Category: The Economy
December 20, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
December 5, 2010
by ED HOUSEWRIGHT/ The Dallas Morning News
Nonprofit clinic to treat the poor opens today in West Plano
October 6, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer
Plano City Councilman Harry LaRosiliere
NIMBYism is alive and well in East Plano.
by GARY REAVES / WFAA
August 3, 2010
PLANO — The City of Plano got an earful from property owners Tuesday night who are upset about a proposed plan to help the homeless.
In a sign of the tough economic times, about 150 people gathered at the First United Methodist Church for a town hall meeting to talk about what to do about the growing homeless problem in one of the nation's most affluent counties.
Just about everyone agrees something must be done, but many of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting want it done somewhere else.
Plano residents kept their emotions in check, but that doesn't mean they want the proposed facility for 80 homeless families to be built in their backyard.
"This is a worthy cause, but this is the wrong site," one speaker said.
The proposed site is currently a vacant lot in east Plano. The Samaritan Inn of McKinney — the county's only homeless shelter — is seeking a federally-backed loan for the Plano property to build a facility to help homeless families get back on their feet.
The agency's McKinney shelter is swamped.
"With the decline in the economy, we have now been turning away 15 to 30 people a week because we're full," said Samaritan Inn director Lynne Sipiora.
Her organization is committed to the Plano location, but people who live nearby fear it would only hurt the value of their homes.
"I feel trapped, because I've already asked 50 people — or more — if they would be willing to buy my condo if they could see a homeless shelter out the bedroom window, and their response to me was, 'No,'" said Shari Gearhart.
Like most everyone at the meeting, Gearhart said she would support the Samaritan Inn proposal if it was located elsewhere.
But Denny James, who has been helped by the Samaritan Inn shelter, offered a reminder that many others are just a paycheck away from being homeless like he was.
"They were there," James said. "They gave my baby wet wipes and diapers and toothbrushes and stuff I just ran out of. They helped me."
Next Monday, the Plano City Council will consider the first stage of the Samaritan Inn's proposal — applying for a federal loan. After that, the organization would still have to raise more than $3 million and they'd have to settle on a final site.
One of the problems with something instantly deemed “controversial” is how the facts often get intermingled with feelings, producing an inaccurate debate when possible approval is pending. Such seems to be the case with the proposed Samaritan Inn in Plano (SIIP), which, when ALL the facts and information are presented accurately, will be seen as a positive for the city of Plano and its citizens.
The starting point for this discussion must be a realization of fact: homelessness among Collin County citizens, especially families, once doing well financially, is increasing at an alarming rate. The county has but one homeless facility – the Samaritan Inn in McKinney – and it turns away twice as many needy people as it takes it for one simple reason – the lack of space. Sadly, the Samaritan Inn is always full (with one-third of the residents being children under 17, meaning part of families).
More and more former middle class residents are in need of Samaritan Inn services than ever before – due to sliding economic/job RIF conditions. So serious is the problem of homelessness in the North Texas region that people will go to extraordinary lengths to get help, including one man who WALKED from Sherman to McKinney because he had lost his job, his home and his car. There are times when every male family head of household in Samaritan Inn possesses a college degree. The old stereotypes don’t apply anymore.
The Inn offers programs to return residents to being productive and independent members of society – with an affordable place to live and a job to sustain their independence. Such IS the goal of everyone associated with the Samaritan Inn for every person/family it accepts into the program.
Many of those families come from Plano, as well as other parts of the county, but currently, all services are McKinney-centric. It would be logical to have services provided in the county’s largest individual population center. That seemed to be the consideration by the Plano City Council when it voted unanimously to approve its five-year Consolidated Plan (2010-2014) on March 8.
In that document, on page 30, “the creation of additional shelter, supportive services, and transitional housing for homeless and under-housed” was stated as one of the city’s high priorities.
Then on July 13, the city’s Community Service Commission voted (again unanimously) to fund the $700,000 land purchase of the land (6.2 acres located just east of 14th Street and Shiloh, is currently owned by Temple Baptist Church of Allen, and not being developed) with a grant from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. This is funding outside of city-taxpayer expenditures, coming from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, earmarked for projects exactly like this. Such block grants have been part of redevelopment of urban and rural cities for decades, and not a peep has ever been sounded before because the money is returned directly to the people for good use.
At the same time, the Samaritan Inn was already working with city officials on a different CDBG block grant and the connection seemed to be natural.
“When we identified a possible site, we went back to the city and it was suggested we apply, they apply for HUD funds to purchase the property and that is how it all began,” said executive director Lynne Sipiora. “Make no mistake, the need is truly there.”
The financing does not involve a single Plano taxpayer; the city will purchase the property through the CDBG grant, donate it to the Samaritan Inn, which will, in turn, be responsible for the facility’s construction. Once it opens, operation and oversight will be done by the Inn, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, led by a board of directors consisting of many of the county’s top business and social leaders and elected officials. Not one penny comes out of the city of Plano’s budget.
Although the Samaritan Inn has been part of the fabric of Collin County for 26 years, many residents remain unaware of its services, program and purpose. First, it is NOT a faith-based charity. The Samaritan Inn receives support from a cross-section of churches, service organizations, civic groups, school groups, corporations, businesses and individuals.
It is not a burden upon county or city taxpayers; it only gets a mere 5 percent of its budget from government entities (through community block grants). The remaining 95 percent of its annual budget is garnered through private donations and fundraisers; much of the work is done by volunteers.
Here is a very important point overlooked by critics – this state-of-the-art facility WILL bring jobs to Plano; staff will be hired to work there. In addition, there will be retail sales dollars involved as supplies and non-donated groceries must be purchased, plus other monies injected into the Plano economy. The unused property in this part of Plano will become a viable entity; opposition to such a positive turn is inconceivable.
Additionally, housing Plano families locally will mean a bit of savings for Plano school district taxpayers. Currently, children who live in the PISD, but get relocated to the Samaritan Inn, can remain as PISD students and, hence, must be provided transportation to and from campuses … from McKinney. And since the school-age children to be housed at SIIP will already be enrolled in PISD schools, there is no strain on campus enrollment.
In safety terms, the Samaritan Inn is a superb neighbor in McKinney with a zero-tolerance for criminal activity of any kind. If rules (or laws) are broken, the offenders are expelled from the facility. As a result, there is almost no threat of criminal activity from the residents who understand the consequences.
This second homeless family program will coincide with a planned expansion of the McKinney facility, with the recent purchase of property near its headquarters. It will be used to relocate Samaritan Inn offices in order to add 20 rooms to accommodate more clients. And still, it won’t be enough to meet the challenge.
The future of the SIIP project will be decided in three key upcoming meetings. On Aug. 9, the council is expected to vote on the $700,000 CDBG grant request. The following week (Aug. 16), the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider rezoning the 6.2 acres from Research/Technology to Light Commercial with a Specific Use Permit for a Household Care Institution.
Finally, on Sept. 13, the council is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request, pending the P&Z action.
All meetings, of course, are at City Hall, 1520 Avenue K.
So there you have it: a new facility to address an increasing problem in Plano at no cost to any taxpayers while developing unused property and eventually adding to the local economy.
It makes sense economically; more importantly, it makes sense because it directly addresses a growing need in Plano and the surrounding area. And if you don’t think it affects you, you need to take a second look around. Every foreclosed home, every shuttered business, is a possible family needing help.
And there but for the grace of God go you or I. The Samaritan Inn is trying to provide a lifeline, in Plano, when that happens.
Chuck Bloom is a former managing editor for the Plano Star-Courier and longtime Texas journalist-publisher-columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, or through his Web site at http://chuckbloom.blogspot.com.
Lynne Sipiora: Collin County needs to shelter its homeless
Lynne Sipiora, Executive Director of the Samaritan Inn
Published in The Dallas Morning News
July 30, 2010
Five years ago come September, I accepted the position of director of the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter. In an amazing baptism by fire, my first week on the job was also the first week the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina arrived in Texas.
I remember thinking, as I walked around the mountains of laundry detergent and piles of canned goods, that public awareness and fundraising would be a cinch.
Well, I was right and I was wrong.
I was wrong because the outpouring of generosity for Katrina victims did not seem to transfer to the people who were living in their own storm of poverty every day. An act of nature is nobody's fault, but when your house is foreclosed, somehow, to some people, it is.
And I was right because an amazing group of loyal supporters have kept us going and have recognized that, even though it's not seen on the news daily, people are still suffering.
Since that September, thousands of people have passed through the Samaritan Inn and found the support they needed to become independent once again.
"Who is your typical client?" I am asked often, and the answer is always anyone and everyone.
They are 20-somethings, the middle-aged and senior citizens; they are day laborers and middle management; they have high school diplomas and advanced degrees. They are white, African-American and Hispanic. Poverty, it seems, does not discriminate.
Two of our four wings are devoted solely to families, and they have been filled continuously for the last 18 months.
Intake interviews occur daily; our waiting room is regularly packed with moms, dads, crying babies, squirming toddlers, anxious school-aged kids and humiliated teenagers. More often than not, there is no room for any of them.
We have long known we needed another facility, and Plano seemed the logical place because the majority of our residents come from Plano. The city itself committed to providing more housing for the homeless in its five-year plan. City staff agreed to submit an application for a HUD loan and use those funds to purchase property that would be donated to the Samaritan Inn. The Samaritan Inn would then commit to raising the money to construct the facility and operate it.
A piece of property was identified, and then the opposition began.
Critics said our program would increase crime and decrease property values; they said businesses would suffer and everyone who was homeless in Dallas would immediately come north.
None of these things have happened in McKinney, and we don't expect them to happen in Plano. However, we respect the concerns and have tried to address them thoughtfully and responsibly.
These are the facts: Everyone who resides at The Samaritan Inn goes through an extensive intake interview, a mental health assessment, a criminal background check and a drug test. We are not a jail, a halfway house or a drug rehabilitation center; we are a program that helps willing people regain their independence and dignity. That's our mission statement – always has been, always will be.
We don't presume to know the best location in Plano for our program, and we have absolutely no interest in the political debate, but we do know that while it's being figured out, hundreds of people in Collin County don't know where their family will sleep at night.
A moral, spiritual and civilized society takes care of one another, and that is all we hope to do.
Lynne Sipiora of McKinney is executive director of the Samaritan Inn, Collin County's only homeless shelter. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. A town hall meeting about the Plano shelter plan will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church, 3160 E. Spring Creek Parkway, Plano.
The Plano City Council Monday night voted to relinquish control of the rec center to save the city $508,000 a year.
African-American have expressed concern that the change could put an end to cultural and community events at the center — something that the Boys & Girls Clubs has said will not happen.
Homeless shelter director says need must trump Plano residents' opposition
Saturday, July 24, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
There's no room at the Samaritan Inn.
Collin County's only homeless shelter has 130 beds but needs many more, said Director Lynne Sipiora.
With the economic downtown, the shelter must turn away people day after day.
"That's the worst part," Sipiora said. "It keeps me up at night."
The shelter's solution to overcrowding: Open a second facility in Plano.
But some Plano residents and business owners immediately assailed the Samaritan Inn's proposal, announced this month, for a larger shelter near 14th Street and Shiloh Road.
Opponents charge it would lower property values and increase crime.
"This is the last thing that the east side of Plano needs," one person commented online.
Sipiora expected the opposition but isn't backing down.
If the Plano City Council rejects a zoning change to allow the proposed shelter, the Samaritan Inn will look for another site in town because of the need, she said.
"As long as I'm around, we'll be looking to expand services," Sipiora said.
She rejects the assertion that the proposed shelter, to be built in phases over several years, would harm the largely commercial east Plano neighborhood.
She points to the Samaritan Inn's track record in McKinney?. It opened in a commercial area near State Highway 5 and U.S. Highway 380 in 1984 and hasn't driven up the crime rate, said McKinney? Deputy Police Chief Scott Brewer.
"These are folks who are just in hard times," he said. "They're grateful. They're not typically going to get out and partake in criminal activity."
The shelter operates out of a converted nursing home, with five wings extending like spokes from a central monitoring station. Two wings house families, one houses men, one women and one administrative offices.
Sipiora compares the shelter to a college dormitory in terms of sights, sounds and feel. Having visited, I agree.
Each room is identical, about 16 feet square, with four bunk beds, a sink and a toilet. Common showers are in each wing. Meals are served on long folding tables.
"No frills," she said.
True, but the shelter is a huge improvement for some residents.
One woman had been living with her three young children in a mini-warehouse unit.
"I can't imagine," Sipiora said.
Other residents have been sleeping on the street or in their cars.
"They arrive shell-shocked," Sipiora said. "We're the last resort."
The Samaritan Inn produced a searing video of interviews with residents, describing their journey. It's posted on the shelter's website, www.thesamaritaninn.org.
"I never thought in a million years I'd end up in a shelter," one woman said. "I have a college degree."
The Samaritan Inn has strict rules for residents. Each must undergo a drug test and criminal background check, take mandatory classes on budgeting and parenting, meet twice weekly with a caseworker and look for a job during the day.
The average length of stay is about six months. Someone leaves, or "graduates," when they have a full-time job and have saved enough money to rent a place.
Sipiora said the proposed Plano shelter also would stress personal responsibility and push people toward self-sufficiency. It wouldn't be a place for the chronically homeless to crash for a few nights.
"I'm hoping it's a matter of education," she said. "I want to believe people will see the need and respond to it."
Plano weighs plan to build long-term homeless housing facility
Thursday, July 15, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Faced with a homeless population that has grown amid the recession, Plano is weighing a plan to build a large, first-of-its-kind campus to house indigent families.
The proposal, put forward by the Samaritan Inn of McKinney, is thought to be the largest facility of its kind in North Texas.
It would differ from other homeless shelters in that families would, for the most part, live there full-time for months and receive job and other support.
The Samaritan Inn, Collin County’s only homeless shelter, follows a similar model. But the six-acre Plano complex would offer more amenities, have a link to DART buses and house some 80 families at one time — more than twice the Inn’s capacity.
“This has long been needed in Collin County,” said Jim Malatich, the Samaritan Inn’s director of operations. “We’re excited about the project.”
Civic leaders say the $3.8 million endeavor, which has advanced quietly until now, is critical at a time when poverty is on the rise, even in affluent Collin County.
But controversy is already brewing over the project’s location, scope and possible impact on Plano, particularly the community’s poorer eastern side.
The Inn has proposed a site in an eastside technology district that the city formed years ago to attract the kinds of Fortune 500 companies that dot Plano’s affluent western side.
“A lot of us have put years of service into revitalization efforts,” said Katherine Brewer, who owns a mapping company near the proposed campus. “I see all of the hard work to turn around all of east Plano going down the drain.”
City Hall also is considering the unusual step of giving the project $700,000 in federal grant monies, with the Samaritan Inn repaying the city the interest it would have earned on that amount.
Organizers filed paperwork for the complex late last week, but discussions with the city began in the spring, project officials said.
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer said the city has not yet decided whether to approve the loan or zoning changes required. But project officials say they expect a final City Council vote sometime in September.
Social services advocates have long pushed for additional facilities for the homeless somewhere in Collin County. Despite its vast and growing population of 800,000 people, Collin has few housing options for the indigent.
In Plano, the number of families living on incomes of less than $25,000 has grown some 18 percent since 1999. That growth has intensified during the recession.
Plano City Council member Harry LaRosiliere said the facility “speaks to the reality of what’s going on in America, Texas and Plano.”
“The economic conditions that many people are facing are real. For us to ignore it would be a disservice to those experiencing those difficulties. Whether we do something or not, they are there.”
This year Collin County, like almost all governments in the country, is facing a budget shortfall caused by declining property values and reduced income from interest, fines and other sources.
However, most agree that our county is far better off financially than most other cities, schools and counties. For one thing, property values have not fallen that much here - in fact due to reduced valuations, the typical Collin County homeowner will only see a $5.03 reduction in next year's county tax bill.
Also, the county is sitting on a huge financial reserve of over $125 million. These reserves are sufficient to fully fund the county's operations for over 200 days.
The latest figures given by the budget office show a potential shortfall somewhere between $1.2 million and $7.5 million out of an approximate $200 million budget.
Commissioner Jaynes has argued that no such drastic actions need be taken - that careful budgeting and some use of the surplus $125 million will more than insulate the county from a shortfall, while protecting public services.
