The San Antonio River Authority is proposing a nearly 7.5 percent increase in its property tax rate, in part to fund its efforts to better prepare for catastrophic flooding in the river basin.
The proposed increase would take the rate from 1.73 cents per $100 of assessed value to 1.86 cents for property owners in the River Authority’s territory, which includes Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad counties.
The increase would raise the average homeowner’s annual River Authority tax bill from $31.30 to $35.68, providing an estimated $4.1 million in additional revenue, River Authority budget manager Rick Trefzer told the authority’s board of directors at its May meeting Wednesday.
Created by the Texas Legislature in 1937, the River Authority is the official steward of the San Antonio River and is projected to bring in $30.4 million in tax revenue next fiscal year, provided its elected board approves the tax hike. Its tax rate is capped at 2 cents per $100.
That tax rate has been flat since its 2015-2016 fiscal year, when it was reduced from 1.75 cents per $100 the previous year, Trefzer said. That rate was down from a nine-year high of 1.78 cents in 2013-2014.
The increased revenue will in part help the River Authority develop more up-to-date and detailed flood maps and models, its General Manager Suzanne Scott said.
The need for this information has become more obvious since Hurricane Harvey caused devastating flooding in Houston last year, Scott said. In the storm’s aftermath, River Authority staffers last year used what tools they had to project how a Harvey-level downpour would flood downtown San Antonio.
“We realized that what we had was good, but the technology is better now, and we need to make sure our community has the best available data to understand how these storms could impact our basin,” Scott said.
Specifically, the authority plans to spend more than $1 million remapping the floodplains of Leon and Salado creeks and the Medina River. It also plans to spend $950,000 on predictive flood modeling and $100,000 on more finely detailed, site-specific models, among other new projects.
Scott said River Authority staff thought about spreading the work out over five years with more incremental tax rate hikes but ended up proposing a three-year time frame with an up-front tax increase.
“The sooner you have these tools available, the better they’ll be, and the sooner you’ll have them available to use,” Scott said.
The 2018-2019 budget also includes $335,000 to match the City’s contribution to fund low-impact development in City bond projects.
Low-impact development refers to a set of design features and techniques that help filter polluted stormwater runoff that’s harmful to local waterways and reduce small-scale flooding. River Authority officials have been promoting these techniques for the past few years.
“In order to try to make sure that low-impact development techniques are used in some of these larger projects, like Broadway, for example…we want to bring some of our funding to the table,” Scott said.
The board is expected to vote on the budget at its June 20 meeting, when it would also officially propose the new tax rate and set a public hearing for its Aug. 15 meeting.
Board members are set to vote on whether to approve the tax increase at the Aug. 15 meeting.
At their Wednesday meeting, directors also approved geologist Darrell Brownlow as their new chair for 2018 and 2019, replacing environmental engineer Michael Lackey of Bexar County, who has served as chair since August 2016. Lackey will become vice chairman.
Brownlow represents Wilson County on the board, a seat he has held since 2011. He serves on its executive and operations committees.
“I hope to continue the strong and steady leadership [the River Authority's] past chairmen have exhibited so well," Brownlow said in a prepared statement. "I am dedicated to SARA’s mission to ensure our creeks and rivers are safe, clean, and enjoyable for all communities in our district.”