Aubrey City Council members passed a resolution Tuesday that might have appeared innocuous to the average viewer, but the split decision brought its share of criticism.
Among the most vocal critics is state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, whose district covers much of northeast Denton County.
Patterson was elected in 2018. He defeated a Republican challenger in a primary race earlier this year. He will face Democrat Jennifer Skidonenko for the district seat in the upcoming general election.
The resolution, which passed 3-2, gives the city administrator the ability to calculate a property tax rate that would bring in more money. The tax rate was not raised Tuesday, and there is no guarantee it will be as a result of the vote.
Council members Dewayne Brawner and Chuck Fikes cast the dissenting votes. Mayor Janet Meyers did not participate in the vote, as she votes only to break a tie.
Senate Bill 2, passed by the Texas Legislature this past session, caps the growth of property tax revenue at 3.5% for municipalities. Aubrey and cities like it would have to get voter approval in a tax rate approval election to move beyond that 3.5% cap under normal circumstances.
A handful of local municipalities took advantage of Gov. Greg Abbott’s pandemic-related disaster declaration issued on March 13 to skirt the requirement of a popular vote.
For Mayor Meyers, the resolution simply gave the city the chance to look over all of its options. For Rep. Patterson, the council’s vote removed power from the average voter.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Meyers said Aubrey has had a tax rate of about 54 cents per $100 property valuation for three or four years, “and all we are looking to do with this resolution is keep our options open.”
“I feel like I would be remiss in my duties as mayor if I did not present all the options available to the council,” she said.
She said she heard quite a lot of criticism over the resolution Tuesday night. She said much of what is being said about the vote is simply untrue and that no tax rate was adopted Tuesday night.
Patterson sent a letter to Meyers shortly before Tuesday’s vote.
“Let this letter serve as notice of my disgust for [the resolution], as well as my commitment to ensure the cities and counties that raise property taxes during these unprecedented times will be penalized next session,” he wrote in part.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, he said the City Council took power from voters who might not want them to consider the option of increasing their tax rate.
“The bottom line is a city can raise taxes as much as they want; they just have to get permission from voters if they want to go over 3.5%,” he said Wednesday.
He argued the City Council was misinterpreting a section dealing with natural disasters in SB 2.
The law does not clearly define what constitutes a disaster, but it lists several examples, “including a tornado, hurricane, flood, wildfire, or other calamity, but not including a drought.”
Patterson argued the law’s disaster section was influenced by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which struck the Gulf Coast in August 2017, so the Aubrey City Council was going against the spirit of the law.
Meyers said she received Patterson’s letter roughly 10 minutes before Tuesday’s meeting got rolling. She pointed to several neighboring cities that passed similar resolutions recently.
“Why is [Patterson] picking on Aubrey?” she said Wednesday.
Little Elm passed a similar resolution on June 16; Pilot Point passed one on July 27; and Krugerville reviewed a resolution on June 25. Minutes for Krugerville’s June 25 meeting were not available online by Wednesday afternoon. All those cities are also within Patterson’s district.
Patterson said he didn’t learn about Aubrey’s proposal until Tuesday morning, when one of his constituents clued him in. He said he has since reached out to other cities to dissuade them from raising their tax rates during the pandemic.