An upcoming election to raise city sales tax appears probable, but the idea of creating a citizens committee for input and recommendations is losing traction with Friendswood City Council.
“If you get too many people involved, you can get an agenda going,” Councilman John Scott. “You can get the consensus of a few that may not be good for the whole. I think we need to be very careful when we do that.”
He and other council members emphasized support of using sales tax funding for road maintenance, which would shift some of the cost from residents to non-residents who also use Friendswood’s roadways. In workshops and meetings over the past few months, council discussed forming a citizens committee — much like the one that researched and made recommendations on the 2013 bond packages — but most council members now say this may only complicate matters.
“My feeling is to keep this as simple as possible,” said Councilman Pat McGinnis.
Friendswood’s sales tax is a half cent below the maximum. Most Texas cities, according to the State Comptroller’s Office, are taxing at the maximum rate of 2 percent, or 8.25 percent when combined with the state sales tax rate. Friendswood taxes at a rate of 1.5 percent.
The possibility of a sales tax increase has been the focus of years of discussion by staff and City Council, but in 2015 has picked up speed and support from council in light of street maintenance funding needs.
“We’ve been talking about this for three years,” Councilman Billy Enochs said. “I think it’s time to stop talking about it and move forward.
“Street maintenance is a no brainer,” he said. “I think we’re all in agreement that it needs to be done.”
“Half of our bond election is going to catch the streets up,” he added.
Four options were presented Monday by staff. All four would require an election to implement.
The first option for the extra funds is an economic development corporation governed by a 7-member board, a minimum of four being council members, Roecker said. “In reality, you could have the council be the board of directors for that district.”
Another option is a municipal development district, which “looks and acts almost identically” to the first option, Roecker said.
A third option is a fire control prevention and emergency medical services district, which also in theory could be governed by a 7-member board made up completely of council members. The half-cent fund broadly funds fire and EMS services.
The fourth option represented the most discussed, which was a street maintenance sales tax. However, the maximum that can be used for this option is a quarter-cent. There is no board of directors with this option, and it has a four-year duration. Its use is to repair and maintain existing city streets.
Today, a half-cent of city sales tax generates an estimated $1.4 million for property tax relief.
“That revenue is used in the (budget) calculation and helps reduce the tax rate accordingly,” Roecker said.
The next step will likely be a town hall open meeting held by the city to education voters on the potential sales tax election.