But some on the Commissioners Court, believe that the county needs a dramatic cut back in expenses - and they would start with employee insurance and other benefits. Judge Keith Self and Commissioner Matt Shaheen have been leading the effort to review all benefits with the goal of reducing the county's future liabilities. (Collin County is self insured.)
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland also wants to look at the employees insurance package. At Monday evening's budget discussion, Referring to spousal and child coverage, Hoagland with his usual tactless style made an issue over the fact that Collin County taxpayers were subsidizing insurance for lots of people who, in his words, "don't even work for the county".
Joe Jaynes dryly remarked that he wasn't about to vote to kill insurance for kids.
(I will note that Mr. Hoagland is not advocating cutting benefits for retirees. Since he is retiring at the end of the year, and since his wife has already retired from county employment, the county's many retirees can rest assured that Jerry will protect their insurance package.)
Another budget item proposed for cutting is the employee "pay for performance" increases. Commissioners Jaynes, Hoagland and Ward want to protect the pay for performance program and allot a minimal (perhaps 1.5%) increase, while Self and Shaheen have indicated they are opposed to any employee raises this year.
A couple of months ago, Judge Self requested that a memo be sent to all departments asking them to not only submit "zero growth" budgets, but to also identify where cuts could be made. Joe Jaynes objected, instead he proposed that the employees themselves be given an opportunity to identify potential savings in expenses.
Both Self and Jaynes sent out their memos.
Monday night, the county's District Judges replied to Commissioner Jaynes request for suggestions. The judges, who to the best of my knowledge have never involved themselves in the county's operational budget (except as it applies to the courts) asked County Auditor Jeff May, and County Purchasing Agent Frank Ybarbo to present their plan to reduce spending by over $15 million next year, without cutting salaries, benefits, positions or services.
The County Auditor and the Purchasing Agent are hired by and report to the Judges and not the Commissioners Court.
Joe Jaynes, in his County Line newsletter lists the saving that the Judges and their staff came up with:
"Change the Budget Procedure for Contingencies - As of now we budget $6.6 million for this line item. The recommendation is to budget only $1 million and use our rainy day fund for other contingencies.
Savings: $5.6 million.
- Reduce Maintenance Contract Budgets-Our FY2010 adopted budget for maintenance was $5.46 million. However, actual expenditures in FY2009 was $2.9 million and FY2008 was $2.6 million. Our Auditor recommends that we can trim this by $2.2 million and still have a healthy line item to address any maintenance issues.
Savings: $2.2 million.
- Utilize the District Attorney's Office for Legal Advice-In FY2010 our budget line item for legal advice is $800,000. By hiring one or two attorneys in the DA's Office or, better yet, a restructuring of that office would allow the DA's Office to handle everyday legal matters for the county.
- Reduce Various Miscellaneous Accounts: Examples would be to reduce our consultant expenses, eliminate pamphlets and reduce the temporary worker salary line item. These are areas where, in most years, the funds budgeted are not fully spent.
Savings: $1.1 million
- Restructure Capital Replacement Budgeting: In FY2010 the Capital Replacement line item (furniture, etc.) is $625,000; actual expenditures in FY 2009 was $71,000 and FY 2008 was $236,000. We have a new courthouse and, thus, new furniture so this line item can be reduced.
- Reallocate Road and Bridge Tax Revenue: Our Road and Bridge fund is generating enough revenue that we can go into FY2011 without allocating any tax revenue to this fund.
Savings: $3.9 million
- Reduce Unemployment Insurance Premium line item by 75%--Due to savings from past years in our unemployment insurance fund a reduction in this area will not impact our ability to pay claims.
- Combine County Building Maintenance Departments-Each county facility has its own maintenance budget. By combining this into one budget it will bring about more efficiency.
- Reduce Cell Phone Budget: FY2010 adopted budget for cell phones is $356,000, FY2009 actual was $158,000 and year to date for FY2010 is $105,000.
- County Auditor Budget Reduction: Due to staff reorganization by our County Auditor Jeff May he is able to save taxpayer dollars.
Total Savings $15 million"
The County Auditor, Jeff May then issued the following press release:
I'd score this one Self/Shaheen- 0 and Judges/Jaynes - 1
Let the 2011 budget games begin.
The City of McKinney is predicting a $5 million budget shortfall in tax revenue.
Next year, the McKinney ISD will decrease the number of teachers, increase class sizes and likely have to spend down $1.2 million in its reserves.
Times are hard. Property values and tax collections are down. Unemployment and deficits are up.
But not at the McKinney Economic Development Corporation. The MEDC is funded with 1/2 cent of sales tax revenue and operates with a taxpayer paid budget of about $8 million.
Which is certainly enough money to send a group of politicians on a junket to China. The MEDC has announced it will send State Representative Ken Paxton, McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller and MEDC Chairman David Pitstick on an expense-paid trip to the World Expo in Shanghai, China.
Unfortunately, the taxpayers are buying these politicians round-trip tickets.
From a city of McKinney press release:
On today's Commissioner's Court agenda are two items that will extend engineering contracts to allow for work on their next phase.
The first contract request will amend a previously awarded a $107,219 contract to Dannenbaum Engineering for preliminary right of way studies for FM 455 (east of US 75) in Anna. The county's engineer, Ruben Delgado submitted a request to amend the contract adding an additional $1,010,792 to fund completion of plan specifications and right of way mapping.
The second contract is with Berkhoff, Hendricks and Carter, LLP for construction of the widening and relocation of Parker Rd. (FM 2514) from Murphy Rd. (FM 2551) to just past County Club Rd. (FM 1378) in Parker. The original contract amount was $174,700. The amendment is for $403,200 and will include surveys, a public meeting, preparation of a right of way map and an environmental assessment.
This is the second time Mr. Delgado has submitted these requests. Last month Judge Self and Commissioner Shaheen questioned the contract amendment. Self believed that extending a contract by adding 1000% to its cost should cause the county to look at re-evaluating the vendors and possibly resubmitting both projects to the engineering vendor selection process.
After discussion, both items were tabled to allow the county's engineering staff to review the cost of the proposals with the vendors.
Both Self and Shaheen have been very critical of state laws that prohibit a county form seeking competitive bidding on engineering contracts. Because of the state regulations, the county must first choose an engineering firm and only then negotiate costs.
In resubmitting these contract amendments, Delgado noted that negotiations with Berkhoff, Hendricks and Carter have led to a reduction of only $8,600 -- out of over $1 million in cost. In the contract with Dannenbaum, Delgado's request is actually $60,000 larger than it was last month.
Given recent reductions seen in construction costs and current budget pressure, it will be interesting to see the court's reaction to these submissions.
The political pendulum may have swung again in Dallas' northern suburbs.
Less than two years after Democrats made inroads in Collin County, Republicans shifted to the right in Tuesday's primary runoff elections.
Van Taylor, who ran on an unabashed conservative platform, soundly defeated the more moderate Mabrie Jackson in the GOP primary to represent west Plano in the Texas House of Representatives.
And Cheryl Williams, a former Plano City Council member who campaigned as a "true conservative," won big over incumbent Jerry Hoagland for a seat on the Collin County Commissioners Court.
To be sure, money and an anti-incumbent air played roles as large as any political message.
Taylor injected more than $700,000 of his own money in the race, among the highest totals ever for a state House primary.
And some voters were eager for a new face to replace Hoagland, who has served for three decades.
"It was a bad year to be an incumbent," Williams said.
Still, both Taylor and Williams tapped deeply into the anti-Washington, anti-tax outrage that has manifested itself in the fervent Tea Party movement.
Although much of the simmering anger is aimed at federal leaders, activists have worked hard to endorse local candidates, often outsiders, who hew to rigid fiscally conservative principles.
"The message is that fiscal sanity needs to be applied to all levels," said Michael Openshaw of Plano, a vocal member of the North Texas Tea Party.
He compared the city of Plano's fiscal habits to "lemmings making for the cliff. Some of us are hearing the surf down there and saying, 'Can we slow down?' "
The Tea Party insurgency also confirmed its presence Tuesday in other House races across Texas, helping to oust a key Republican who helped Speaker Joe Straus come to power last year.
Lubbock businessman Charles Perry, a Tea Party organizer, clobbered longtime state Rep. Delwin Jones, one of 10 original GOP supporters of Straus.
In another Lubbock-area runoff, John Frullo beat Mark Griffin, an establishment-backed candidate, in the race to succeed retiring Republican state Rep. Carl Isett.
The outcomes follow last month's upset of Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview, another early Straus backer who lost in the GOP primary to a Tea Party-backed challenger, David Simpson.
"The two places where you really saw a strong level of Tea Party organization were in Lubbock and East Texas, the Tyler area," Austin political consultant Todd M. Smith said. "Those are the two places where the Tea Party really flexed its muscle."
Tuesday's results also illustrate the ebb and flow of politics in suburbs such as Collin County, which is a political battleground between Democratic-leaning Dallas and Republican-dominated rural areas.
The 2008 primary and general election drew record numbers of Democrats to the polls in Collin, suggesting changing times in the Republican stronghold.
But in Tuesday's runoffs, Republican voters overwhelmingly responded to a fiscal conservative message.
Taylor cultivated the Tea Party movement while bombarding the district with mailers and ads painting his GOP opponent as a liberal spender.
The strategy apparently worked.
Jackson lost despite securing the backing of Plano's Republican establishment and many business and civic groups.
Likewise, Williams, who was considered a moderate during her days on the Plano City Council, campaigned as a penny-wise outsider and received backing from Tea Party-affiliated groups.
"Both [Taylor and Williams] ran as conservative candidates," said state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who endorsed Taylor and Hoagland. "They succeeded because they captured the message that is reflective of the voters."
The movement, of course, has had its share of setbacks.
A number of candidates who marketed themselves as fiscal conservatives were crushed in various primary elections across North Texas on March 2.
And the Tea Party-backed candidate lost in a special election runoff last month for Plano City Council.
But the success of Taylor and Williams had been building for years.
The first hints of change came in 2006, when upstart Keith Self, running as a strict fiscal conservative, won the seat of county judge by toppling Ron Harris, a GOP leader who had been in office for 16 years.
Self, who is running for re-election and has Tea Party support, won the GOP nomination handily over Plano school board member John Muns.
Newcomer Matt Shaheen won a seat on the Commissioners Court two years ago, using a similar template to oust 18-year incumbent Phyllis Cole.
Laubenberg said that Taylor's victory, in particular, was telling.
House District 66 encompasses most of west Plano, which has overwhelmingly backed moderate candidates in the past.
"The tougher that times get, the more people look to pocketbook issues," Laubenberg said.
Longtime Collin County Republicans like James Muns, the father of John Muns, acknowledged that political change is afoot.
"We're in changing times," said the elder Muns, who was Plano's mayor when Williams served on the City Council in the 1990s.
"When you've lived as long as I have, you've seen things go up and go down, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. The Tea Party is one of a number of groups in my lifetime that have come and gone. It's just part of politics."
The Observer notes that the article should be titled, "Republican voters in Collin County push more to the right".
This last election was a Republican Party run-off -- by, of, and for Republican voters. Generally, the bulk of the Primary voters (and especially run-off voters) are committed Party members. To assume that the 4% turnout speaks for the county as a whole seems to be a bit of a stretch.
In the ONLY non-primary election this year where the Tea Party had an interest, their candidate, Kathy Fang was defeated.
However, because of the scarcity of well-financed, viable Democratic Party candidates, it is true that the results of the primary run-off will likely shift the political tone map in the county to the right.
Construction services firm Rodman LLC is closing its doors and laying off 242 employees on April 30, the company said in a letter to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Frisco-based Rodman LLC said in its letter that the company has been searching for a cash infusion to keep operations going and to prevent the business from closing.
The organization said despite its best efforts, negotiations that it had planned fell through, leaving the company with no option but to close, the TWC warn letter said.
The Collin County Observer notes that Rodman was a major contributor to Commissioner Jerry Hoagland's failed re-election campaign.
Rodman, LLC and Rodman Paving are Collin County vendors; over the last two years, they received over $4 million from county contracts. At this time I don't know if they are working on any ongoing projects for the county and if so, how those will be affected.
The Observer has contacted county purchasing officials and I will post their responses here.
UPDATE April 15
Frank Ybarbo, Collin County's Purchasing Agent, responded to my request about ongoing projects with Rodman with:
"We do not have any current projects in progress with Rodman, LLC. The last project we had was over a year ago and that was let on a bid for the Dallas Toll way, Extension 4A."
Douglass community speaks out against plans to outsource center
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
By Kim Nguyen / Plano Star-Courier
Ten speakers voiced concerns to the Plano City Council on Monday about the planned negotiations to transfer operations of the Douglass Community Center to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County.
By allowing the BGCCC to take over control of the Douglass Community Center, the city would save more than $400,000 annually.
Tempting as it may seem – city leaders recently projected a budget deficit of $15 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year – members of Plano’s historically black community say that the move would negatively affect the center’s identity. The speakers requested the council halt negotiations and work with Douglass Community members to find alternative ways to recoup lost funds in the city deficit.
“We are concerned because the Douglass Community Center is more than just a community center for Plano residents,” said T.J. Johnson, a member of Douglass Community Visions, an advocacy group that promotes the significance and livelihood of the community. “The Douglass Community Center is not limited to Douglass Community residents. The center is there for the Plano community at-large.”
Douglass Community Visions promotes and protects awareness of the city’s historically black community. Group members say the current issue with the center is causing an “identity crisis” in the community, as there has not been a clear decision of whether the Douglass Community Center is part of the city as a revenue-producing recreation center or a free community center.
“A community center has programs and may rent some rooms to receive some revenue, but most of the programs are free,” said Eleanor Evans, resident of the Douglass Community. “It was not designed to bring in revenue, but the city wants the center to act as a recreation center, which does produce revenue.”
Evans said the center has long been a site where Plano residents – from the Douglass Community and beyond – meet, socialize and host functions.
“The center is a meeting place for residents of the Douglass Community and churches grew out of the center,” she said. “A lot of people have a vested interest in the center.”
Transferring control from a city facility to a non-profit organization would also diminish the historical significance of the Douglass Community Center. As the former Plano Colored School and Frederick Douglass High School, the building and property have huge historical value in the area, said Dollie Thomas, a lifelong resident of the Douglass Community.
“We want to protect the community and preserve its historical significance,” she said. “It may be one of Plano’s oldest communities, but it is a viable community. We want to work with the city to treat the Douglass Community for what it is – a historical district.”
Thomas said another fear of Douglass Community Visions is the closure of the facility.
“Everyone is going through some rough financial times,” she said. “But later on down the line, if Boys and Girls Clubs decide they can’t handle the Douglass Center and it’s not on the city or the school district’s budget, then the doors will close.”
Douglass Community Visions is not limited to members of the Douglass Community or its community center.
The Rev. Sam Fenceroy of the Mount Olive Church of Plano said the council would not “wipe out a historical area just to do it.”
“It’s easy to look at numbers and pick out a big one,” he said. “But I believe that when we met with the city staff (earlier in the year), they realized that the community is too vital to lose.”
Regardless of how the negotiations turn out, Tanya Greene, president and CEO for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County, said she hopes to continue providing Boys and Girls Clubs programs at the Douglass Community Center.
“I can definitely empathize with their concerns and I understand where the concerns are coming from, but that is the farthest thing that we would want happen to the Douglass Community,” she said, regarding concerns raised about the center losing its identity. “We want to work with the community to continue to preserve (the center’s) history and identity.”
The Boys and Girls Club of Collin County has provided services and programs at the Douglass Community Center since 1992, and Greene said she hopes to continue its open partnership with the children and families in and around the community.
“Since we started the process, we have asked repeatedly for a list of programs and what we can do to support the community,” she said. “In dealing so closely with families, we certainly want to keep communications open so everyone can understand what we do because we play a significant role in the community.”...
The comptroller has released the latest sales tax figures for February, 2010.
With the notable exceptions of McKinney and Melissa most Collin County cities saw an increase in sales tax revenue over last year.
While not enough to pull most towns over year to date decreases, the latest numbers may be an early sign that the county is starting to see some recovery.
Overall, the county's cities reported a modest net increase, both over the same period last year, and year to date:
Collin County Totals:
February, 2010: $11,749,748.15
February, 2009: $11,537,799.70
Net increase: 1.83%
Year to date, 2010: $43,608,384.81
Year to date, 2009: $42,849,302.20
Net increase: 1.77%
|City||Net Payment This Period||Comparable Payment Prior Year||% Change|
|City||2010 Payments To Date||2009 Payments To Date||% Change|
Election day is only one day away and the candidates are busy slinging barbs at each other as to who stood where, who gave to who's campaign and who spent money on campaign consultants.
