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Trustees Discuss Tax Values, Rate at Special Meeting

The Belton ISD Board of Trustees discussed an analysis of preliminary tax values and the impact on the school district in a special meeting on Wednesday. Key discussion topics were:

  • The Bell County Tax Appraisal District sets the assessed value of homes in the county.
  • Belton ISD does not have any role in providing appraised property values.
  • The current Belton ISD Bond Propositions voters are considering have no impact on the property value statements that taxpayers receive. These statements are generated by the Bell County Tax Appraisal District.
  • The combined tax rate in Belton ISD has been lowered by 24 cents since 2017.
  • The BISD Board of Trustees has planned conservatively and demonstrated fiscal responsibility while addressing accelerated student growth. 
  • Financial modeling shows that, once again, the BISD Board can consider lowering tax rates when certified values are received in the summer.

“As a Board, we know and respect the challenges that taxpayers are feeling in Belton ISD,” said Jeff Norwood, Board president. “We’ve worked hard to lower the tax rates for our community over the last five years and continue to be fiscally responsible. We’ll continue to diligently explore the best options to prepare us to serve the 3,100 additional students we expect to add to Belton ISD in the next five years while also respecting the challenges taxpayers are facing.”

During their discussion, Belton ISD CFO Melissa Lafferty spoke to the impact of House Bill 3 passed during the 2019 legislative session. HB 3 compressed (or decreased) the maintenance and operations tax rate for Texas school districts. 

Tax rate compression, coupled with the fiscally responsible actions by the Board of Trustees through a lowering of the interest and sinking rate, have decreased Belton ISD tax rates by 24 cents in the last five years. 

State Representative Hugh Shine also addressed the Board and spoke to trustees about the efforts of the legislature to provide local property tax relief. Shine noted the success of House Bill 3 and said a major topic for the next legislative session is additional property tax relief. The Texas Education Agency currently calculates the maintenance and operations tax rate for school districts. Shine stated that future legislative action could help lower the school district maintenance and operations tax rate even further. 

Board Trustee Manuel Alcozer noted that property tax bills are increasing because of the appraised values. 

“None of us want to pay more in taxes,” said Alcozer.  “There’s a perception that Belton ISD plays a role in the appraised values folks are seeing.”

“No sir, we don’t have the tools to do that,” Lafferty said affirming that the district plays no role in establishing the property values issued by the Bell County Tax Appraisal District. 

Jennifer Ritter, Managing Director of Specialized Public Finance, the financial advisor for Belton ISD, addressed the Board regarding the interest and sinking tax rate which is used to pay debt service in school districts. 

“The taxpayers will get the benefit if the values come in higher than the 7.5 percent,” said Ritter, noting that the district planned conservatively for the current bond propositions and has consistently retired debt early. Ritter said that the district could lower the tax rate by approximately one cent based on the district’s preliminary property values received yesterday. 

“We sized this bond to be exactly what we told the voters, or better,” said Ritter  “That’s been the history at Belton ISD, the Board has lowered the tax rate after the bonds have been issued.” 

Ritter praised the Board of Trustees for making strategic decisions when it comes to debt management. Since 2012 the Board has saved taxpayers $18.3 million dollars through bond refinancing. If the tax base continues to grow, there is the potential to reduce the debt service tax rate even further in future years according to Ritter’s comments.

The district has two bond propositions on the May 7 election ballot. Early voting is currently underway. Proposition A of the bond proposal, for $168,825,000, includes the construction of two new elementary schools and an expansion of Southwest Elementary among other projects. Proposition B, for $5 million, includes purchasing of technology devices for students, teachers and staff.

In other news, the Board approved the hiring of Shad McGaha as the district’s chief technology officer. The position is newly titled to replace a vacancy as the district’s leader in the technology department. McGaha will help the district address the technology needs in an accelerated fast-growth school district potentially enrolling over 18,000 students by the end of the decade.

“We’re excited to add Shad’s expertise to our team,” said Todd Schiller, assistant superintendent of human resources. “Technology is just one of the many support services operating behind the scenes in Belton ISD helping make it possible to offer exceptional learning experiences to our more than 13,400 students.”

McGaha is in his 22nd year of technology management, all but one in Texas school districts. He has previously worked in Burkburnett ISD and Wichita Falls ISD and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Midwestern State University.

April 27, 2022