Half-Cent Sales Tax Credited With Ten Years of Expansion

Ten years after Tyler voters approved a half-cent sales tax, the city is nearly out of debt.  Now, much of the city's improvements are being paid for with cash.

As Tyler continues to grow, estimates show surpassing 100,000 people, leaders say it's the half-cent sales tax that's helped fuel the expansion.

"There are a lot of cities who are interested in how we do business," says Tyler Mayor Joey Seeber.

In ten years, Tyler's property taxes have been cut in half, now the lowest for any city of size in the state. Longview's nearly double. Waco and Fort Worth are much higher.

"Every business that comes here pays it, so businesses that come to the city, the fact that we have the lowest property tax in the state is very important to them," he says.

Sales and use taxes now make up nearly half of the city's budget, much more than property taxes or the business franchise tax. Over the last ten years, the half-cent tax's projects are many -- like the new airport terminal, Faulkner Park, and roads all over town.

"I think the biggest project coming here in the next few years is the Grande Extension," Seeber says.

Grande will link Highway 155 to Highway 110 by 2009. And for the police department their new  facility is thanks to the half-cent.

"The morale has definitely improved, and having a nice working environment makes a big, big difference," says Police Chief Gary Swindle.

Since spending began in 1998, the Half-Cent Tax has paid for nearly $66 million dollars of capital improvements.

"If you think about it, tenyears from now we will have collected at least a hundred million more dollars in half-cent sales tax money and that will go to pay for improvements for our city, and that's something no other city can say," Seeber says.

While the expansion continues, in two years Tyler will be the only city of its size or larger in the state with zero debt. A percentage of property taxes go to pay off bonds from many years ago, and there's a little more than $7 million to go.

Compare that to Corpus Christi, which has a bond debt of $100 million.

Morgan Palmer, reporting. morganpalmer@kltv.com