Angelina County leaders opposed to SB2

Angelina County leaders opposed to SB2
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Angelina County leaders are speaking out on the eve of a possible vote for Texas Senate Bill 2.

Behind the Angelina County Airport, Pct.4 Commissioner Bobby Cheshire was busy at work Monday stockpiling road material. Cheshire can trace his family roots back to the Texas Revolution. He is a believer in the phrase, "Don't Mess with Texas". Nowadays, the commissioner has come up with a new saying.

"I have a problem with Austin messing with Angelina County," Cheshire said when asked about Senate Bill 2.

The bill is known as the Texas Property Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017. If passed the bill would limit how much cities and counties can raise property taxes without voter consent. As the law reads now, if cities want to raise property taxes more than eight percent they have to go to voters for approval. If this bill passes, it would lower that referendum threshold to five percent.

A big concern Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter has is with the proposed change is the burden it puts on the counties.

"In Angelina County we have not come close to that percent in my 11 years," Suiter said. "We have no intent to do that. We have stayed close to the same over my time to meet the $23 million budget. We have $23 million coming in and we have $23 million going out. We don't plan o doing that outside of a major economic disaster and that is only to keep providing the services we provide."

Suiter explained that the state has unfunded and low funded mandates that they put on the counties that the counties are made to fund. Some of these programs include operating the county jail, providing health care to low income families, and court-appointed attorneys.

"At a time when police and sheriff deputies are asking for more manpower, this just hampers officials to fund those demands," Suiter said.

Lufkin City Manager Keith Wright is also backing Suiter. The City of Lufkin plans on signing a resolution at this weeks meeting to stand against the bill.

"For the City of Lufkin there would be no tax relief," Wright said. "All it would do is hinder our flexibility in responding to an economic problem in the future."

Wright said most cities will ride out a short-term downfall and only go to a large eight percent raise after several years. Wright said this may force some cities and counties to do several four percent raises multiple years in a row. Wright believes school finance needs to be addressed with school taxes taking up over 50 percent of a property owner's tax bill.

"This goes back to the legislators," Wright said. "If they want to see any property tax relief, it needs to come through that process whereas the cities and the counties are a small portion. That is the real fix."

Cheshire claimed to pay around $1,700 in property taxes. He said this is in no way bringing that number down.

"This is not about lowering taxes," Cheshire said. "I compare this to the Affordable Healthcare Act. We were all sold about how good Obamacare was but we all saw how that turned out."

Cheshire said he is trying to work with people's money in a safe way and understands that if the taxes go to high, he could get voted out.

"It should be that way," Cheshire said. "I don't want my taxes going up either, so I am going to do everything possible to handle everyone else's money in a respectful manner and responsible manner."

The bill could get voted on Tuesday or Wednesday. The vote comes after it was voted out of committee 5-4 last week. One of the votes for the bill was from Robert Nichols, a Republican from Jacksonville.

"Senator Nichols is my senator, and we may not always agree, but I do respect him," Suiter said. "It's hard for me to understand this time when 19 of his 19 counties have asked him to oppose this bill. It may be good for people in four or five counties, but it does nothing for people in the other 249 counties."

Senator Nichols released a statement today stating:

Property tax relief is one of the most important issues the Senate has identified this Session. As a former city council member and mayor, I understand the challenges and responsibility elected officials have in achieving a balance between protecting taxpayers and funding essential government services. I believe it is reasonable to expect all levels of government to operate their budgets in-line with population and inflation growth. Much of rural east Texas is not experiencing the same kind of increases in appraised value, that the more urban areas are. After thoroughly studying the numbers to ensure the cities and counties within Senate District 3 would not be negatively affected, I chose to vote in favor of SB 2.

Suiter stated that the commissioners court would file an official resolution against the movement if SB2 passes and the legislature then decides to move on their own version.

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