An option to increase the property tax rate more than 3.5% without an election is before Longview City Council members this evening.

The council could direct Finance Director Angela Coen to calculate next year’s tax rate in the manner of a special taxing unit — a maneuver that would allow the city to raise the rate by as much as 8% without seeking voter approval.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s state disaster declaration opens the door for Longview and other local entities to access the option under the state tax code.

Council members would not adopt a tax rate today, Mayor Andy Mack said, but the city must have the resolution in place if it wants to use the tool this budget season.

“We’re going to start looking now. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us, looking at the budget and figuring out how we’re going to deal with the deficit we’re going to be incurring during this coronavirus outbreak,” Mack said, “so we’re going to be looking at all angles.”

The Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019 lowered the amount that an adopted tax rate can be increased — from a rollback rate of 8% down to 3.5%.

Before the new law, if a city adopted a rate that was more than 8% higher than the previous year’s rate, taxpayers could petition for an election to roll back the tax rate.

The new law not only lowered that rollback rate to 3.5% but also requires the city to hold an automatic election.

However, if a city is located in an area declared a disaster area during the current tax year by either the governor or the U.S. president, the city can calculate the rollback rate just like a special taxing unit, meaning that it can increase the rate up to 8%.

“It gives us some options to look at,” Mack said, “and like I told the city manager and the department heads, we’ve got to start looking now. We can’t wait until we’re in the middle of budget crunch time to start trying to decipher this out. We start now so that we’ll have a plan in action when September rolls around.”

Under the tax code, if the City Council adopts the resolution, Coen also may continue calculating the city’s adopted rollback tax rate for a second year until total taxable property values exceed the total taxable value as of Jan. 1, 2020, or the third year after the tax year in which the disaster occurred — whichever is earliest.

Property taxes and sales taxes each account for about one-fifth of the city’s total revenues this year.

The city’s 2020 estimated taxable property values are 1.1% higher than last year’s certified values, according to the Gregg County Appraisal District. Last year’s ad valorem rate was 55.89 cents per $100 of valuation.

Meanwhile, Longview sales tax rebates are down 1.32% year-to-date — a difference of nearly $180,000, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Tonight’s item only makes the option available to the city if it wants to exercise it this year, Mack said. A new tax rate can’t be adopted until public hearings are held.

“We’re going to leave no stone unturned. That’s our job. That’s our fiscal responsibility to find ways to make our budget work and give the citizens of Longview the services that they pay for and deserve,” he said.

Council members, staff and residents will participate by audio only, but the virtual meeting will include visual screens for information purposes. Instructions and direct links to view the meeting or speak during citizen comment time can be found at LongviewTexas.gov/tele .

The council is using videoconferencing to practice social distancing amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Anyone wishing to participate in citizen comment should “arrive” early to allow for time to register for the videoconference tool, according to the city.

“After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. The virtual conference meeting room will open at 5:15 p.m., and the meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m.,” according to a statement from the city.

Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.