Meanwhile real issues, involving real people are little debated or even discussed.
I haven't seen any substantial discussion of the Collin County Toll Road Authority and the county's Outer Loop.
It was in May of 2008, when the commissioners court met at Murphy City Hall in a meeting that was supposed to "take the court on the road", but which instead made two decisions that had great impact on the county. In executive session that night, the court approved a law suit against their Auditor. The suit eventually cost the citizens over $350,000.
But also that night, the commissioners voted to rescind an agreement made with Denton County and the NTTA on the alignment of the future expansion of the Dallas North Tollway. The commissioners wanted the road, and its subsequent commercial development, not on the county line, but completely in Collin County. They also began to make plans to create a county toll road authority to develop the extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
A few months later, the Collin County Toll Road Authority was born. It's mission was to secure financing for the DNT extension and to finance and build what Collin County called their "Outer Loop".
The Outer Loop is a segment of a regional "Loop 9" originally conceived as the DFW bypass along the Trans Texas Corridor. This huge loop road will, when and if built, completely encircle Dallas and Fort Worth. The Collin County portion begin at the DNT on the Denton county line and would run north of McKinney before turning south to end at the Rockwall County line.
The Collin County Commissioners, facing rapid growth in their own county, were clearly frustrated with the slow pace of development of the regional loop. They decided to go it alone at a cost of $4 billion. They had no idea how to pay for such a huge project, but they hoped that the county's rapid growth would attract a public-private partnership that would finance and operate the Outer Loop for toll revenue.
They didn't count on the recession, the killing of the Trans Texas Corridor, or the fact that no one, not even the Spanish giant Cintra, was going to write a check for $4 billion to build a super highway to connect Melissa to Royce City.
Their insistence on forming their own toll authority, their attempt to hijack the DNT extension, and their perceived reluctance to work in a regional manner also frustrated those local partners whose cooperation was needed to make the road economically possible. At a State Senate hearing, Dallas' Republican Senator John Carona told Keith Self, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. "I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County."
Denton County Judge Mary Horn scolded the commissioners with, "I think you should honor your county's agreements." Denton Commissioner Andy Eads told the press that, "I was very disappointed. Everyone represents their own jurisdiction, but we also have to wear the hat of regionalism."
The NTTA, reacting to the takeover of the DNT extension garnered support in the legislature for a bill that would have required the county to get the NTTA's permission to build any toll road in Collin County. The chairman of the NTTA board, a Collin County appointee, told the commissioners, "We're not going to make a political decision. We're going to make the right decision for the agency."
Frantic, last minute backtracking by the county allowed for a compromise where Collin County gave up any claim to the DNT, and the bill was dropped.
The commissioners, in going it alone, likely slowed any opportunity for regional cooperation with Denton and Rockwall Counties. Cooperation with both counties is critical. To make the Loop economically viable, it needs to connect more than small towns here - it needs to go west in Denton County to I-35 and South through Rockwall to I-30.
However, even though no financing of the construction of the Outer Loop is in place (nor likely to be anytime soon), the commissioners court believes that it is important to acquire the needed land for the Loop's right of way. Their reasoning is that over time, the land will become more expensive, and as vacant land fills it will be harder to plot a path across the county.
The county has the cash. $7 million was set aside for the road back in the 2007 budget. So the land acquisition plan, especially on the northern leg of the loop, has gone forward - with or without the acquiescence of local land owners.
For the last year, the county has been using its power of Eminent Domain to force the purchase of at least 7 different properties without the consent of the sellers.
In today's court session, the commissioners will vote to "lend" (against future toll revenue) the Collin County Toll Road Authority $6 million to pay for these condemned properties.
For a road that may never be built, at least not in our lifetime.
Update March 1, 2010:
The Commissioners Court agreed in today's meeting to lend their Toll Road Authority the money. The only discussion was on a suggestion by Jerry Hoagland that the county charge the CCTRA interest on the funds.
Then, meeting as the Collin County Toll Road Authority, the commissioners voted without discussion to spend the money to close the condemnation sales.
I was interested to see that the Chairman of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation issued a not-so-veiled threat today to the CCTRA. On his blog, Senator John Carona's spokesman wrote, "The compromise language between the Collin County Toll Authority and the North Texas Tollway Authority was ultimately removed from legislation. As a result, Senator Carona is observing how the relationship progresses over the interim, and depending on that outcome, may proceed with appropriate legislation in the 82nd session."
He's telling Self and company to "play nice".
David Melton, who has written often in The Dallas Morning News Voices columns, has authored an interesting piece on the ongoing City of McKinney review of the McKinney Performing Arts Center.
The McKinney Performing Arts Center (MPAC) is housed in the old Collin County Courthouse on the downtown square in McKinney. It is an imposing and historically valuable asset, but and expensive one to keep up, and always seeming to be in need of renovations.
I have been to several productions and one banquet at MPAC. I love the building, and it seems to be a wonderful venue for small productions. But it is underutilized and the size limitations of any artistic productions limit its ability to generate enough revenue to sustain it.
I hope this article spurs a vigorous debate, and The Collin County Observer is willing to publish a responsible reply from an opposing point of view.
Link to city of McKinney public input form on the future use of The McKinney Performing Arts Center
David Melton of McKinney: Solutions needed for McKinney arts center
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The Dallas Morning News Local Voices / Opinions
In recent months, there has been a lot of serious debate within the McKinney City Council about what to do with the McKinney Performing Arts Center, the old courthouse in the middle of downtown.
Several years ago, there was a major push for the McKinney Community Development Corp. to spend $9 million rehabbing this structure. The money was spent, and what the city ended up with was a structure that probably needed another $10 million to be spent.
Windows need to be replaced, and it would help to replace the roof. All of this money spent was projected to make the place presentable so it would be a major tourist attraction and arts center.
Years went by, and the arts center never lived up to potential. The MCDC was told that it would have to pay for the deficit each year to the tune of over $500,000 per year.
For the first couple of years, I sat on the MCDC board, and we were not even consulted about the cost. It was just added to our budget by the city, with the result being over $41,000 per month allocated to MPAC to keep it going.
Today, with the city running short on operating funds – struggling with cutting jobs and overhead, and delaying major projects – I often pause for thought about the millions of dollars that have been spent on MPAC.
I raised the ire of a good number of people when I suggested that the city hire four bulldozers and put one on each side of this building and let them go to work and meet in the middle of the rubble. The arts people went wild over the idea and suggested that I was out to destroy downtown McKinney.
I still believe that a large pavilion could be erected where MPAC now stands and it would enhance the overall image of our town and be a much better way to spend our tax dollars.
I am happy that the City Council is looking at MPAC seriously and trying to come with some solution that will work better for all concerned. I realize that the building has been registered as a historical site and that their options are limited.
But it's time the city do something to stop throwing good money after bad.
David Melton is a semi-retired insurance executive who lives in McKinney.
Plano's plan for Douglass Community Center draws concerns from neighbors
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Plano's historically black neighborhood is raising concerns about a city plan to outsource a local community center.
Residents' reservations unfolded at an animated public forum Tuesday at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church that drew about 60 people, including the city manager, mayor and several City Council members.
At issue is a plan to transfer operations of the city-run Douglass Community Center to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County. The club has offices in the building.
Many aimed their concerns at City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck, who spoke well into the evening explaining what he believes are the plan's merits.
The city says it would save more than $400,000 annually with the move – an enticing prospect since Plano faces projected budget deficits. The Boys & Girls Clubs would assume those costs and has pledged to keep service levels the same, if not improve them.
"We are trying our very best to [make this work]," Muehlenbeck said at the forum.
Still, he and his staff were on the defensive for most of the evening. Many in the audience said the change would hasten the center's demise or closure. City officials said that is not in the plan.
"I can assure you there has never been a word said about closing the Douglass center," Mayor Phil Dyer said Wednesday.
More broadly, the forum revived longstanding frustrations among some Douglass residents that the city is unfairly singling out the neighborhood just south of downtown.
For instance, residents said, no plans have emerged to outsource any of Plano's other recreation centers. And they portrayed the Douglass center as a vital community nexus, particularly for children and teenagers who take advantage of its after-school programs. Some of the programs already are run by the Boys & Girls Clubs.
"We are satisfied to the extent that there is dialogue and that we're getting clarity as to what decisions are being made," said T.J. Johnson, a community activist and attorney involved in the Douglass center discussions.
"But there is still some sentiment, a feeling like Douglass is being targeted. We want to expand the pool of options and make sure this budget is not being balanced on the backs of the Douglass community. But the options seems to be singular, which is to hand [the center] off," she said.
Plano officials point out that Douglass is a community center, not a recreation center. As such, it has fewer amenities and programs. And it does not charge member fees, while the other centers do.
The City Council must sign off on any outsourcing agreement. City officials said negotiations are continuing.
Tanya Greene, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County, said she empathizes with the neighborhood's unease. But she said the concerns are unfounded.
"Unfortunately, any time you talk budget cuts, it's going to become personal for that neighborhood," she said. "Truthfully, I know what the Boys & Girls Clubs is capable of. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we can elevate the services and make it stronger than it's ever been."
Experian to expand Allen operation, add 300 people
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News
International credit information firm Experian plans to increase the size of its Allen operation by almost a third.
Experian inked a deal with the city of Allen to expand its operations by 300 people in exchange for increased economic incentives, the Allen Economic Development Corp. said Monday.
Experian plans "additional business operations" at its 300,000-square-foot complex in Allen's Enterprise Business Park. About 600 Experian workers are housed in the facility, east of U.S. Highway 75.
Experian has had operations in Allen since 1993 and is the Collin County city's largest employer. The company has facilities in Allen for several business groups, including its National Consumer Assistance Center and its Decision Analytics, Information Technology and Public Education groups.
"In 2008, we reached an agreement for them to renew their lease for 10 years," said Robert R. Winningham, Allen Economic Development CEO. "Then last summer, they approached us and said they had done an analysis and liked Allen and wanted to sit down and talk with us again."
The new agreement calls for Allen to provide funds to remodel and build new offices in the Enterprise Business Park building that Experian will use.
"We like to put our funds toward infrastructure," Winningham said. "If they don't do anything, they don't get anything."
Winningham said the value of the incentive depends on how much growth the company has. It could be as much as $1.5 million paid over 10 years. But to receive all the incentive funds for the building renovation, Experian would have to invest $30 million.
Data released last week by the Texas Comptroller show that sales tax revenues in Collin County continue to decline - and at an increasing rate.
From January through October, sales tax collections declined by over $11 million or 6.5%. During October though, the shortfall was almost $2 million or about 14%.
Almost all Collin County cities saw a decrease in October tax revenue. The few winners were those with new retail developments that brought in new sources of sales tax. Fairview saw its revenue jump 72%, and Murphy recieved $10 thousand more than last October, for an 8% increase.
The big loser in October was the City of Plano which received $1 million less than last year for a 19% drop. In September, the drop was 16%. This year, Plano raised its property tax rate slightly to avoid a budget shortfall. The city is already holding budget meetings to try to set priorities for the fiscal 2011 year. If sales tax continue to decline, Plano will face a massive shortfall in revenue, forcing the city to make some very hard choices. SO far, Plano's year to date decline in sales tax allocations is at 13%. The city is not only facing a sales tax decline, but continued increases in mortgage foreclosures will likely impact property tax valuations.
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer was quoted in the Dallas Morning News saying, "It's discouraging, and it's a reflection of what is going on in the economy around us. I'm speculating that this is not just our citizens cutting back on spending right now, but that we're seeing significant declines in business-to-business sales tax."
|CITY||2009 YTD SALES TAX REVENUE||2008 YTD SALES TAX REVENUE||CHANGE|
|County Total||$ 159,900,898||$ 171,067,817||-6.52%|
|CITY||OCT, 2009 SALES TAX REVENUE||OCT, 2008 SALES TAX REVENUE||CHANGE|
|County Total||$ 12,015,972.14||$ 13,945,645.74||-13.83%|
From a Texas Instruments press release:
TI opens world’s most advanced analog manufacturing facility in the U.S.
Facility will increase volume of energy-efficient chips for customers and create new jobs in North Texas
RICHARDSON, TEXAS September 29 — Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) (NYSE:TXN) announced today the opening of its manufacturing facility in Richardson, Texas. The company expects to begin moving equipment into the facility in October.
Known as RFAB,(“R” for Richardson,“FAB” for fabrication), the fab will be the world’s only production facility to use 300-millimeter (12-inch) silicon wafers to manufacture analog chips, which are essential components in virtually all electronics. The facility will give TI a strategic advantage in high-volume production because thousands of analog chips can be etched onto each of these wafers, more than double the number on the more commonly used and smaller 200-millimeter wafers.
“The time is right for this investment,” said Rich Templeton, TI’s chairman, president and CEO. “Customer demand for analog chips is growing, and there’s tremendous desire to save energy and protect the environment. The chips produced here will help our customers make thousands of electronic products that are more energy-efficient. It is significant that these devices will be made here, in North Texas, in one of the industry’s most environmentally responsible fabs.”
The facility will produce analog integrated circuits based on TI’s proprietary process. Customers will use these chips in electronics ranging from smartphones and netbooks, to telecom and computing systems.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony with local and state officials, Templeton said TI plans to ship the first chips from this facility by the end of 2010. When the first phase of equipment is ramped and producing at full capacity, the facility will be capable of shipping more than $1 billion worth of analog chips per year.
Hiring will begin immediately for 250 jobs in RFAB. “These are high-quality, well-paying engineering, manufacturing and administrative jobs for our North Texas region. The infrastructure that a facility like this requires will create other indirect jobs with suppliers and support services,” said Templeton. “We want to thank our great partners in Richardson, Dallas, Plano and Austin who helped us make this happen,” Templeton said, referring to the City of Richardson, Collin County, the Plano Independent School District and the Collin County Community College District.
(AP) The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.
Newly released census figures show the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans - those making more than $138,000 each year - earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.
Large cities such as Atlanta, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago had the most inequality. Declining industrial cities with pockets of well-off neighborhoods, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo, also had sharp disparities.
Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb, had the highest median income among larger cities, earning $85,003. Cleveland ranked at the bottom, at $26,731.
Link to article....
After listening to comments from about a dozen citizens on both sides of the issue, the Plano City Council this evening approved a small, 1.5 cent (3%) property tax hike. A typical Plano property owner will see a $30/yr. rise in city taxes as the result of today's vote. The increase is only the city's second property tax rate hike since 1990.
The new rate will be 48.86 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The vote to approve the tax increase was 6 - 2, with Lissa Smith and Mabrie Jackson dissenting.
Former Mayor Pat Evans was among the citizens addressing the council in favor of the rate hike. Ms. Evans told the council that they needed to, "use vision and think long-term" to move the city to a "strong future". Plano HOA Vice-President, Robert Miller, reminded the council that, "without taxes, you can't have city services".
Other proponents of the rate increase spoke of the need to maintain city services in order to keep the "quality of life" Plano citizens have come to expect and like.
One opponent of the tax increase warned council members that "government is out of control", another stated that "When people are hurting, they cut back", and that "people are not ATM machines". These taxpayers urged deeper cuts, especially in employee wages.
In a seperate 5 - 3 vote, the council approved the 2009 - 2010 Budget. Voting "no" were, Lissa Smith, Mabrie Jackson and Ben Harris. The vote to approve a budget came before the tax rate vote. Passage of the budget with its predicted $4 million dollar shortfall, necessitated the tax increase.
The $405.5 million budget represents a decrease of $2.3 million (0.55%) from the revised 2008 - 2009 city budget.
In his remarks to the council, City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck emphasized that the budget was not a static document, but would be constantly reviewed as situations changed. He pointed out as an example the recent news of a slide in sales tax revenues.
The Plano City tax increase is the latest in a series of small local government tax hikes caused by declining property values and economic malaise.
The Frisco ISD last night also approved a tax increase of 2 cents, and the Plano ISD and McKinney ISD had already bumped up their tax rates for next year. Lovejoy ISD citizens are presently voting on a Tax Rate Ratification proposal.
