City of Stafford could make residents pay property taxes for the 1st time in 3 decades

Stafford, Texas, is home to more than 17,600 people.

Alex Bozarjian Image
Friday, June 21, 2024
Stafford could institute a property tax for the 1st time in 3 decades
Stafford, Texas, hasn't required residents to pay property taxes for the last three decades, but with a budget deficit, that distinction may go away.

STAFFORD, Texas (KTRK) -- Stafford, a southeast Texas city known for having no property taxes, could soon lose its claim to fame.

During a Tuesday city council meeting, councilmembers discussed a budget shortfall of $2.2 million. The financial outlook was so grim that city leaders said they couldn't afford to hire new police officers or fix broken-down police cars.

A solution proposed during the meeting was enacting a property tax on residents, a practice the Fort Bend County town had lacked for the last three decades. Leonard Scarcella, the mayor in the 1990s, saw it as a way to attract people and businesses.

"We've gotten a great ride," Stafford councilmember Tim Wood said. "Almost 30 years on a visionary man and policy that worked for the city until it didn't. And today is that day. Actually, to be honest, it was four years ago."

Council members said it's the reason they can't afford to fill 13 vacant police positions and repair police cars and fire trucks.

"We can't afford to get to the ledge and then not decide to do something about it," Virginia Rosas, another councilmember, said.

During the city council meeting, Stafford's chief financial officer laid out a plan to propose a property tax to help fund public safety operations.

However, residents were clear in explaining that is not what they signed up for.

"Stop the scare tactics and say, 'If you don't vote for this, you won't have fire and police.' Yeah, we will. You'll just have to cut services elsewhere," one Stafford resident said at the meeting.

"I am sorry, but y'all gotta do better than this," another resident said. "Property taxes for citizens? Most of them moved here for that. There's a lot of senior citizens here. I, for one, am going to fight like crazy."

City leaders recognize the widespread resistance, so they are planning two separate budgets - one without a property tax and one with additional money from a new tax. Talks are set to begin next month.

"We are not the same city as the 1990s or even the early 2000s. Property taxes weren't necessary. Great leaders know how to adapt to the situation," Wood said.

The city must pass the budget by Aug. 19 to place the proposed property tax on the November ballot.

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