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Collin County commissioners propose lower tax rate despite growing budget demands

Collin County Court House
Azul Sordo
The Collin County Commissioners Court wants to lower property taxes even though the rising population needs more services.

Collin County’s booming population is putting a strain on its sheriff’s office.

Serving a growing population costs time and money. Jim Skinner, the Collin County sheriff, said it’s getting harder for his office to manage the workload.

“In some cases, we have more weeks of work than there are weeks in the year,” Skinner said. “We need some help.”

The Collin County Commissioners Court wants to lower property taxes even though the county’s population and its needs are going up. The commissioners court voted on Monday to lower the county’s total tax rate for the 2022-2023 fiscal year to 1.52 cents per $100,000 of a home’s appraised value. That’s about two cents lower than the current rate, but it’s a few points higher than the no-new-revenue rate of 1.49 cents.

The county typically lowers property taxes down to the no-new-revenue rate, which keeps tax revenue from property taxes roughly the same as the previous year. With property values in the county on the rise, cities and school districts in the county are lowering tax rates to lessen the impact of rising property tax bills. Home values have gone up so much that even though a taxing entity may lower rates, bills are still likely to go up.

Collin County Judge Chris Hill said going down to the no-new-revenue rate is important because of the impact of inflation.

“Every one of our taxpayers is paying more money out of their pocket for gasoline, for groceries, for their clothing, for their rent,” Hill said. “For us to come alongside and say ‘listen, we know it’s been hard, but we’ve got more costs, so we’re really just going to pass them along to you, sorry.’ I think it’s a horrible year to do that.”

But a growing population means more service needs. The population in Collin County is 1.1 million as of July 21, 2021, according to U.S. census data. That’s a 4.2% increase from April of the previous year, a growth rate that’s the second highest in the country, behind only Maricopa County in Arizona.

The sheriff is requesting more personnel, including two dispatchers. He said dispatch calls have increased by almost 30% the past year. He also said felony warrants, which have to be served by the sheriff’s office in Collin County, are piling up.

Motor vehicle registrations are also piling up. Kenneth Maun, the county’s tax assessor-collector, runs the department that handles motor vehicle registration fees for the county. He said people are waiting as long as 45 minutes to get a car title or register their vehicle because his department is understaffed.

“Everybody's been talking about the lobbies having a problem being stuffed with people, and we need to get them out of there,” Maun said.

He said the commissioners court has only approved one new hire for his department in the past ten years despite the population boom.

The courts are also feeling the impact of the booming population. Judge Tom Nowak from the 366th district court said the amount of work staff at the courts is handling isn’t sustainable in the long term. He asked the commissioners to ask the Texas legislature to add two more courts to the county during the next legislative session.

Nowak, a Republican, said he and the other judges understood the commissioner’s desire to not raise taxes.

“We live here,” Nowak said. “Obviously, we don't want to pay more every year, just like every other citizen that comes before you guys.”

The commissioners court decided to table the issue of new courts for their legislative agenda since the two new courts wouldn’t have much of an impact on the budget for fiscal year 2022-2023. But adding two courts means more staff salaries to account for in future budgets, something that’s already on the horizon for Collin County next year with the jail expansion.

Hill said keeping taxes low needs to be a priority for the court because taxes are already going up the next fiscal year to help pay for the jail expansion, but commissioner Duncan Webb said the costs will catch up with the budget either way if the court keeps delaying budget needs.

“You’re now going to have a massive tax increase versus doing it over a two-year period,” Webb said.

Collin County commissioners are set to approve the budget Sept. 12. The county will also hold public hearings on the proposed property tax rate and budget on that day.

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Caroline Love is a Report For America corps member for KERA News.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.