Call it evidence that growth in Plano, once among the nation's fastest-expanding suburbs, has slowed to a trickle.
Plano has ended its practice of charging developers impact fees, a tool that growing cities use to pay for new infrastructure.
The city began levying the fees to help build new water and sewer lines in 1990, when hundreds of homes were being built each month.
But with most of those utilities now installed, untouched prairie getting scarce and Plano vying with nearby cities in the growth game, the city started phasing out the fees last year.
This week, the City Council voted to delete all mentions of the fees from its zoning code.
The move closes a chapter in Plano's history during which the population more than doubled to 260,000.
City officials hope the fees' absence will lower housing costs and jump-start homebuilding and other projects.
The fees typically were between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on projected water and sewer use. But the charges escalated up to tens of thousands of dollars for the largest projects.
"Ultimately, those costs get passed on to homeowners," said Phyllis Jarrell, Plano's planning director. "Every little bit counts."
For Plano, the stakes go beyond home prices.
In recent years, the city has struggled to counter fierce competition for jobs, shoppers and future residents from neighboring communities like Allen and Frisco.
That has coincided with a steep decline in growth since Plano's 1990s heyday.
The number of single-family-home building permits issued in Plano has fallen steadily from 2,900 in 1998 to 368 last year, city figures show.
This year through July, the city had issued 129 homebuilding permits. In March, during the height of the economic recession, the city issued just eight permits to build single-family homes – the lowest monthly total in years.
Plano hopes to reverse the slowdown in becoming Collin County's first large community to end impact fees.
Allen, Frisco and McKinney still levy them. Most established communities, such as Dallas and Richardson, do not charge the fees.
Plano collected some $48 million over the program's life. But with Plano's water and sewer system almost complete, the city had run up a surplus in monies in recent years.
As such, Plano began phasing out the fees early last year.
It stopped levying them altogether in February.
The roughly $4 million that remains in the impact fee fund will help pay down debt on existing projects.
This week the papers have been full of stories of local cities and school districts facing anguished choices of cutting staff and services or raising taxes. Dallas, Plano, Frisco and their school districts may have to do both - raise taxes and cut staff.
The tone of the budget deliberations the Collin County Community College District Board of Trustees held this evening was a breath of fresh air in these troubled times.
The district voted to cut the tax rate - for the ninth consecutive year. It approved a 3% raise for all faculty, staff and administrators and it cut in-county tuition and fees by 8%. Collin College now offers the lowest total tuition and fee scale in the State of Texas.
The college district has done this and is still able to maintain a AAA bond rating.
The budget approved tonight balanced revenues to expenses. The total expenditures for all funds equaled $164.4 million of which $5.7 million is for debt service. The budget keeps $3.8 million in contingency and reserve.
The college's enrollment continues to climb - up an anticipated 15% this year. Because of this growth, Collin College will add 31 new staff positions next year to keep its fastest growing programs available. (The rest of the district has been on a hiring freeze.)
The tax rate was set at $.086300/$100 which was a slight decline from last year's $.086493. About 52% of the district's revenue is from property taxes. Tuition adds about $22 million. Grants, state and federal funding make up the remainder of the college's revenue.
The Board of Trustees also extended the 3 year contract of its president, Dr. Carey Israel, an additional year and granted Dr. Israel a 3% salary increase.
Commission moves forward with building arts hall
By Heather M. Smith / Plano Star Courier
August 24, 2009
On Thursday, the Arts of Collin County Commission members decided to move forward with the arts project and begin the process of attaining bids for building.
The decision was based on a July meeting between Mike Simpson, executive director for the ACC, and Boora Architects and Hunt Construction Group. According to representatives from the two companies, there was a 15.6 percent reduction in costs from May 2008. However, Simpson believes that by engaging in more aggressive notions of “bidding now,” the ACC could save 18.8 percent on construction costs.
“Costs are as low as they’ll ever get,” Simpson said. “It is the recommendation of me and the staff to go ahead and take actions to gets bids.”
Simpson said if the ACC begins soliciting construction bids, by Nov. 16 it could have a preliminary guaranteed maximum price (GMP). He said by December, the ACC could have a finalized GMP and begin construction in January, if everything goes smoothly. Steve Matthews, president of the commission, said they have held off from a financial standpoint and the market has “been good for the ACC.”
“To build now could be equivalent to getting a $6 to $9 million donation,” Simpson said. “I don’t believe the prices will ever be this low.”
While the ACC is moving forward with the bidding process, it is continuously working on fundraising opportunities. During its regular meeting, commission members approved an updated listing of donor naming opportunities.
Some of the new naming opportunities include a dancing jets fountain along the festival walk, parking lots and sculptures. The ACC plans to offer sculptures for the gardens at a variety of prices. Mary Vail-Grube, administrative director, said the ACC plans to work with individual donors and make decisions on the naming opportunities based on their interests.
For information visit www.artsofcollincounty.org.
Pro Publica has created a website that details who has received federal stimulus funds targeted for local uses. I spent some time looking over the numbers, and what I found was eye opening.
The national per capita average was $181, Texas' residents saw $150 each, but Collin County only $28.
It should be noted that these figures are funds allocated for local purposes. The State of Texas, like other states, also received federal funds for unemployment insurance, medicaid, education, transportation and other projects. Much of the funds given to the state will filter down to local projects through grants.
The Statewide grants to Texas equaled $66.6 billion or $120 per capita. The national per capita average was $216.
The local stimulus
On a per capita basis, Texas ranked 47th of the 50 states in receiving locally allocated stimulus money. Number one was Alaska, which was given $1,024 per person. Last was New Jersey at $248. Texas so far has received $6,551,358,976 or $269 per person in the state.
Of the 254 Texas counties, Collin ranks near the bottom at 231st. Brooks County in the Big Bend area was granted almost $79 million for highway construction. With a tiny population of only 7,500, their per capita grants were the highest in the state at $10,459. Six counties received no stimulus funds. Collin County received $21 million or $28 per person.
Collin County didn't fare any better in the North Central Texas region either:
per capita stimulus $
Collin County did not directly receive any of the local funds. They were granted to businesses, schools and cities for specific uses. The largest single grant was to Plano ISD for a Title 1 grant of $3.8 million. The largest grant to a private firm was a $771 thousand SBA loan to Landes Properties of McKinney.
|Dept. of Education||
Stimulus contracts, grants and loans as of July 20, 2009
|Total recovery funding||$121,204,759,203||$6,551,358,976||$21,646,540|
|Direct to county entities||$54,931,539,846||$3,637,025,363||$21,646,540|
|Local Funds per Capita||$181||$150||$28|
|Median Household Income||$50,007||$46,248||$77,671|
Military recruiting rises among middle-class, suburban youths in Dallas-Fort Worth area
Collin County is seeing the area's only sustained boost in Army enlistment.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Suburban areas like Collin County are being invaded by the armed forces, which are seeing a new kind of recruit – middle-class kids with high school and even college educations.
Matt Lawson, a 17 year old Frisco recruit
Cody Barron, a 17 year old Frisco recruit
Donald Moreland, a 24 year old Plano recruit
Edwin Dorn, professor at UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs
Steady income, college funding and heightened recruiting efforts during an economic downturn are attracting more affluent youth in Texas and across the country to the military.
"It just seems right," said Matt Lawson, a 17-year-old who graduated in June from Wakeland High School in Frisco. He and his 22-year-old brother, Zack, enlisted together last month.
"It's about service to the country, respect, honor, but also better opportunities," Matt Lawson said. "There aren't any jobs."
Armed-forces recruitment is up nationally, with the Pentagon reporting that all active branches met or exceeded their target recruitment goals in June. About three-quarters of new recruits now come from neighborhoods at or above the median household income. And 96 percent have a high school diploma, up from 90 percent two years ago.
The numbers don't surprise Edwin Dorn, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs and a former undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"A bad economy is always good news for recruiting," he said.
"If the economy goes down enough, middle-class suburban kids begin to find the military attractive. They expected to go to college and are finding their parents can no longer afford to send them."
Collin County recruiters say they're seeing the results – filled stations and new centers sprouting up to meet demand. The Army just opened a recruiting station in Allen. The Navy has plans to open a Frisco center in a few months, and the Air Force hopes to establish one there next year.
The chairs in Frisco's Army recruiting office were all claimed on a recent morning – not an unusual sight, said Army Staff Sgt. Steve Blais, who transferred from rural Wise County several months ago to head Frisco's recruiting station.
"When I pulled the list and saw all the high school and college graduates here, I couldn't believe it," he said.
"Everything has gone up with the economy the way it is and the opportunity for steady income and paid student loans," he said. "People want nothing more than to be marketable."
Growth in Collin
Collin County is seeing the area's only sustained boost in Army enlistment.
Last year it had 2.4 active-duty recruits for every 1,000 people 15 to 24, according to the National Priorities Project, which analyzes Army data. That's up from 1.6 in 2004, with an increase each year.
Rockwall County's numbers are slightly higher than Collin's but have slipped recently. Dallas County, whose enrollment has also dropped in recent years, reached only 1.5 recruits per thousand in 2008. That puts it under the national average of 1.6.
One of the biggest appeals, Dorn said, is the revamped GI Bill, which begins this month and significantly increases education benefits. Service members who spend at least three years on active duty receive free tuition at any public college or can apply the payment toward tuition at a private university.
Dorn also credits the spike to efforts to expand the military and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed this year to increase the size of the Army by 22,000 troops, a move Dorn said led to "reaching into the areas such as the suburbs that have not traditionally been as lucrative targets as inner cities and poor rural areas."
The Collin County Appraisal District released the 'final' taxable property values today. Ed Housewright of the Dallas Morning News writes, in an article titled "Collin County's property appraisals go flat", that:
Matthew Haag, writing in the DMN Plano Blog reports that Plano's budget is calling for a 1.5-cent property tax rate increase. Haag notes that tax hike will not stem the rising deficits and falling revenues:
Other cities and school districts will feel the economic pressure as property values fall and business inventories continue to shrink. Many cities are also seeing a sharp drop in sales tax revenue.
Collin County's 2009 final tax roll
The results of Collin County's 2009 final tax roll, in billions of dollars:
Change Collin County $71.81 $72.31 +0.69% Collin College $73.84 $74.46 +0.85% Cities Allen $7.03 $7.32 +4.01% Anna $0.383 $0.378 -1.51% Blue Ridge $0.027 $0.026 -4.00% Celina $0.463 $0.463 +0.08% Fairview $0.964 $1.05 +9.19% Farmersville $0.151 $0.154 +1.85% Frisco $8.81 $8.93 +1.31% Josephine $0.030 $0.031 +2.65% Lavon $0.144 $0.153 +6.29% Lowry Crossing $0.094 $0.093 -0.57% Lucas $0.508 $0.534 +4.99% McKinney $10.62 $10.70 +0.71% Melissa $0.340 $0.344 +1.18% Murphy $1.41 $1.47 +3.95% Nevada $0.038 $0.040 +7.25% New Hope $0.035 $0.035 +0.57% Parker $0.490 $0.493 +0.50% Plano $24.97 $24.63 -1.34% Princeton $0.275 $0.281 +2.10% Prosper $0.984 $1.02 +3.99% St. Paul $0.074 $0.072 -3.53% Weston $0.033 $0.032 -2.24% Wylie $2.21 $2.26 +2.24% School districts Allen ISD $6.83 $7.18 +5.15% Anna ISD $0.531 $0.526 -0.95% Blue Ridge ISD $0.120 $0.122 +2.04% Celina ISD $0.651 $0.646 -0.67% Community ISD $0.445 $0.462 +3.86% Farmersville ISD $0.336 $0.345 +2.70% Frisco ISD $12.42 $12.75 +2.64% Lovejoy ISD $1.48 $1.53 +3.22% McKinney ISD $9.09 $9.04 -0.49% Melissa ISD $0.430 $0.432 +0.35% Plano ISD $34.85 $34.51 -0.96% Princeton ISD $0.515 $0.518 +0.55% Prosper ISD $1.61 $1.66 +3.34% Wylie ISD $3.10 $3.17 +2.31% Special districts Seis Lagos Utility District $0.109 $0.108 -0.65%
NOTE: Tax roll amounts are rounded. Some cities are in more than one county. These figures reflect only the Collin County portion of those cities.
SOURCE: Collin County Central Appraisal District and the Dallas Morning News
Also see the Channel 33 broadcast on Collin County falling property values - "Earlier this month several cities in collin county were featured in Forbes magazine, now city leaders are reporting that growth has flattened. Property values have even dropped for some residents."
Sales Tax Slump Threatens City Budgets
Monday, 13 Jul 2009
Matt Grubs / KDFW FOX 4
PLANO, Texas - Cities all over North Texas got some rough news this month. Judging by the sales tax being collected, the long-hoped-for recovery has not materialized.
Many people are familiar with Dallas' woes as the city council struggles to bridge a $190 million budget gap.
But other cities with a reputation for fast growth and strong sales tax revenues are hurting. Compared to May 2008, Frisco's sales tax collections were off by 11 percent in the same month this year.
In Plano, the city collected a staggering 40 percent fewer sales tax dollars in May. While Plano says part of that drop is a fluke, part of it is legitimate. And that doesn't bode well for city jobs and services. Sales tax foots the bill for a third of the city budget.
Shortfalls of any kind force cities to make some tough decisions. "We're looking at a $13 million budget deficit," says Plano budget director Karen Rhodes-Whitley.
While the city has been cutting jobs and services for nearly two years, she says, city leaders are still reluctant to increase spending.
The 40 percent drop isn't as bad as it might seem, Rhodes-Whitley says. A goof in sales tax collection means Plano has to turn over $1.4 million in collected taxes to another municipality.
"This retailer or this business was actually paying sales tax to the City of Plano when it should have been reverted to another city," Rhodes-Whitley noted.
The one-time adjustment puts Plano's yearly sales tax collection down roughly 10 percent.
The news doesn't get much better as cities study property values. Many homes have failed to hold their value during the nationwide housing slump. In Plano, city officials say residential property values are off by 5 percent. But economy-watchers have long warned about a commercial mortgage crisis. Plano is planning for that, too, but a larger-than-expected drop could force city leaders to wield the budget axe with more authority.
As far as Plano is concerned, a full recovery isn't likely until 2011.
More than 6,000 residential foreclosure postings have been filed on homes in the four-county Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for auction next month — a 62% surge over the number of notices filed on area homes for the same period last year.
More than 35,000 residential postings have been recorded so far this year, a 20% increase compared with the same period last year, according to Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.
The 6,072 postings filed for the July auction surpassed the previous record of 5,500 filings for the auction in May, said George Roddy, president of FLS.
For the past 10 months, residential foreclosure postings have exceeded 4,000 per month in D-FW, and postings have exceeded 5,000 for the past four months. But this is the first time in this downturn that postings have risen above the 6,000 mark, Roddy said.
In Dallas County, 15,246 homes have been posted for foreclosure so far this year, a 16% increase from the same period last year. Year-to-date postings totaled 11,398 in Tarrant County, 4,658 in Collin County and 3,819 in Denton County, translating into 22%, 30% and 21% increases, respectively.
FLS is able to count the number of homes posted for July auction before July begins because the state filing deadline posting foreclosures has already passed.
“Sadly, foreclosures are devastating to the property owner and their family,” Roddy said in a press release. “However, for an investor, this is absolutely one of the best times in history to be buying real estate.”
link to article on the Dallas Business Journal....
While the commissioners frequently bemoan the fact that citizen attendance at these special evening sessions are sparse, three items on the agenda will likely cause a number of taxpayers to attend.
Last month, the commissioners, acting as the Health Care Trust Fund Trustees placed an item on their agenda that would add more grant restrictions to the nonprofit indigent clinics. The restrictions would require the clinics to only be paid to serve those whose incomes fall below 100% of the federal poverty line (approx. $20,020/yr for a family of 4).
After the Collin County Observer and many citizens objected to the proposed new rules, in part because there was no chance for citizen input, the commissioners voted to postpone consideration until this evening's meeting.
The county presently doles out a total of about $200,000/yr to 9 nonprofit organizations that operate clinics or health care services for the poor in the county. For the last 2 years, the grant funding has been reduced from the $300,000 high granted in 2007.
The county is required by law and the Texas Constitution to be the "provider of last resort" for the indigent, and to meet those requirements, the county operates a "County Indigent Health Care Program (CIHCP) The restrictions for entry into CIHCP are stringent, requiring a 19 page application and verification of all income, assets and insurability. In fact the restrictions are so severe that in 2008, only 207 Collin County applicants were approved for CIHCP.
