher rate say adequate pay for police and firefighters take precedence over holding the line on the rate. While it won’t solve all pay problems, for police as an example, it could help with attracting new officers and keeping them.
“This weekend, we had a test and we ended up lower numbers than ever before,” Sgt. John Spragins with the Wichita Falls Police Officers Association said. “53 applicants.”
After the tests, they were about only 20 potential candidates for the next academy. One resident said higher property taxes can also result in high turnover in the police and fire departments. However, the city manager said when attempting to recruit potential police candidates, their main concerns are pay and benefits.
“When we go to job fairs and we try to recruit officers, it’s one of the first things they ask. There are communities that are providing $10,000 sign-on bonuses for officers. We can’t afford to do that,” Wichita Falls City Manager Darron Leiker said.
Wichita Falls Fire Chief Ken Prillaman said he understands the limitations in the budget and also knows any tax increase can be more hardship for those on fixed incomes. He knows what it’s like to care for someone living on a fixed income, with little room for a tax increase.
“My mom made $1700 a month gross income when she died and trying to pay for an apartment and pay for medicine and try to figure out what pieces are eligible for Medicare and how do we cover her out of pocket. These are tough issues for sure,” Prillaman said.
With that deadline looming, Leiker told councilors now is the time to send him any options or suggestions that haven’t yet been put on the table. Regarding next week’s vote, state law requires a supermajority to set the rate. In this case, that would be at least five votes.