ZAPATA, Texas (Border Report) — Leaders in this rural ranching border county on Monday ordered that over $100,000 in back property taxes that had been erased and forgiven by a previous tax assessor/collector be put back on the books and be paid in full.
The Zapata County Commissioners’ Court on Monday voted unanimously to order five entities or parties that owe a total of $104,412 in delinquent property taxes must pay their bills entirely. That includes Zapata County Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque, who owes $16,590 in back property taxes.
The five-member court determined that the previous county tax assessor/collector did not have the authority to erase the property taxes due to this sprawling county east of Laredo.
“We’re here to serve. None of us have the authority. It’s not our money. So I think it belongs to the taxpayers and we have to do everything to protect that integrity within the system,” Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell told Border Report in his chambers after the meeting.
“The governing body is the only one that has the authority, which would be the commissioners’ court to give any type of relief concerning those delinquent tax accounts. And there are limits as to what the court can do. So we felt it necessary that all those balances that have been discovered that have received those credits have been reinstated, and put placed back on the rolls, with all the delinquent amounts,” Rathmell said.
Commissioners discussed the item in executive session for about 30 minutes, but when they resumed the meeting in public they voted to reinstate all of the property taxes that were in arrears and that the debts must be paid in full.
Some of the taxes dated back to the 1980s, including the party that owes the most — $62,590. They had only paid $5,000 on their bill, according to documents obtained by Border Report from the current tax assessor/collector’s office.
Del Bosque owed the second-most having paid only $9,672 of a $26,262 delinquent property tax bill spanning several years, records show.
Rathmell said most of the cases had suits filed for collection but the previous tax assessor accepted partial payments in late 2020 and then deleted the amounts owed prior to her leaving the position.
Rathmell says she then went to work for Del Bosque in the sheriff’s department.
Del Bosque was elected in November 2020 and his debts were canceled in December, prior to his taking office in January.
He told Border Report that as a law enforcement and elected official, his private records are not subject to public scrutiny. He said the release of documents threatens the welfare of his family, and he called the entire event a political witch hunt.
“I was just ordered to pay the amount that was paid and it was paid and the process was done correctly. So It’s just a matter of bad politics. Big town: big politics; small town: small politics. Right now here on the border, I am running a re-election campaign and it’s all about trying to get my family and my name in the mud and it’s not going to work,” Del Bosque said.
He waited in the hallway with other curious members of the public on Monday who crammed the small Zapata County courthouse to hear the chisme or gossip that had piqued much interest here.
In this rural ranching community of just 15,000 where cattle far outnumber people, one woman told Border Report that everyone comes out to commissioners’ court when there is a “scandal.”
“The case has been closed. I don’t know why it’s been opened by the current tax assessor,” Del Bosque told Border Report. “It’s just about trying to get somebody else elected for my position.”
Del Bosque is campaigning for his second term as sheriff in the Democratic primary elections to be held in March.
Elections in Zapata County almost always go to the Democrat, even though President Donald Trump carried this county in 2020. With his win here, however, more right-leaning leaders, like Del Bosque, came to power.
Del Bosque has openly criticized border enforcement and has sided with Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s hard-line border security tactics in the past.
“It’s gonna get worse gonna, get dirtier because that’s what happens in small towns, you know, they want to get the people that can manipulate in office, and it’s not gonna work,” Del Bosque said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com