Collin County also funds a program that allows uninsured citizens whose incomes are below 100% of FPL to get primary care at any PrimaCare clinic for a $20 copay. For fiscal 2009, the county has budgeted $300,000 for the PrimaCare program. In fiscal 2008, the county paid for over 2,300 low income patient visits to PrimaCare.
The third county indigent health care program is the grants (now called "fee for service") to the nonprofit clinics. In 2009, the county paid these clinics from $25 to $50 for each qualified patient seen. For the first half of FY 2009, the county has paid the 9 clinics about $72,000 in the Fee for Service program. These clinics see hundreds of patients every week.
Prior to 2007, the county simply awarded a specific dollar amount grant to the nonprofits based on their needs and request. In 2007 however, the county changed from a grant to a fee basis. The county requires each clinic to report the name, address, last 4 digits of the Social Security number and a diagnosis code for each patient for whom the clinic is asking for county funding.
Most nonprofits strenuously objected to the 2007 changes, citing increased workload and patient confidentiality. Two of the clinics subsequently refused county funding because of patient confidentiality concerns.
Presently, the nonprofit clinics set their own admission and fee schedules. Most require that patients seeking low cost care only be uninsured, and not eligible for public health care assistance. The 2010 county proposal would force the clinics to change their admission criteria and to document income.
Supporters of the clinics note that the nonprofits provide the most economical health care service available to uninsured residents. While the county pays $210 to PrimaCare? for each patient visit, it only gives the nonprofit clinics between $35 and $50 for each visit.
In 2005, the Commissioners Court appointed a 25 member citizen task force to study the need for indigent health care programs. That committee met for over 18 months and issued its report in 2006. One key recommendation by the task force was to increase the grants program to nonprofits to between $500,000 and $800,000. The task force noted that while the CIHCP attempted to serve the hard core indigent, the clinics were serving the 'working poor' - those who because of the rising cost of insurance were not able to afford health care, even though they worked.
Also on the court's agenda for tonight is a request by Catholic Charities to open a "Homeless Prevention" office in Collin County. The office would attempt to help those recently unemployed, underemployed and families who were in imminent danger of becoming homeless. The Catholic Charity operation would be run at no cost to the county or taxpayers as it is funded by the United Way and federal and state grants. The program would provide over $1 million in benefits to the 9 county region.
State funding through the Texas Department of Housing requires that the local counties served give formal approval to allow the opening of the local office. Twice now, the commissioners' court has declined to approve the Catholic Charities request. Instead the court has asked for more information.
Some on the court have, in the past, expressed reservations on allowing federal, state or charitable funds to be spent on the poor in the county fearing that as The Dallas Morning News reported in 2005 on Commissioner Hoagland's concern, "he worries the grants will cause more homeless people to move to Plano. He said many problems in Dallas and other cities can be attributed to the homeless population." The DMN also reported that "he said the goal of trying to end homelessness is too large. He said the homeless have always been around and always will be."
In 2005 the issue was using federal dollars to fund apartments and a case manager for up to 8 mentally ill patients who would otherwise be homeless and unsupervised.
I hope that attitude is not what is holding up the Catholic Charities request.
The third item on tonight's agenda is to consider moving the alignment of the south-eastern leg of the Outer Loop. The part of the loop in question is between SH 6 and the Rockwall county line. The county staff sand consultants are recommending that a section be moved to avoid impacting the High Meadow Estates project in Josephine. The proposed realignment will reduce the number of residential properties that would be lost to the new road.
Both the proposal and the current alignment will adversely impact a number of homes.
Budget crunch forces Collin County agency to scale back Meals on Wheels for seniors
Thursday, June 11, 2009
By VALERIE WIGGLESWORTH / The Dallas Morning News
Evening and weekend deliveries of Meals on Wheels will be eliminated and transportation services for seniors will be scaled back as the Collin County Committee on Aging copes with a $1 million budget deficit.
Terry Dougherty, Meals on Wheels volunteer
The McKinney-based nonprofit will continue delivering meals at lunchtime but restrict the service to those seniors most in need. Specific changes to the agency's bus service are still being worked out but will probably mean fewer trips until at least Oct. 1.
"It was the most difficult decision we have ever been forced to make," board chairman Mark Heidenheimer said in a written statement.
The nonprofit's president and chief executive officer, Marilyn Stidham, said the financial problems snuck up on the agency, which operates on an annual budget of $5.5 million.
"It was a perfect storm," she said, citing the increasing demand for services coupled with higher prices for food and gasoline and the slowing of donations and other funds. "The need outstripped our funding."
Stidham said she kept hoping the agency's cash flow problems would work themselves out as they have in the past. But they didn't.
"If there were any way we could provide the services, we would," she said.
Stidham said the agency is still evaluating the number of clients affected. As of Monday, 112 seniors were cut from the lunchtime deliveries. The 85 to 90 meals delivered in the evenings have been reduced to six to eight meals that are paid for through a specific state program.
And for the first time, the agency has started a waiting list for its meals program. Clients with the greatest needs will be served first. That means that a new referral with a greater need could bump someone already receiving meals to the waiting list. More than 20 people are on the list, which will be reviewed weekly.
Seniors will still be able to get meals at area senior centers, but for some, the problem will be in getting to a center. Most of the agency's clients are homebound and can't drive.
A meal costs $5.25. Any senior able to pay that full price will be able to stay with Meals on Wheels. Stidham said families and churches are stepping in to pay the cost for some. The agency's volunteers are also sending in donations.
For most cities and school districts in Collin County, the growth in total property values have for the first time in many years been either flat or they are declining.
Many cities and school districts are used to double digit growth rates - but not this year. The decline in valuations directly affects the tax revenue the cities and schools rely on to finance operations. Most will feel the squeeze of the economic downturn.
|Final 2008 appraised value||Preliminary 2009 value|
|Final 2008 appraised value||Preliminary 2009 value|
|Blue Ridge ISD||$120,511,347||$115,166,938|
Collin County property tax valuations shrinking after years of growth
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
High-flying Collin County has been grounded.
Property values here, which have surged throughout the decade, are now flattening or even declining, according to appraisal records.
Countywide, taxable values have dropped slightly less than 1 percent, but some cities and school districts have seen larger dips. As a result, they may have to cut spending, reduce services or raise taxes.
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso
The dismal national economy certainly has had an impact. Construction has slowed or ceased, while foreclosures soar.
Even Frisco, which routinely posted double-digit appraisal increases, has joined its neighbors in the slowdown. Its combined residential and commercial tax base dropped 2.2 percent during 2008, according to preliminary records from the Collin Central Appraisal District.
Facing slow growth, Dallas exurbs stuck with unused services
Saturday, April 11, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
For the constellation of towns at Dallas' frontier, the tough times have brought a reckoning.
In places like Celina and Sanger, Princeton and Ponder, the steady march of the suburbs has all but stopped.
Builders have gone under. Vacant lots now checker many subdivisions. And communities that not long ago were seemingly destined to become Dallas' next great megaburbs are tempering their forecasts.
"Growth has come to a halt," said Sheri Clearman, city secretary of Ponder.
While the economic crisis has touched every corner of North Texas, it has wreaked particular havoc on the ambitions of communities at the outer edges of suburbia.
Most believe the slowdown constitutes a temporary halt to the region's relentless advancement into the North Texas prairie. The region still ranks among the nation's fastest-growing areas despite the sour economy.
Yet for towns on the perimeter, becoming the next Plano, Frisco or Grand Prairie is not as automatic as it once seemed. And some outlying communities that were girding for a housing explosion are now experiencing whiplash.
Slackening growth prompted Princeton to shrink the size of a proposed 2 million-gallon water tank by 500,000 gallons. Prosper might not have enough money to open a $1 million emergency dispatch center that the town started building when times were rolling.
In the Rockwall County community of Fate, revenues from building permits are projected to decline as much as 40 percent this year.
An even more pronounced slowdown is unfolding in rural Celina, located amid windswept ranches at growth's vanguard in northwestern Collin County.
Celina's population has tripled to about 5,000 over the past decade, compelling City Hall to earmark millions to expand water and sewer service.
But growth has come to a virtual standstill in recent months. Celina now finds itself saddled with an expensive water system meant to serve thousands of new homes that have yet to materialize.
The community previously processed hundreds of new home permits each year. Last month, the city did not receive any.
"You have to plan for enough capacity," City Manager Jason Gray said. "But when [the growth] doesn't turn out to be true, you still have those fixed costs sitting out there."
Housing growth has served as Celina's lifeblood in recent years. It has anchored upgrades to the school district and other public improvements, such as a quaint brick-lined city square.
Yet with Celina's trajectory flattening out, the community has felt the squeeze.
Membership is down at the local chamber of commerce. The school district has pushed back its expansion plans. And dwindling sponsorships have put a popular summer balloon festival in jeopardy.
"We've been in growth mode for the past four or five years," said Scott Tingle, a Celina homebuilder. "But the Celina area is just about shut down right now."
For the first time since area unemployment rates began increasing, Collin County’s unemployment rate is at about par with the state’s. For the month of January, Collin County’s unemployment was 6.5 percent and Texas’ was 6.8 percent not seasonally adjusted, according to the Texas Work Force Commission.
Collin County’s unemployment rate represents 26,361 unemployed workers for January 2009 up from 17,157 a year ago.
“The national economic crisis is beginning to have a serious, negative impact on our Texas economy,” said TWC Chairman Tom Pauken.
Industry losses hit manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities sectors the hardest, down 38,100 and 26,600 jobs, respectively. Trade, transportation and utilities include wholesale and retail trades, air and rail transportation and transmission of electric power and natural gas, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
“Although the unemployment rate in Texas is lower than in other parts of the country, it has gone up in recent months and we are concerned,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “I encourage job seekers to seek assistance at more than 240 Texas workforce centers providing help with work search, skills training and other services.”
Education and health services grew by 3,200 positions for an industry gain of 50,100 jobs in the past year. Leisure and hospitality continued its growth trend, adding 1,600 jobs in January and 17,400 jobs in the past 12 months.
(subscription may be req'd.)
Foreclosures continue to climb, reach new records
The latest data shows a record number of foreclosed homes in Collin County will go on the market next month.
March 22, 2009
By Danny Gallagher, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Home foreclosures continued to climb across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex including in Collin County, which had the second highest monthly increase for April.
Collin County's home foreclosures jumped by 29 percent to 697 homes for the April auction block, according to records compiled by Foreclosure Listing Service of Fort Worth.
The monthly total marked a new all time high for Collin County and marked the third time more than 600 homes were foreclosed on in a single month including last February and February of 2008, according to compiled data.
So far, 2,388 notices have been filed on foreclosed homes in Collin County for the first four auctions of the year, which represents a 16 percent increase over the 2,064 foreclosed homes in the same four-month period the previous year.
The affects of home foreclosures could be felt across the Metroplex, said George Roddy, presidents of Foreclosure Listing Service.
“In both Denton County & Collin County, a new monthly record high was reached with April’s home postings," Roddy said. "And, in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, home postings for the upcoming auction climbed to the second highest monthly level on record.”
Roddy said not only did every county in the DFW Metroplex experience a double-digit increase, but they also reached new record heights.
“For the upcoming foreclosure auctions in the D/FW Metro, 5,213 postings have been filed on homes. This was a 27% hike above the 4,108 filed for the same month last year; and, compared to last month’s 4,276 notices, there was a 22% increase," Roddy said. “The only other month that residential postings reached above 5,000 was in February of last year when the record level was achieved with 5,315 postings filed.”
From the City of Frisco
FIRST 2009 TOWN HALL MEETING TO BE HELD MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23
(February 19, 2009) How does the City of Frisco measure up? Find out at the city’s first Town Hall meeting of 2009 on Monday, February 23. The economy and its impact on the city’s budget, regional mobility and Census 2010 are among the topics to be discussed.
The meeting will be held in the City Hall council chambers of the George A. Purefoy Municipal Center, 6101 Frisco Square Boulevard. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and wraps up at 9 p.m. Residents who attend the Town Hall meeting will receive a free ‘Frisco’ tape measure to help you with your spring home improvement projects.
Learn more about Frisco’s financial forecast and what the city is doing to meet economic challenges.
Jeff Behler, Deputy Regional Director with the U.S. Census Bureau, will discuss Census 2010 and Tom Shelton, with North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), will speak about regional transportation. City staff will also provide updates on local road improvement and construction projects, as well.
Learn more about the Frisco Housing Rehabilitation Program and find out if you or your neighbor qualifies for help. Hear your neighbors’ concerns and ideas about how citizens and city staff can work together to grow healthy, sustainable neighborhoods when city staff gives a briefing about the first Congress of Neighborhoods meeting.
Learn the latest on the development of our city’s Hike and Bike Trail Master Plan and get a progress report on the tri-city Arts of Collin County project from Mike Simpson, Executive Director, Arts of Collin County.
Town Hall meetings last two hours and are held three times each year. The next two Town Hall meetings are scheduled for June 1 and October 5.
The Collin County Observer questioned the request for the armored car in Cities queuing at the trough published on February 8. We are glad to see the press picking up on the issue.
Frisco requests armored car from stimulus check
Thursday, February 12, 2009
By STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
FRISCO — Hundreds of cities across the country are asking the federal government to pay for a slew of projects, including zoos, museums, a polar bear exhibit and even a water park ride.
It's all part of the U.S. mayors economic stimulus proposal to congress.
So what are North Texas cities are asking for?
The City of Allen's wish list includes items you'd expect: A new water tower, more space at the animal shelter, a training center for police and firefighters and $20 million to help build the Collin County performing arts hall.
But take a look at Frisco's $259 million request: Among the road projects is an armored carrier for the police department.
"The better we can be prepared to handle a crisis incident or a high-threat situation, the better off the citizens of Frisco are going to be," said Ray Jewett, from the Frisco police tactical unit.
Frisco's mayor says with all his city's sports venues and schools, it's a smart idea to have an armored carrier.
But some folks argue Frisco is already safe; it's ranked the 16th safest city in the country, based on the number of murders, rapes, robberies and other major crime.
"They need that tool to go in and extract an injured citizen or for protecting themselves when they go into a dangerous situation," Mayor Maher Maso said. "I'm happily putting that on our list of needs."
Frisco taxpayer Mike Devore says he's all for new roads — but not the armored car.
"When I think of an armored personnel carrier, I think of a high-crime area. Frisco doesn't exactly fit that bill. I would think there's better uses to spend the capital," he said.
The Lone Star Foundation keeps a close eye on public policy. The chairman of the group, David Hartman, calls the armored car foolish spending. He says it's not helping people get back to work, and ultimately it's taxpayers who are footing the bill.
Chuck Bloom is a former publisher-owner-editor of several Texas community newspapers for more than 25 years before retiring, winner of dozens of journalism awards and former president of regional press groups. He published this piece today in his blog. The latest statistics show the unemployment rate in Collin County rose to 5.5% in December.
The state of things to come
I’d like to report to you on what will become an increasing sight here in Collin County, Texas, USA, one of the wealthier counties in Texas.
On Tuesday (Feb. 10), there was a relatively small job fair held at the Plano Centre, a small convention facility, sponsored by dice.com, a fairly new online job search site. In all, there were 11 companies represented, including the likes of Raytheon, Lennox, City of Dallas, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Region 10 Education Center (TEA), e-rewards, a few consulting firms and others.
This space was reserved prior to recent layoffs at Texas Instruments and other North Texas companies so organizers obviously did not know the size of the crowd to expect.
The event started at 11 a.m., but at 10:45 a.m., there was already a very long line waiting for the doors to open (several hundreds of unemployed job seekers). The room employed soon was filled to the gills with people waiting in line for more than two HOURS just to drop off a resume (accepting no applications, except on line but didn’t tell anyone) with one firm.
By 1 p.m., the procession to ENTER the Plano Centre wrapped around the building, not counting the crowd inside the lengthy hallway, trying to get into the room. Some estimates had more than 2,000 people looking for jobs at this event.
My wife was one of those involved and kept bumping into former Texas Instruments colleagues – all trying to do the same thing – find a new working life.
