Categories: Taxes, MUDs
In the Allen school district, 4,373 voters have approved a 13 cent property tax rise (to $1.67 per $100 valuation) by 60.5% to 39.5%.
The 9.7% turnout was a large turnout for a school election proposition.
The school district board explained the tax raise was needed to, "offset $21 million in cuts to local funding by the Texas Legislature in 2011."
"The Texas Legislature reduced funding of over $4 billion to Texas public schools in June. Cuts to Allen ISD are approximately $9 million for 2011-2012. An additional $12 million will be cut from state funding to Allen ISD in 2012-2013.
"The school district reduced 80 positions this year saving approximately $3 million and made an additional $1.5 million in cuts to non-instructional areas such as administration, maintenance and energy expenses.
The local anti-taxes groups and the Tea Parties argue that there is no tax. The information by the Allen Patriots point out that, "AISD could curb non-essential spending and focus more on education"., and that the new tax would, "Move Allen ISD from 19th highest tax rate to the max rate of $1.67, joining 3 other Texas districts out of 1024 with the highest allowed."
The AISD argued that the taxes ($10 million) would be used to "help hire additional teachers to meet student growth and reduce class size[s]".
But the Allen Patriots complain that the district has used bonds more for "non-essential spending...than on education". They point to the $60 million HS stadium and the "$23 million for a Performing/Fine Arts Center, including a $70 thousand grand piano."
The AISD voters gave a 60-40 percent decision to give their money to their schools, and a loud setback for the anti-tax groups.
Yesterday, the Texas Eduction Agency (TEA) released it's 2011 Accountability Reports.
Last year, six ISDs were rated "Exemplary", but this year only Frisco ISD and Lovejoy ISD were able to maintain their top-ranked rating.
Allen ISD, Celina ISD, Melissa ISD and Prosper had their status lowered from Exemplary to "Recognized". Six other districts were rated Recognized two years in a row, including, Anna ISD, Blue Ridge ISD, Farmersville ISD, McKinney ISD, Plano ISD and Princeton ISD.
The Community ISD and Wylie ISD were lowered from Recognized to "Academically Acceptable".
|ISD||2011 Rating||2010 Rating||Tax Rate|
(Data from The TEA and tax rates from the Collin County Appraisal District.)
Every two years, the legislature plays a ping pong game of education with complaints from public critics and school districts.
Two years ago the school districts were upset with their low 2008 rankings. In the past several years, many school principles and administrators have lost their jobs over the state's published performance statistics. Cities and chambers of commerce are acutely aware of the effects of low school ratings and property values.
For the 2009 ratings, the TEA used a method called the "Texas Projection Measure" (TPM). Using this model, in many cases while the students failed the TAKS tests at a greater rate, the schools gained higher ratings. By giving less weight to the tests, the TPM used predictions that the students would do better in the future.
In April this year, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott ended the TPM and instituted the "Accountability" system, resulting in the 2011 ratings. The 2011 ratings on average were lower than the 2008 average, before TPM was used.
The criticism leveled against the TEA as a result of the 2009 ratings inspired the creation of the TPM to inflate the schools ratings. Critics then demanded that the TEA change the rating system so it grades the actual current performance of all schools.
Now many Texas school districts are complaining that they are being punished with lower ratings. They say the new system gives greater weight to improvement in the lowest groups that are performing the worst.
The Accountability System identifies groups, such as ethnic groups and economically-disadvantaged students. The report then gives a score on how each of the groups improved in performance in each subject.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Commissioner Robert Scott said, “There will no longer be any allegations that we are pumping up the numbers...the numbers are real this year.”
The Wylie ISD has the lowest rating of the Collin County school districts. The Grady Burnett Junior High School in the Wylie ISD was the only public school in Collin County rated as "Academically Unacceptable", the lowest given rank.
A close look at Grady Burnett Junior High School shows that minorities and poorer students are doing much worse than white, middle-class kids. But all students, including whites, had worse scores than last year. The school's student performance scores in all groups declined in Reading and Writing. All students improved in Social Studies.
But African Americans and economically disadvantage students dramatically declined in performance of Math and Science. Because of those declines in scores Grady Burnett was rated Academically Unacceptable.
The Wylie ISD had 9 schools rated Exemplary, 8 Recognized, and one rated Academically Acceptable in 2010.
In 2011, the Wylie ISD only had 2 schools rated Exemplary, 15 Recognized, 1 Academically Acceptable, and 1 rated Academically Unacceptable.
