City reduces property tax rate in new fiscal year; Adapts to post COVID-19 environment

In a letter addressed to the City Commission and Mayor, Brownsville City Manager Noel Bernal presented the Fiscal Year 2021 Proposed Budget which furthers the commission’s strategic vision, meets community needs and sustains local jobs.

The seven-page letter, which is dated Oct. 1, states in detail several changes that are to come in FY2021 such as reducing property tax rate by approximately 1/4 or .25 cents to .697964, updating parking meters and adapting to a post COVID-19 environment.

According to the letter, with property tax being the city’s primary revenue source, the timing of the second year of commercial reappraisals in the 2020 tax year led to back-to-back increase of approximately six percent on their taxable valuation.

“This was anticipated and accounted for in our 5-year- General Fund Financial Forecast. … This is the first reduction in over a decade, providing tax relief to our community during the pandemic,” Bernal said in the letter.

In a phone interview with The Brownsville Herald, Bernal said the most important part is to be able to balance the principles of adjusting to a post COVID-19 environment, that’s still uncertain, while making strategic changes. When asked how does it feel that the city was able to reduce property tax during his first term as city manager, he said it is an accomplishment.

“It feels great, because I think more than anything it was us taking advantage of the opportunity that we had with back-to-back years of strong property tax growth, it is an accomplishment because it shows our commitment to being efficient, our commitment to as we succeed in our economic development efforts, to pass that benefit over to our tax payers. That’s the benefit of running an efficient government,” Bernal said.

FY2021 also includes the Strategic Automation Plan, which is a portfolio of technology solutions and applications to enhance the efficiency or modernize certain processes and systems. One of the issues mentioned in the plan is downtown parking.

“Our parking meters are easily somewhere around 15 years old, if not longer, they have parts that cannot be mechanically replaced and they are basically now ‘signage clutter’ … they’re basically clutter for downtown because today there are much more efficient and less convoluted systems that can be operated,” Bernal said in an interview.

“What we want to have is a system that is able to understand that our community still uses cash and coins, but it can have credit card availability, it can have an app for payments and it can reduce the number of parking meters by centralizing it into parking pods, and it can also give us better data for us to manage our staffing and not have to go out there as much as we do now to maintain them and to also process the payments.”

Bernal said the different entities coming together in Brownsville have been key for the city to reach its goals. He said in a few years he would still like to see the entities working together while ensuring the fiscal sustainability of the community.

“We can’t do it alone, we need the Port, we need BISD, we need (B) PUB and the future is going to continue to be very fast-paced and it’s going to be causing a lot of changes that we don’t know yet on a variety of sectors because of the pandemic,” he said.

“Overall, I think that if we know where we need to be headed as a city and if we are aligned as entities, we are going to be able then to make the adjustments and continue to see Brownsville vision come to life in five years from now, and beyond.”