Such scenes will be repeated over and over and over as reality comes to Collin County – the weakening and worsening economy is striking at the heart of exurban America, as represented by cities like Plano, Frisco, Allen and McKinney. Since Texas admits the affects of the national recession are delayed before appearing in this state, we are only beginning to witness what the rest of the nation already knows.
Times are tough and about to get MUCH tougher before it gets better.
Fortunately, for this household, my diligent spouse has managed to obtain one of the rare nuggets that others tried so hard to mine – a job interview (with the city of Dallas - but not YET official; no one is returning phone calls and she is getting antsy about it). She was instantly the envy of others; merely wishing to have someone consider them for a new job, let alone hire them.
Such is life is the NEW America RIF (reduction in force … or … rising in fear).
From a press release issued by Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General:
Attorney General Abbott Launches Restitution Program For Countrywide Customers
Lender settles investigations in Texas, 10 other states to resolve deceptive lending allegations
AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today launched a restitution program that will make $7.46 million available to eligible Countrywide Financial Corp residential mortgage customers. Though the State’s 2008 agreement with Countrywide will provide $345 million in total benefits to Texas homeowners, the restitution announced today is specifically set aside for Countrywide customers who lost their homes to foreclosure. Last year, the attorney general initiated an investigation into allegations that Countrywide encouraged homeowners to accept loans they could not afford, failed to fully disclose risky loan terms to borrowers, and wrote loans for unqualified borrowers in an effort to increase market share.
“The restitution program announced today provides financial assistance to Countrywide customers who lost their homes,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “Last year we investigated Countrywide and reached a sweeping agreement that included loan modification opportunities for nearly 30,000 Texas homeowners. With today’s announcement, we are implementing the final portion of our agreement and making restitution funds available to Texans whose homes were lost to foreclosure.”
The state’s settlement with Countrywide included the following:
• $7.46 million in restitution for Countrywide's Texas customers who lost their homes to foreclosure--or whose payments were 120 days behind as of October 6, 2008;
• $335 million in loan modifications for about 30,000 Texans; and
• About 1,400 Texans who are in default – or are likely to be in default – on their subprime mortgages and who “voluntarily and appropriately” turn over their residence in the “Relocation Assistance Program,” are eligible to receive up to $2,000. The Relocation Assistance Program is expected to provide $2.8 million in benefits to Texas homeowners.
Under the agreement’s home loan modification program, eligible home owners can modify the terms of their residential loans so that monthly mortgage payments are more affordable. Modified loan terms will vary according to each home owner’s circumstances. The potential modifications include interest rate freezes, interest rate reductions, loan term extensions, conversions from variable to fixed rate loans, and principal reductions. Eligible borrowers who participate in the program will not be charged late fees, loan modification fees, foreclosure fees, or pre-payment penalties.
Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide last year, will distribute to eligible homeowners program application forms. Texans who believe they may be eligible for the loan modification program should visit Countrywide.com or call (800) 669-6650.
For the month of December, Collin County’s unemployment rate increased from 5.3 percent in November to 5.5 percent. The county’s unemployment rate remains below the state and national rate.
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6 percent in December, while the U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent. Texas’ unemployment rate has consistently remained well below the national rate for the past year. The Texas unemployment rate for December is up from 5.7 percent in November and 4.2 percent a year ago.
“Our state’s economy has been fairly resilient during these months of economic uncertainty, but the national economic storm has reached Texas,” said Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). “The challenge we face now is to minimize the impact of the national trends by continuing to promote our strong business climate and address the skills needs of Texas employers.”
Texas saw broad industry losses in December. Hardest hit were Trade, Transportation and Utilities and Manufacturing, with losses of 8,100 and 8,000 jobs, respectively. Texas’ over-the-year figures fared better with nine of 11 industries posting positive job growth.
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The US Conference of Mayors has published a "wish list" of "shovel ready" projects that could be financed with federal economic stimulus funding.
Allen, Frisco and McKinney have already submitted their lists to the Mayors' Conference.
Maybe I'm missing the point of the stimulus package. I thought the purpose was to create jobs. Some of the projects these cities have put forward just seem to be way off base and not very stimulating.
Traditional stimulus projects usually involve labor intensive road and infrastructure construction. The kind of "make work" type projects that were done by a few of the depression era programs. To this day we still benefit from many of the WPA and CCC projects built back in the 1930's.
While these cities' lists do include major construction, some have also chosen to list such items as an armored vehicle, a mobile command post and police fingerprint software. (I'm not really sure exactly what the City of Frisco plans to stimulate with an armored vehicle other than the testosterone level of its SWAT team.)
Other "hard to believe it can stimulate" wishes are really ongoing maintenance or operating items - like "ongoing public housing maintenance", and "Realigning Building Lighting".
Other odd wishes appear to be low priority items that got dropped off the budget but might now get a second chance, like "School Resource Officers" or a "Green Coordinator".
The Conference of Mayors' report does not contain an exhaustive list of all Collin County cities, nor does it contain the wish list for the county. But a glimpse at what's been requested so far looks more like the Mayors are lining up at the trough for some good old fashioned pork than trying to stimulate job creation in the region.
Stimulus Watch has a great interactive website listing all the Mayors' requests. It's an eye opener.
|CITY||PROGRAM||PROJECT DESCRIPTION||FUNDS REQD.||JOBS|
|Allen||CDBG||Arts of Collin County Performing Arts Hall.$80,000,000 joint project with Ci3es Allen, Frisco and Plano. Need funds to cover inflation generated gap.||$20,000,000||400|
|Allen||Public Safety||Animal Shelter Expansion to meet the service needs of this rapidly growing area.||$750,000||7|
|Allen||Public Safety||Fire Station Number 5. This is a new fire station for this rapidly growing City. This station will have have 1 ambulance and engine company creatng 18 new firefighter/paramedic jobs upon completion. This facilty is planned as a LEED platinum facility.||$3,500,000||20|
|Allen||Public Safety||City of Allen Service Center/Public Safety Training Facility. This new facility will have over 60,000 sf of office space, shop space, and classroom space with a 240,000 sf public safety driving track||$14,500,000||75|
|Allen||Streets/Roads||Wafers Road-This project includes the construction of 5,500 feet of 2 additional lanes on this regional arterial. This will bring the total number of lanes from 2 to 4.||$2,250,000||11|
|Allen||Streets/Roads||Bethany Drive Widening-This project includes 8,000 feet of roadway widening where 2 additional lanes will be added to this existing 4-lane divided regional arterial from Allen Heights to Angel Parkway||$3,300,000||16|
|Allen||Streets/Roads||Ridgeview Drive Custer Road to ALma Drive-This project includes the construction of 8,800 feet of this regional arterial as a 4-lane divided roadway to meet the continuing traffic demands in this rapidly growing urban area||$7,300,000||36|
|Allen||Streets/Roads||Ridgeview Drive from Stacy Road to US 75-This 7000 foot project includes 4 new lanes of regional divided arterial.||$8,700,000||44|
|Allen||Water||Highmeadow Sewer Replacement-This project replaces 9200 feet of existing and clay sewer/service lines with PVC lines in this 1960's residential neighborhood This project will benefit 107 residential homes.||$1,000,000||5|
|Allen||Water||Hillside Water Tower Replacement-This project includes a 2 million gallon elevated water tower that replaces a functionally obsolete 500,000 gallon water tank constructed in the early 1970's and replaces 2500 feet of asbestos cement water line with pvc.||$5,000,000||25|
|Frisco||Energy||Realigning Building Lighting to Reduce Aber Hours Usage||$100,000|
|Frisco||Energy||Solar Panels to Provide Energy to City Hall Building||$2,000,000|
|Frisco||Housing||Ongoing Public Housing Maintanence and Repair Program||$50,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Armored Vehicle||$125,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Electronic Surveillance Equipment||$55,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Fingerprint Analysis Software||$55,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Increase Firearms Training||$30,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Mobile Command Post||$200,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Police & Fire Emergency Communications System||$8,000,000|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Detective for Juvenile Investigations Unit||$150,000||2|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Expand Victim Assistance Program||$165,000||2.25|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Expand the School Resource Officer Program at the High School Level||$375,000||5|
|Frisco||Public Safety||Enhance Patrol Coverage||$900,000||12|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Eldorado Parkway - widen 2 lane rural road||$10,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||FM 3537 (SH 289 to FM 2478)||$30,830,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||FM 423 (Middle Section - Stewart Creek to Eldorado)||$45,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||FM 423 (North Section - Eldorado to US 380)||$50,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Lebanon & Dallas North Tollway - intersection improvement||$2,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Road Expansion - Teel Parkway from Eldorado to Freestone||$500,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Rolater Road (Custer - Independence)||$3,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Stonebrook (FM 423 - Teel)||$8,500,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Stonebrook (Legacy - Longhorn)||15,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Traffic Signal System EOC Expansion||$250,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Virginia Parkway ( Preston - DNT)||$14,000,000|
|Frisco||Streets/Roads||Virginia Parkway (DNT - CR 26)||$6,000,000|
|Frisco||Transit||Quiet Zone Improvements - Crossing Upgrades||$1,485,000|
|Frisco||Water||12" & 24" Dallas North Tollway Water Lines||$3,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||30" Dallas North Parkway Water Line||$2,250,000|
|Frisco||Water||Cottonwood Branch Cameron Way, Camfield Way flood control||$250,000|
|Frisco||Water||Cottonwood Creek Lib Station||$3,600,000|
|Frisco||Water||Creek on the Westside of Sunset Drive - flood control||$250,000|
|Frisco||Water||Eldorado Pump Station Remediation||$10,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Hillcrest Road & Preston Vineyard Drive Channel Improvements||$500,000|
|Frisco||Water|| Installation of delivery system for currently permitted re-use
|Frisco||Water||Main Street Pilot Channel||$1,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Northwest Infrastructure - 12", 16", 20"; Virginia/Teel Water Lines||$4,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Northwest Infrastructure - Sanitary Sewer Improvements||$2,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Panther Creek Sewer - Phase 2 (Parvin Branch)||$3,500,000|
|Frisco||Water||Panther Creek WWTP Expansion||$20,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Preston 24" Water Line||$2,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Repair of Eldorado Earthen Dam||$1,000,000|
|Frisco||Water||Stewart Creek Pilot Channel||$2,000,000|
|McKinney||CDBG||Housing Rehab Grant||$1,000,000|
|McKinney||Energy||Existing Building Retrofitting||$1,000,000||30|
|McKinney||Housing||Section 8 Apartment Rehab||$3,000,000||50|
|McKinney||Public Safety||School Resource Officers||$250,000||2|
|McKinney||Public Safety||Public Safety Building Phase 1A - New Detective Office Space & Building Parking Area (50 construction + 13 ongoing jobs)||$550,000||63|
|McKinney||Public Safety||Public Safety Building Phase 2 - 25,000 sf building for: ppty evdnc, crime lab, canine kennels, crime vehicle strg, expnd'd SWAT eqpmt strg (75 + 5 ongoing jobs)||$5,000,000||80|
|McKinney||Public Safety||Fire Station #9 - North (200 + 18 ongoing jobs)||$6,000,000||218|
|McKinney||Public Safety||Public Safety Fire Station #8 - Craig Ranch 18,000 sf bay (200 + 21 ongoing jobs)||$10,000,000||221|
|McKinney||Transit||CCART/small bus funding||$500,000|
Stimulus Watch notes that none of these projects have been approved by the feds, nor are they listed in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act working its way through Congress. That legislation won't list the projects to be funded. Instead, it will appropriate money for federal grant programs, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which will then use the appropriated stimulus money to make grants to cities. In the case of CDBG, for example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be the agency that will decide (using a formula) which of the projects requested by the mayors will be funded.
Collin County to stop paying for employees' weight-loss surgeries
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
McKINNEY Collin County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to stop paying for lap-band weight-loss surgery for county employees.
About 150 workers have had the procedure since 2002 at a cost of more than $3 million to taxpayers.
Commissioners began covering the surgery in hopes of reducing medical costs associated with obesity.
But commissioners said the lap-band procedure, which costs up to $30,000, couldn't be justified in tight economic times.
The decision came after four county employees who have had the procedure and two physicians urged them to keep it as a benefit.
"It not only saved my life but has given me life," said clerk Becky James, who said she lost more than 300 pounds after having the surgery in 2005.
Two years ago, commissioners began requiring people who wanted the procedure to undergo a year of nutritional counseling in hopes that they would lose enough weight to make it unnecessary.
Employees who are in counseling now or sign up within two months will be allowed to complete it and have the procedure.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
Several Plano ISD employees will lose their jobs under a plan to reduce the district’s multimillion dollar budget deficit.
School board members voted last week to approve a reduction in force that’s estimated to save Plano ISD $1.5 million. Under the plan, the layoff would target employees in two departments: elementary advanced academic services and library/media services.
No teachers would be let go, the district said.
“Like everyone else in this country, the district is tightening its belts to balance its budget,” board member Mary Beth King said.
The reduction in force also calls for several central office positions to go unfilled. Plano ISD hasn’t revealed the number of positions that would be cut or the number and types of positions that would remain empty.
The district projects to save $1.05 million through the RIF and another $440,000 by keeping jobs vacant, said Karla Oliver, a Plano ISD administrator.
The move comes amid other moves to reduce Plano ISD’s $14 million budget deficit. Plano ISD has shaved about $500,000 by implementing energy-efficiency measures and by the drop in gasoline prices, said Richard Matkin, the district’s superintendent of finance.
Plano ISD and other area school districts have asked state representatives to approve additional financial support for public schools. But area school district financial officials say they expect little, if any, state funding boosts.
“We have to see if the Legislature is going to come up with additional money,” Mr. Matkin said. “I’m not sure how many years people can absorb deficit budgets.”
After last week's Commissioners Court meeting no one should have any doubt that county Judge Keith Self is on a mission to cut costs.
He first questioned the Public works Director about buying 3 replacement pickup trucks. Noting that the county had recently lost a TERP grant in part because its equipment was not old enough, Self questioned whether the old trucks really needed replacement. After some discussion, the purchase was approved.
Self then proceeded browbeat a reluctant Rubin Delgado (the county's engineer) into renegotiating the hourly costs in a $437,000 consulting contract with HTNB.
The commissioners also looked at lap band surgery for county employees. After spending over $3 million on these fat reduction procedures, the commissioners made it clear they will kill the program at the next meeting.
Several times during Monday's meeting Self and several of the commissioners pointed out that with the economy in a downturn, the county had to find ways to cut its own spending.
This writer believes that Judge Self is entirely correct in leading an item by item effort to drive down the cost of county government. Reluctant department heads need to understand that the need to look outside the box for spending cuts is mandatory.
It seems though, that Self and the court would do well to look at their own spending habits. After all, the time honored way of gaining cooperation is to set the example first.
Perhaps the court should begin by looking at its own spending for "business meals". For example, according to the county's check register, in the last 3 months of 2008, Commissioner Jerry Hoagland alone spent over $1,300 in taxpayer money for meals.
The commissioners court must show it is willing to toe a fiscally conservative line. To ask that everyone but themselves sacrifice is nothing but arrogant.
WFAA is accusing Mayor Dorman of inflating the population of Melissa in order to make it look like the city is growing.
In their 'coverage', WFAA says that the mayor uses the number of water meters times 3.3 people. According to Mayor Dorman, that adds up to 5,000 folks living in the City of Melissa. WFAA points out that using water meter counts means that 10 people must live on the football field.
The article implies that Dorman is using a high body count to justify seeking a Home Rule referendum, and to trumpet his own real estate holdings.
Home Rule would allow Melissa to expand its ETJ and more easily annex adjacent land.
In another article, a WFAA headline blares that the housing slump has made Anna into a modern day ghost town.
OK! I've been in Anna recently - there, like much of the county, there's a lot of new vacant homes for sale. And there are developments that just aren't building out right now, leaving empty lots or bare foundations. But I sure didn't see a ghost town.
DFW November home sales dropped 33% from last year's pace, and along with the rest of the Metroplex, Collin County is being hit hard. Many smaller communities like Melissa, Celina, Lavon and Wylie have seen such explosive growth in the last few years that the downturn is a real sea change.
More troubling is the explosive growth in home foreclosures, up 18% this month from last year. As the economic downturn deepens, we can expect many of our neighbors to struggle - and some will fail to keep their homes.
But I don't think we've added any "modern day ghost towns" (at least not yet) and I suspect that Melissa has closer to 3,300 souls (as estimated by NCTCOG).
