Sandow 5 values fall in settlement

But RISD tax rate hike may be less than forecast
Reporter Editor

A settlement on taxable values of Luminant’s Sandow 5 power plant, and a new pollution control exemption granted by the state, were key factors in lowering values in the Rockdale ISD by almost $110-million for 2013.

But, thanks to a better-than-expected situation with the district’s debt service numbers, it now appears an anticipated 3.67-cent tax rate increase for RISD taxpayers will now be less than half that.

Certified values were sent to Milam County taxing entities last week, on the heels of a tax protest settlement between Luminant and the Milam Appraisal District (AD).

Those figures showed taxable values in the Rockdale ISD dropped $109,840,953 (10.6 percent), compared to 2012, from $1,036,205,016 to $926,364,063.

Much of that was attributable to Sandow 5, whose taxable value dropped by $108,662,335, from $422,048,135 to $313,385,800.

TAX RATE—Even though that’s a little larger decrease than the RISD was anticipating, according to Marla Wallace, chief financial officer, it appears the tax rate in the 2013-14 budget will be around $1.255, instead of the $1.2751 proposed in June.

(The current rate is $1.2384.)

That’s because Wallace originally thought the district would need a 23.5-cent INS (interest and sinking) rate to make payments on the 2007 school construction bond issue. She now plans to propose a 21.5 INS rate.

“It looks like we’re going to be able to make our payments with that rate,” Wallace said.

The maintenance and operation rate should remain at $1.04, she said.

That’s the highest rate the district can set without taxpayer approval in a special election.

Luminant’s increase is just about “a wash” in the budget.

Wallace said the decrease in values will amount to about $269,369 less in RISD tax revenue, but the district can expect $230,536 in additional state aid, a difference of $38,833.

“Under funding formulas, the state gives us almost enough to make up for the lost revenue, but not quite all of it,” she said.

The Luminant settlement will increase the anticipated 2013-14 deficit from $2.6 million to about $2.7 million,” she said.

COUNTY CRUNCH—The other entity affected by the Sandow 5 settlement is Milam County.

Taxable values in the county went down 4.6 percent, from $1,771,975,562 to $1,690,075,440.

Luminant is a factor, but not the only one, in the county’s budget crunch, in which elimination of some county jobs are on the table (see story, page 1A).

DECLINES—Taxable values at Luminant’s Sandow 4 power plant went down from $206,862,560 to $203,660,000 (1.55 percent).

Pollution control exempt properties decreased substantially at both units during the year, according to the AD.

Pollution control exempt properties at Sandow 5 went from $792,451,935 to $597,504,900 (24.6 percent) while those at Unit 4 dropped from $263,185,360 to $282,576,700 (7.37 percent.)

“Our goal has always been to reach a fair valuation for our plant, and we are appreciative to the people in the community who understand and appreciate the essence of fairness,” Meranda Cohn, Luminant spokesperson, said.

“In recent years, Texans have enjoyed lower power prices in a deregulated market. But those low power prices are also impacting Luminant’s plants. In 2012, wholesale power prices dropped to the lowest levels they’ve been since 2004,” she said.

“This dramatic decline in power prices directly impacts our revenue and, also, the value of our property. For perspective, average power prices dropped nearly 30 percent from 2010 to 2012,” Cohn said.

“Regardless of conditions driven by market forces, we remain the top property taxpayer in our community and are committed to paying our fair share,” she said.

“If power prices trend higher in the future, plant values and payments could follow,” Cohn said.

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