San Antonio River Authority Halts Plans for Tax Increase — For Now

The San Antonio River Authority considered a new W.A.T.E.R. Initiative which involved adding a maximum property tax rate of 2.5 cents per $100 valuation for property owners in Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad counties in exchange for stepping up its work along the river basin.

The tax hike would have taken the average Bexar County homeowner’s River Authority property tax from $38.58 annually per household to $90.48 per year, according to River Authority figures based on 2019 property values, and bring in an additional $45.2 million in revenue annually if it were in effect next year.

In a 7-5 vote last week, board members voted to end discussion of what River Authority staff pitched as a watershed protection tax. The vote leaves the option open to pursue such a tax in the future, though any effort to put it on the ballot for voter approval likely won’t happen before 2021.

The River Authority’s staff proposed a significant expansion of the agency’s roles and responsibilities, to be funded by a property tax increase that would allow the organization to implement construction and capital improvement projects. Currently, their funding can only be spent on operations and maintenance (O&M) projects. That funding would go toward improving water quality, protecting the Edwards Aquifer, flood protection, and building more paved trails and parks. The new tax requires voter approval from residents in all of the impacted counties of Bexar, Goliad, Wilson, and Karnes.

  • Chapter 49 of the Texas Water Code allows the River Authority Board of Directors to seek voter approval through a district-wide election for the authorization to collect a property tax providing new funding for the River Authority to directly implement capital projects and support the expansion of successful environmental protection programs throughout the district.
  • The current average homestead value in the River Authority’s four-county district is $209,544. After a $5,000 homestead exemption, a 2.5 cent per $100 valuation tax would equate to an average increase of $51.12 per year to the average homeowner.
  • Specific projects would have been selected and approved by the River Authority’s elected Board of Directors.

As part of the initiative, SARA proposed taking over certain aspects of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan. Currently, the Edwards Aquifer and greenway trails programs are overseen by the City of San Antonio and jointly funded by a 1/8-cent sales tax. Dollars raised from the sales tax are used towards purchasing conservation easements on private ranch land over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone in Uvalde and Medina counties, the source of most of the water that recharges the aquifer below San Antonio. These land purchases by the City ensure nearly 160,000 acres of land – an area about half the size of San Antonio city limits – will never be developed. The sales tax to protect the Edwards Aquifer has been in place since 2000 but is set to expire in 2020.

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