2009 will be a tough year for our citizens, cities and county. However I fail to see how goofy population games or hysterical headlines help anyone.
One of the fastest-growing counties in the country also has a fast-growing number of foreclosures. In just the past two years, foreclosures in Collin County have increased by nearly 50 percent, with more than 6,000 homes registered for foreclosure in 2008. George Roddy with Foreclosure Listing Service says some more established residential areas such as Plano fared better than others. He says Frisco, McKinney? and some of the other small areas that have had a huge amount of single family homes built are the ones seeing the biggest increase.
Roddy says if we see more job losses around DFW, there could be a spike in foreclosures. If not, he says the worst may be over.
Plano already looking at potential cuts to 2010 budget
Monday, November 24, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Consider it the budgetary equivalent of building the ark before the flood.
Foreseeing dark financial clouds ahead, the city of Plano has taken the unusual step of beginning work on its 2010 budget almost a year early.
Plano's City Council on Monday met with the fire and police chiefs and other department heads at a daylong City Hall retreat to outline what services, if any, might get cut.
Council members will not make any final decisions for some time, as the 2010 budget begins Oct. 1, said City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck. Still, the discussions yield clues into just how severely the souring economy has affected municipal budgets here and beyond.
Monday's chatter revolved around paring back services that city officials deem secondary, such as employee training efforts and public outreach programs for the health and parks departments.
Plano's exercise in early budgeting is the latest sign that the nation's economic woes – which have already squeezed banks, businesses and homeowners – have now reached the steps of city hall.
Many communities, including the city of Fort Worth and the Dallas school district, are grappling with the prospect of layoffs and multimillion-dollar budget deficits.
The council earlier this year slashed 50 vacant positions in city government and raised a slew of fees to help close a shortfall in Plano's $400 million annual budget. Further cuts and/or a property tax rate increase are likely if the economy does not improve.
Anticipating an economic downturn, city officials scheduled Monday's budget meeting several months ago. But the recent, dramatic slide in the stock market and home values across the nation only worsens the outlook of Plano and other communities.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
By VICTOR GODINEZ / The Dallas Morning News
Hewlett-Packard Co. said Monday that it plans to cut about 24,600 jobs as part of its purchase and reorganization of Electronic Data Systems Corp.
H-P did not provide an exact breakdown of where the cuts will occur, but the vast majority will come from Plano-based EDS, which has about 140,000 employees worldwide. That includes about 7,000 workers in the Dallas area and 48,000 in the U.S.
The rest of the cuts will come from H-P's workforce.
The layoffs will occur over the next three years, and H-P said it plans to replace about half of the jobs.
But many of those replacement hires seem likely to come from low-cost areas such as India, as H-P said in a news release it is aiming for "a global workforce that has the right blend of services delivery capabilities to address the diversity of its markets and customers worldwide."
The cuts are part of H-P's plan to integrate the information technology outsourcing company that it bought for $13.9 billion last month.
The latest foreclosure statistics show only a 7 percent increase in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from a year ago.
But more than 3,700 homes are still scheduled for foreclosure sale in September’s county auctions, according to statistics released Thursday by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.
The biggest September foreclosure gain is in Collin County, where the number of homes facing forced sale jumped 38 percent from a year ago.
Foreclosure totals were unchanged in both Dallas and Tarrant counties.
The period ending with September’s foreclosure auctions will be the second quarter in a row that total postings in the area have declined.
So far this year, 37,572 residential properties have been posted for foreclosure – an increase of 20 percent from the first nine months of 2007.
DALLAS-FORT WORTH AREA FORECLOSURE POSTINGS
Residential properties scheduled for foreclosure auction in September for each of the counties and change from a year ago.
|Dallas County||1,692||No change|
|Tarrant County||1,098||No change|
|Dallas-Fort Worth area||3,721||7%|
SOURCE: Foreclosure Listing Service
Last week, I watched as Cynthia Jacobson, the county's Human Resources Manager showed a 45 page report on law enforcement salaries. Her report sliced and diced salary comparisons from adjacent counties, adjacent cities and counties, and from the top 10 largest counties.
No decision was made, but the county Judge made much ado over keeping pay in line with the local market.
No such detailed data has ever been released comparing Elected Officials salaries.
While I don't have anything like the resources Ms. Jacobson can bring to a presentation, here is the Observer's market analysis of our Collin Elected Officials Salaries. All data was taken from the Texas Association of Counties recent 2008 Salary Survey.
Population figures used are 2007, budget and salary numbers are fiscal year 2008
Conservative leaders recognize that taxpayers want value for their tax dollars. There is no real value to the taxpayers in overpaying elected government officials. None whatsoever.
Collin County is the 8th largest county in Texas. For the last 2 years, the Commissioners have tried to tie the elected salaries to the 5 largest counties, even though Collin County is much smaller.
In this analysis, I have used the four nearest size counties larger than Collin and the closest four smaller counties. This puts Collin county in the middle.
County Judge (click on graph to enlarge)
The current County Judge salary is $136,074. This is the highest pay rate in the 9 similar counties. As Judge Self said several times during the law enforcement salary discussion, "Wow!".
Last year, Keith Self declined any salary increase. He is pledged to do the same this year.
However, the average salary for this position in the 9 similar counties is $111,042.
Judge Self needs to take a pay cut of $25,032 to be paid at the average market rate for his position.
County Commissioner (click on graph to enlarge)
The Commissioners are paid a $107,387 salary.
The 9 similar county average is $97,787
To be paid average market rate, the commissioners need to take a pay cut of $9,600
County Clerk / District Clerk (click on graph to enlarge)
The County Clerk and District Clerk are paid a $107,234 salary.
The 9 similar county average for County Clerk is $96,781
To be paid average market rate, they need to take a pay cut of $10,453
County Auditor (click on graph to enlarge)
The County Auditor is paid a $127,351 salary.
The 9 similar county average is $126,694
To be paid average market rate requires a pay cut of $657
Note: The Commissioners do not set the Auditor's salary. His salary is determined by a committee made up of the District Judges.
Sheriff (click on graph to enlarge)
The Sheriff is paid a $134,098 salary.
The 9 similar county average is $122,912
To be paid average market rate requires a pay cut of $11,186
Tax Assessor/Collector (click on graph to enlarge)
The Tax Assessor/Collector is paid a $106,033 salary.
The 9 similar county average is $99,530
To be paid average market rate requires a pay cut of $6,503
Justice of the Peace (click on graph to enlarge)
The Justices of the Peace are paid a $91,716 salary.
The 9 similar county average is $83,028
To be paid average market rate requires a pay cut of $8,688
Constables (click on graph to enlarge)
The Constables are paid a $86,726 salary.
The 9 similar county average is $75,012
To be paid average market rate requires a pay cut of $11,714
Ten Largest Counties
- Using the 10 largest county data still shows that all but the Auditor's pay rates are above the market average:
The 10 largest county average for County Judge is $118,516. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $17,558
The 10 largest county average for County Commissioner is $103,138. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $4,249
The 10 largest county average for County Clerk is $105,684. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $1,550
The 10 largest county average for County Auditor is $138,994. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be RAISED $11,643
The 10 largest county average for Sheriff is $128,466. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $5,632
The 10 largest county average for Tax Assessor/Collector is $105,501. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $532
The 10 largest county average for Justice of the Peace is $89,658. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $2,058
The 10 largest county average for Constable is $81,672. To be at the average rate, the salary would have to be cut $5,054
Market data compiled from the average salaries from the 10 largest Texas Counties, or from the 9 similar counties shows that Collin County consistently overpays its Elected Officials.
Leading the list of overpaid officials is the County Judge, who is the third highest paid County Judge in Texas. His salary is inflated over the market rate by between $17,558 and $25,032. The disparity in the Judge's salary is more than twice that of the next official's.
Only the County auditor's pay scale is below the 10 largest county average.
The court has lately given much discussion on the uncertainty of the economy and its effects on both the ability of tax payers to afford their taxes, and the possibility that growth rates can not be maintained. Given the uncertainties in the economy which may result in a flattening of tax revenues, it should be obvious that NO pay raise is warranted for any elected official. In a few egregious cases, pay cuts should be considered.
Conservative leaders recognize that taxpayers want value for their tax dollars. There is no real value to the taxpayers in overpaying elected government officials. None whatsoever.
The newly formed "Elected Officials Salary Advisory Committee" is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Monday, July 21, 2008.
At that time, the Committee will hear testimony and recommend the 2009 salaries for all elected officials.
The meeting will be held at 6:00 PM in the Commissioners Court room on the 6th floor of the McDonald St. courthouse.
The public is allowed to testify.
Plano eliminating 50 vacant positions to ease budget woes
Monday, July 7, 2008
By Theodore Kim / The Dallas Morning News
The city of Plano plans to eliminate 50 vacant positions to help close a projected budget shortfall, city officials said today.
Administrators say the cuts, which involve cutting 43 full-time jobs and 7 part-time positions, could save the city as much as $3.1 million annually.
Those cuts include trimming from police and fire services. At a special session this evening, the Plano City Council is expected to approve the elimination of 11 police officers and six firefighters. Cutting civil service positions, like in the police and fire departments, requires council action.
None of the positions being cut are currently filled, and city officials stressed that citizens will witness no immediate impact in services.
Still, the cuts mark the latest dark cloud for a city that, like many communities in the area, is being squeezed by high fuel costs, a rough housing market and other forces.
Plano, which is required to pass a new budget by September, faces an estimated $17 million gap. That gap will eventually widen in future years unless the city acts.
Just like the rest of us, Collin County is having to deal with rising gasoline, diesel and electricity costs.
With 570 on-the-road and off-the-road vehicles, the county goes through over 7,500 gallons of fuel a week.
Last month, Public Works Director Jon Kleinheksel asked for (and got) court approval to add $200,000 to the fuel accounts. Kleinheksel told the court that the the accounts were completely out of money, and that the cause was 100% energy cost.
I spoke to Kleinheksel effect of high gas prices on the county's operations. He told me that with the addition of 2 Toyota Prius's, the county now owns 8 hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles.
Last month, the Dallas Morning News reported that Dallas County owned only one hybrid automobile.
Kleinheksel also told me that the county was actively looking at the possibility of using TERP grants to upgrade the older diesel engines to more efficient models. He also said the county was looking hard at alternative fuels, especially using liquefied natural gas instead of diesel.
I was surprised to learn that one of the hybrids in the county's fleet is used as a working patrol vehicle in one of the Constable's offices. I asked the officer who drove the car how he liked it, as compared to the usual Crown Victoria. I was told the car was comfortable and "did the job", while getting almost 40 miles to the gallon.
When I asked about its ability as a traffic patrol vehicle, the deputy told me that while he mostly served court papers, he did do some traffic enforcement - and one time, he pulled over a speeder who he clocked at 88 miles an hour. (With the Prius's top speed of 90 mph, that was a close one!)
Electricity prices are also having a negative effect on the county budget. This Tuesday, the commissioners court will ponder a budget amendment moving $92,400 from various maintenance accounts to pay the rising electricity costs for the new Bloomdale Rd. courthouse.
At the last meeting, Jerry Hoagland cast the sole "No" vote for the increase to the gas and fuel budget. Since the fuels fund was completely depleted, it is unclear how Hoagland would propose the Sheriff's deputies patrol the county (maybe bicycles?). On Tuesday we'll see if Mr. Hoagland wants the county's courts to hold criminal trials in the dark.
The Collin Central Appraisal District received 33,000 property valuations protests in May and is wrapping up its appraisal board hearings in which property owners may contest their assessed property valuations.
About 20,000 of the 33,000 protests were filed by tax agents representing people who own multiple properties in Collin County, said chief appraiser Jimmie Honea. The remaining 13,000 protests are from homeowners who are contesting their property valuations, Honea said. The protest hearings began on June 9 and will end on July 17, Honea said.
Appraisers at the Collin CAD office assign valuations for all types of property in the county by looking at how much similar property, such as residential, commercial, or industrial, is selling for in neighborhoods throughout the county, Honea said.
When asked about why some properties, and buildings or homes in an area have similar property valuations even though the homes or buildings may vary in repair work, age or damage, Honea said the appraisers also take into account what the homes or buildings are reselling for.
“Some properties are reselling for more money now then they did in the past. The market drives it. There are isolated pockets in some cities where the property valuations aren’t increased and may have gone down,” Honea said.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Plano Mayor Pat Evans looks at the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts with envy.
Supporters have donated $300 million to build the downtown center, scheduled to open next year. Meanwhile, $7 million has trickled in from donors for a less-ambitious Collin County arts hall.
"It's a little discouraging," Ms. Evans said.
The $85 million Collin County performance center, a joint project of northern suburbs Plano, Allen and Frisco, faces a daunting budget shortfall and uncertain groundbreaking.
Civic leaders began planning the 2,100-seat hall almost a decade ago. Organizers have $60 million in public funds and an ambitious design. But nearby McKinney has refused to join the effort, and the cost has soared 25 percent to $85 million. The result: an $18 million gap and some tough questions.
Should Collin County, despite its demographics, have undertaken an arts hall in the same league with the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas? Did big-time aspirations override fiscal prudence?
Proponents say no.
"I haven't changed my opinion that this project still makes sense," said Frisco Mayor Maher Maso, a longtime backer.
City officials now must make a politically volatile decision – whether to commit more public money to the project, despite longstanding assurances that they wouldn't. By covering the shortfall, the cities could ensure groundbreaking this year.
"Until people see dirt move, they're going to have doubts because it's been a long time," Ms. Evans said.
Collin CAD office receives 1,800 property value protests
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The Collin Central Appraisal District has received 1,800 protests from Collin County residents who are contesting their property values that were recently released by the Collin CAD office.
The office also recently released the estimated taxable values for 2008 for all taxing entities in the county, which include all public school districts, municipalities, the Collin College District, Collin County, and the Seis Lagos Utility District near Wylie.
All municipalities saw an increase in estimated taxable values for this year. The town of Prosper reaching the highest increase of any taxing entity in the county as its estimated taxable value for this year is 39.03 percent more than the 2007 certified taxable value. All cities except the town of New Hope, northeast of McKinney and the city of Josephine, in southeast Collin County saw increases in their estimated taxable values.
Residents have from now until June 2 to protest their values with the Collin CAD office, at 250 Eldorado Parkway, near South College Street. Residents who protest their property values will appear before the Appraisal Review Board in June. The Collin CAD office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and on Friday, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays.
The appraisers determine the values of property, home and structure by looking at how much homes are selling for and the number of foreclosures in neighborhoods in cities throughout Collin County, said Jimmie Honea, the chief appraiser of the Collin CAD.
After the board hears from residents who are contesting their property values, some of the protested property values will be changed, which will affect the estimated taxable values for some entities. The Collin CAD office will certify the taxable values in July, which will include any changes in values that will result from the protested values. The municipalities, school districts, Collin College District and Collin County Commissioner’s Court will adopt their tax rates for the 2008-2009 fiscal year in September, after the estimated taxable values are certified. The city of McKinney’s estimated taxable value for this year is $10,451,900,000, which is 8.32 percent more than the 2007 certified taxable value of $9,648,855,100. The McKinney ISD’s estimated taxable value for this year is $8,920,000,000, which is a 5.15 percent increase from the 2007certified value of $8,483,216,022.
Collin County’s estimated taxable value for this year is $73,043,400,000, which is 6.35 percent more than the 2007 certified taxable value of $68,685,147,666.
According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, "TDA has 72 weights and measures inspectors throughout the state checking more than 65,000 fuel pumps a year. An inspector will place an "out of order" tag on any pump not dispensing the correct amount of fuel within the allowable tolerance."
An explanation of the "out of order" reasons is here
Over the last 60 days, TDA inspectors placed "out of order tags" on the following local stations.
