County judge to propose slight tax rate increase as Comanche Peak value slides

By Kathryn Jones

Editor

County Judge Mike Ford on Tuesday filed a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that includes raising the property tax rate by a little more than a penny per $100 of appraised property value.

Photo courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Photo courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The move came after Luminant, operator of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, announced last Thursday it reached an agreement with the Somervell Central Appraisal District for the facility’s 2014 taxable value – $1.95 billion. That’s down from $2.2 billion set last year for the value of the county’s single largest taxpayer.

“This was our expectation,” Ford said of Comanche Peak’s latest valuation.

 “I would have loved for it to be higher, of course,” Ford added. He said the county government was “happy to come to a resolution and it was at the right time.”

The county judge, by law, must file his proposed budget by the end of July.

Ford said the proposed budget he filed anticipates that tax revenues raised will be $806,200 lower, down 7 percent, from a year ago.

He also proposed a property tax rate of 41.517 cents per $100 of valuation. Last year the rate adopted by county commissioners was 40.159 cents.

Ford said “nobody is happy with our valuations” or with even a small property tax increase, but that is “the price we pay for the services we provide our citizens.”

County commissioners must set the county’s tax rate before Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year begins. Commissioners will hold one to two more budget workshops and a public hearing likely will be held on Aug. 25, Ford said.

He also praised county officials and employees for finding ways to trim their budget requests.

“My compliments to county commissioners and particularly to the department herds who came in with half a million dollars less in requests this year, knowing the position we were in,” he said.

Ford added there will be “significant changes” with the county-supported Expo Center.

“Not closing, but re-evaluating,” he said.

He declined to provide details, noting that county commissioners will continue to discuss options.

One alternative that has been suggested would be for a group such as the Glen Rose Rodeo Association to take over operations.

In Luminant’s prepared statement about the valuation agreement, Rafael Flores, the company’s chief nuclear officer, said Comanche Peak “plays a vital role not only in powering Texas with reliable electricity from safe, clean nuclear energy but also as a corporate citizen in Somervell County. We thank the county and appraisal district for their hard work in reaching this fair solution for all.”

Somervell CAD Chief Appraiser Wes Rollen said in the statement that “the appraisal district’s responsibility is to appraise all property in the district at its market value. We believe through our negotiations that we have accomplished that for the 2014 tax year.”

Luminant noted that since 2008, wholesale power prices in Texas have declined along with the price of natural gas leading to lower revenue at Comanche Peak and resulting in a lower fair market value.

However, Flores, who began working at Comanche Peak in 1983, said the plant will remain in Somervell County for “decades to come.”

“Our company and those of us who live and work in this area have a deep lasting investment here and, of course, are always concerned about the overall success of the community so it will continue to be a great place to live and work,” Flores said.

“Despite challenging power market conditions, Luminant remains the top property taxpayer in the county and is committed to supporting the communities in which we live and operate,” he added.

 

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