7 ELEVEN STORE #34109
1302 W MCDERMOTT DR ALLEN TX
MULTI-PRODUCT DISPENSERS NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
SHORT MEASURE IN EXCESS OF TOLERANCE
Failed Pumps 7
TRAVEL CENTERS OF AMERICA
2105 S GOLIAD ROCKWALL TX 75087
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 2
VALERO CORNER STORE #4527
2255 S GOLIAD ST ROCKWALL TX 75032
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 3
C STORE #16
3070 N JOSEY LN CARROLLTON TX 75007
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 2
521 HWY 121 E LEWISVILLE TX 75057
GASOLINE PUMP NOZZLES DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES
SHORT MEASURE IN EXCESS OF TOLERANCE IMPROPERLY MAINTAINED
Failed Pumps 3
KWIK CHEK #32
1001 W STEPHENS VAN ALSTYNE TX 75495
DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES
TWO TIMES THE TOLERANCE [short]
Failed Pumps 1
VAN ALSTYNE SHELL FOOD MART
805 W STEPHENS VAN ALSTYNE TX 75495
SHORT MEASURE IN EXCESS OF TOLERANCE
Failed Pumps 1
Out of 13,546 TDA weights and measures inspections carried out in Texas since September 1, 2006, 203 were in Collin County. Of those 203 inspections most passed, however these failed:
15449 HWY 121 N ANNA TX 75409
COMPLAINT NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 1
STONEBROOK MOBIL FOOD MART
6495 N DALLAS PKWY FRISCO TX 75034
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 1
RSC EQUIPMENT RENTAL INC #689
1533 N MCDONALD MCKINNEY TX 75071
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES
Failed Pumps 1
7 ELEVEN STORE #33654
1031 N MURPHY DR MURPHY TX 75094
NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
Failed Pumps 2
4001 W PARK BLVD PLANO TX 75093
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 2
600 OHIO DR PLANO TX 75093
NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
GASOLINE PUMP NOZZLES
Failed Pumps 7
RSC EQUIPMENT RENTAL INC #756
2727 AVE K PLANO TX 75074
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
DIESEL PUMP NOZZLES GASOLINE PUMP NOZZLES
Failed Pumps 2
KWIZ MART TEXACO
6000 INDEPENDENCE PKWY PLANO TX 75023
NON COMPLIANT - FOLLOW UP
Failed Pumps 6
600 OHIO DR PLANO TX 75093
RE-INSPECTION NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
Failed Pumps 5
TIGER MART #45
1099 N PRESTON RD PROSPER TX 75078
NON COMPLIANT - REFER TO ENFORCEMENT
Failed Pumps 4
It should be noted that many of the above stations have since corrected the problems and are now certified.
The TDA website explains that "The station owner or operator is responsible for having a pump repaired by a service company licensed through TDA before the pump can be further used to sell fuel. A TDA inspector will then place a new seal on the pump after it has been tested and found to be operating properly."
The Dallas Morning News reported that, " An entire station can also be put out of service if most pumps are dispensing fuel in favor of the station owner, even if the pumps are within tolerance.
Until late May 2007, fines started at $25. TDA Commissioner Todd Staples quadrupled the fines.
'Gas prices are high enough without consumers getting shortchanged at the pump,' Mr. Staples said in a statement released just prior to the increase. 'Drivers need to have confidence they are receiving exactly what they are paying for every time they fill up.'"
All I can say is that a $100 fine is darn little incentive to keep an honest pump when a fill up cost's me $75.
Consumers who suspect they are being shorted at the pump can contact the TDA:
Joe Benavides, Branch Chief for Regulatory Programs
Water treatment plant may bring steep rate increases
Saturday, April 26, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Thanks to a planned treatment plant, the reek that occasionally afflicts drinking water from Lavon Lake will be gone in the next several years.
But the rate increases to follow will be steep, meaning higher bills for those who get their water from the North Texas Municipal Water District. And that is just the beginning.
New budget estimates show cost increases in the plant and other projects have added some $900 million to a budget forecast the district crafted just two years ago – a roughly 30 percent increase.
As a result, the district, the main water and sewer provider for Dallas' northern and eastern suburbs including Plano, Garland and Frisco, faces the prospect of wholesale water rates doubling by 2018.
While the impact on water bills is harder to gauge, some of the district's 2 million customers could see their bills more than double in that time.
The recent county commissioner primary races put a focus on cutting taxes.
Everyone wants their taxes lowered, right? But some on the court are questioning whether tax cuts are the best way to lower property taxes for the average homeowner.
Collin County Commissioners will be looking at early budget decisions starting Tuesday. Tax cutting will be agenda item #11.
The question commissioners will try to answer will be, "Are tax cut the fairest way to reduce homeowner taxes, or will a homestead exemption, as Commissioner Jaynes has proposed, result in a bigger savings for homeowners?".
Lets look at 4 scenarios, a $100,000 homestead, a $200,000 (close to Collin county median) homestead, a $500,000 homestead, and a $5,000,000 business:
Currently, the tax rate is .245 per $100 valuation.
2008 Increase or (Savings) in real taxes, based on a 4.5% appraisal incease
Because of rising property values, a typical homeowner with a $200,000 home would still get a tax increase - even if the tax rate was cut a full penny. But even with a small $10,000 exemption, the same homeowner would receive a real cut in his tax burden. If the exemption were to be set at $25,000 that homeowner would get a $45 cut in his county tax.
The county budget office is estimating that without a rate cut, taxes from homesteads would increase by over $4 million. A one cent tax rate decrease would still increase county tax revenue by $45,000.
However, a $10,000 homestead exemption would reduce residential taxes by over $4 million, and a $30,000 exemption by over $12 million.
Many, including this writer, believe that an across the board rate cut will have almost no beneficial effect on the average, working class homeowner. Instead, a tax rate cut will mostly impact large commercial inventories and properties.
A homestead exemption might just be the prescription for homeowner tax relief.
*(All numbers are based on last year's figures. The court will be looking at the fiscal year 2009 rate)
Note: The Commissioners Court will meet this Tuesday, April 15 at 1:30 P.M.
The discussion of tax rate cuts vs. homestead exemptions is agenda item #11. The Court does allow public comment on any agenda item, simply fill out a card before the meeting to request your right to speak on agenda item #11.
The meeting is on the 6th Floor of the Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald St. in McKinney
Pegasus News republished this article from McKinneyNews.net reporting both the good news and bad news of how the national economy is affecting McKinney.
Housing starts are down dramatically, but unemployment has so far remained low.
By Rodney Williams of McKinneyNews.net
The City of McKinney may be at an all-time high in terms of population, but that growth hasn't translated into the same numbers for new home builders in 2008.
McKinney's population has grown to 120,978 as of January, up 5,000 residents from the same time in 2007. Looking back over the past five years, the number of residents has grown by 35,000. To put those numbers in perspective, McKinney's growth in the past five years is greater than the total number of residents in 1997.
According to information published by the City of McKinney's Planning department, the number of single family permits issued in the first quarter of 2008 was 310, the fewest the city has issued in five years. In 2004, McKinney issued 700 such permits for single family dwellings - including homes and town homes. That number ballooned to 876 in 2006, before dropping to 453 for the first quarter of 2007.
Regie Neff, Assistant City Manager for the City of McKinney, said the slowdown in new home building the city is experiencing is being felt across the United States.
"This is reflective of a nationwide trend on housing starts," Neff said. "It's a lot of inventory housing unsold [from previous years]."
Ah, but numbers can be deceiving.
"The numbers you're seeing in McKinney are actually very high compared to other cities in Collin County," Neff said. "It's an enviable position."
Neff had a point. Despite the new housing market struggling to catch up with unsold inventory, the economic situation for McKinney is a good one. Growth is still up, especially when compared to the only other city in Collin County with more than 100,000 residents last year; more than seven percent for McKinney compared to one percent for Plano.
Good news also lies in the unemployment rate. McKinney's unemployment rate (4.2 percent) is average with those of Collin county (4.0) and and the State of Texas (4.1) and down nearly five percent from this time in 2004.
AUSTIN – Texas has one of the largest income gaps of any state, and, following the U.S. trend, it's getting worse, two liberal think tanks warned Tuesday.
Their study of inflation-adjusted census data shows that in Texas, the gap between the average income of the richest 20 percent of families – $126,658 – and the poorest fifth – $16,088 – is the ninth-biggest among the states.
Texas has the fifth-biggest gap among the states between the wealthiest 20 percent of families and the middle 20 percent, which earn an average of $44,574.
"Since the late 1980s, income gaps widened in 37 states and did not narrow in any," said economist Jared Bernstein of the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, co-author of the report. "The trend towards growing inequality has accelerated during this decade."
In an article published today in the Dallas Morning News, a spokesperson for the State of Texas' Health and Human Services Commission admitted that problems with the State's privatization of the welfare system caused children in Plano to not receive Medicaid benefits.
Rick Perry's efforts to slash the HHS budget and privatize the welfare administration has caused serious errors and backlogs. According to lawmakers quoted in the article, the system is so damaged it may not be salvageable.
The Governor and the legislature share the blame for the starvation of the HHS. Their insistence in trying to outsource the state government has caused a failure in the basic safety net needed by our most vulnerable children.
Texas' welfare privatization efforts snagged
Lost paperwork, other glitches often block help to needy Texans
11:24 PM CDT on Sunday, April 6, 2008
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Lawmakers are worried that a partly privatized system for determining who receives public assistance is still shaky and may not be salvageable.
Paperwork for applicants has been lost. Needy Texans have received little help from state workers when they've complained of mistakes. And all too often, Texans who should qualify for state-paid health care and other benefits have been refused because of such errors.
When one closely watched measure of the state's performance on aid requests plunged recently, lawmakers sharply questioned Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins. He has announced several new initiatives this year to lure and retain state eligibility workers – and to train more of them on a computer system causing most of the delays.
But those steps haven't calmed lawmakers' nerves. They and advocates for the poor are skeptical he can quickly fix a system that's been in crisis for most of the five years since the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry slashed the payroll of the state's welfare offices and ordered a shift of many screening duties to four privately run call centers.
State leaders acknowledge that promised cost savings haven't materialized and mistakes are common. Now, the system could be headed for more severe problems, as a jittery economy means more Texans may soon apply for public assistance.
As policymakers and experts in Austin bicker, needy Texans continue to report problems. When they complain, poorly trained state and contractor employees respond inadequately, they say.
Plano housewife Cecilia Davidson is one such person, baffled – and frustrated – by the sputtering system.
Ms. Davidson, whose husband got laid off from a construction job and struggled to find work, got her two sons on Medicaid. When their six months of coverage ended last April, she applied for renewal, but state workers' errors left the family without coverage until December.
Ms. Davidson abandoned hope of getting help from the state. Despite her own chronic medical condition, she took a job last summer, hoping it would be the ticket to private family coverage. It wasn't.
She said that by September, her 16-year-old son, Leth, who has a mild form of autism known as Asperger's, needed care. So she applied again to get government coverage for him and his brother Scott, 8.
In December, Ms. Davidson rushed Leth to the emergency room because he had seizure-like "twitching and jerking." Hit with a $3,000 tab, she redoubled efforts to get coverage for the boys. On some days, she recounted, she spent up to five hours on the phone.
"You get run around so much," she said. "My application had so much weighing on it."
Ms. Goodman acknowledged that Ms. Davidson provided all information requested of her, and the boys should have had continuous coverage.
Under Medicaid, a child's bills from the last three months can be paid when they enroll – so Leth's ER visit is covered. Ms. Davidson said she winces, though, when state workers tell her that millions more Texans eventually will have their records pulled into TIERS.
"Everybody's going to be on it," she said. "God help everybody."
Today's New York Times included this article on how the housing market is affecting suburbs and local government revenue, especially mentioning Lavon in Collin County.
How will the slowing of exurb's growth rate affect other cities and the county at large? Good question, I think.
Remember the $710 million dollar Prosper ISD bond package passed last November? The 2006 population estimates show less than 2,700 households in the Prosper ISD. Without the hoped for growth, the debt in the recently passed bonds would, if all bonds are sold, amount to $263,000 of debt for every homestead in the PISD.
Slowdown Hits Towns at Outskirts of Texas Boom
By LESLIE EATON
The New York Times
Published: February 20, 2008
LAVON, Tex. — Once little more than a speed trap 25 miles northeast of Dallas, this town started to boom about a year ago, as turreted stone castlettes and modest brick bungalows began springing up in what had been wheat fields.
J. Michael Jones, the city marshal and chief administrator in Lavon, said that after years of growth, building permits had dried up.
The population is now 2,500, but the city has yet to update its signs.
Big Dallas seemed to be knocking on little Lavon’s door. Thousands of lots were laid out and hundreds of houses built, as developers tried to meet what seemed to be an insatiable appetite for inexpensive single-family homes. Land values soared, the population hit 2,500, and by November, the city was finally flush enough to afford a full-time police department.
But that was when the knocking stopped. Banks were no longer giving mortgages to anyone who could fog a mirror. “For sale” signs went up and stayed up. Weeds, not houses, sprouted on the scraped-earth plots.
And now the city government, which had counted on years of growth, is short of money. Plans for a new City Hall have been suspended, street paving jobs have been postponed, and there is even the prospect that programs and personnel will be cut, said J. Michael Jones, the city marshal and chief administrator.
“I say that very quietly,” Mr. Jones added, “because I don’t want to panic our citizens or our employees.”
Because of mortgages granted last year that required little to no money down and other lax lending requirements, the foreclosure rate for Collin County continues to rise.
According to the Foreclosures Listing Service, Inc. in Addison, Collin County Collin County will have 623 homes posted for foreclosure during its auction on Feb. 5, a record high for the county. The county’s home postings have been in the 300s and 400s each month during the past two years.
Most of the McKinney homes to be auctioned off are in the Eldorado and Stonebridge subdivision or west of U.S. 75. According to the Web site www.foreclosure.com, a home on S. Wellington Point Road, in the Wellington Point neighborhood of Stonebridge was originally estimated to be worth $865,000, but is now selling for $675,000. Another home was being sold for $99,000 that was originally estimated to be $147,000, according to the Web site.
The Dallas-Fort Worth region had 5,315 postings for residential foreclosure for the Feb. 5 auction. This is the first time that the DFW area has had more than 5,000 residential foreclosures, according to FLS, Inc.
Dallas County will have 2,351 home postings in its Feb. 5 auction, which is only the second time that home postings have risen above 2,000 in this cycle. The first time was in November 2007.
Records of foreclosures have also been set in Denton County, which will 566 notices filed for the upcoming February foreclosure auction. Foreclosure postings topped 400 for the first time just in November 2007 and then again in December 2007. Tarrant County will have 1,775 foreclosure postings on Feb. 5, which sets a new all time record high in Tarrant County home postings. Prior to this, home postings within Tarrant County had surpassed 1,300 postings only twice.
"This biggest jump is in Collin County, where the number of houses threatened with foreclosure next month is up by almost a third."
The Dallas Morning News reports today that--
Almost 43,000 Dallas-Fort Worth area home foreclosure postings were recorded for 2007 – up 10 percent from last year and probably near a record.
Home foreclosures in the D-FW area have grown by about 50 percent in the last five years, due in large part to lax lending standards, analysts say.
The number of homes facing foreclosure for December's sale is up 14 percent from the same month of last year, Foreclosure Listing Service reported Thursday.
This biggest jump is in Collin County, where the number of houses threatened with foreclosure next month is up by almost a third.
Foreclosures are also up 23 percent in Denton County.
Dallas County foreclosure postings were up only 6 percent for the month.
This year's open enrollment season will come with yet another jump in health care costs for Dallas-area companies – and another shift of more of those costs to employees.
Employees at companies from American Airlines to Wal-Mart should brace themselves for greater costs and higher deductibles.
In a new twist, some employers are even veering from the tradition of extending coverage to employees' spouses if those spouses are covered by their own employer's plans. An increasing number is either denying such spouses coverage or charging extra.
Dealing with the effect of higher health care costs is driving companies to make such changes. While the two big consulting companies that study health costs differ on specifics, both agree rates are bumping up again in 2008.
THIS IS GOING TO HURT
* 7% 2008 increase in employer health care plan costs
* 45% Increase in employer health care plan costs, 2003-2008
* 59% Increase in employee-paid portion, 2003-2008
* $9,312 Average cost, 2008 employer health care plans
* $2,040 Employee-paid portion, 2008 health care plans
* Under 4% Average expected 2008 employee raises
* 8% Rise in employee-paid portion of 2008 health care plans
SOURCE: Towers Perrin, Stamford, Conn.
The Dallas Morning News reported today that the S&P/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday lists home values flat for the month of August in the DFW area.
However a closer look at the data shows property values falling in much of Collin County. Only Fairview showed a rise, while Allen and McKinney? showed sharp declines.
Allen down 14% Fairview up 3% Frisco 0% McKinney down 14% Plano down 10% Richardson down 5% Wylie down 9%
A DFW interactive map of the August property value changes is here.
The DMN article is here.