Schools throughout Texas have been impacted by lower revenues. In 2006, the legislature passed a major rollback of property taxes and limited a school districts' ability to raise higher taxes. Since then, the legislature has provided less and less state tax money for schools. All school districts are in a financial pinch, and they claim that the Accountability Method requires the districts to spend more on the most expensive student groups who need the most improvement.
Property in high valuation districts like Frisco and Lovejoy have been able to maintain an Exemplary rating while keeping property tax rates below the county's average.
However even most of Collin County's districts with more modest property values have been able to provide their citizens' a school rated recognized. For example, Farmersville, not a wealthy community, has been been able to keep a Recognized district and also keep the districts' tax rate ($1.31/$100 valuation) as the lowest in the county.
Plano ISD, which has the second lowest property tax rate in Collin County, has kept the Recognized rating the same as in the previous year. The Dallas Morning News' Plano Blog, reports that although the district is rated Recognized, it has lost from 28 to less than 10 campuses rated Exemplary to Recognized, and that 18 schools have been lower rated as Academically Acceptable from Recognized. "There doesn't appear to be any huge cause of concern," Jim Hirsch, Plano ISD's associate superintendent for academic and technology services said. "We're pleased in general our students continue to perform well."
But in districts with the highest tax rates, three of four have had their Accountability Rates lowered.
Even these highest tax rate districts seem to be giving their children less than the best educational performance. Blue Ridge ISD, which has the county's highest tax rates, has only been able to maintain a Recognized rating. Melissa, Prosper and Celina are high tax districts which have been lowered from Exemplary to Recognized. And Wylie ISD, with the second highest tax rate in Collin County, was reduced to Academically Acceptable, the lowest education rating in the county.
TEA 2011 report on Burnett JR, HS in Wylie
The TEA Accounting Manual, 2010
TEA 2011 Accountability Reports
Collin County Appraisal District table of Tax 2010 rates, and exemptions
Ratings for Texas schools plunge with elimination of controversial rule , The Dallas Morning News, July 29, 2011
From an NTTA press release:
Plano, Texas – June 1, 2011 The North Texas Tollway Authority wants to
remind drivers that a regularly scheduled toll rate increase takes effect
To deliver regional transportation projects to relieve congestion,
preserve a strong and financially viable system and maintain quality, safe
and reliable roadways, the NTTA will implement a regularly scheduled toll
rate increase of .8 cents (less than a cent per mile). The toll rate
policy provides for a 50 percent price difference between TollTag and
“The Board understands this rate increases comes during a challenging
economic time,” said NTTA Chairman Victor Vandergriff. “However, raising
rates is a planned and necessary step the NTTA needs to take in order to
maintain a viable financial system and to deliver the many mobility
projects that bring growth to the North Texas region.”
The action increases rates from 14.5 cents per mile to 15.3 cents per
mile. NTTA rates are compatible with the toll rate structure recommended
by the Regional Transportation Council.
This increase follows a schedule that requires toll rates be increased
every other July at a compounded annual rate of 2.75 percent. This
incremental change is required to meet the financial needs of the NTTA
while ensuring drivers see only small increases to tolls.
“ZipCash customers, who pay 50 percent more than TollTag? customers, are
encouraged to get a TollTag?. It will save them money, and they won’t have
to worry about paying invoices,” said NTTA Executive Director Allen
NTTA Chief Financial Officer Janice Davis said the rate increase will help
protect NTTA’s credit rating, ultimately ensuring NTTA’s access to low
cost borrowing. “The rating agencies want to see proof that NTTA’s Board
is committed to the maintenance of the Authority’s financial strength and
integrity,” Davis said.
The NTTA intends to continue to deliver on its mission to provide mobility
solutions including the Eastern and Western extensions of the President
George Bush Turnpike, complete the Sam Rayburn Tollway and support future
projects like Chisholm Trail Parkway.
The North Texas Tollway Authority, a political subdivision of the state of
Texas, is authorized to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate
turnpike projects in the north Texas region. The nine-member governing
board is comprised of Chairman Victor Vandergriff; Vice Chairman David
Denison; and Directors Kenneth Barr, Kent Cagle, Bob Day, Bill Moore,
Michael Nowels, Bob Shepard and Jane Willard.
The NTTA serves Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties and is
responsible for the NTTA System, consisting of the Dallas North Tollway,
President George Bush Turnpike, Sam Rayburn Tollway, Addison Airport Toll
Tunnel, Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge and the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge.
The NTTA is able to raise capital for construction projects through the
issuance of turnpike revenue bonds. NTTA toll projects are not a part of
the state highway system and receive no direct tax funding. Tolls are
collected to repay debt and to operate and maintain the roadways.
The Collin County Observer comments that tolls sure look like, smell like, and hurt just like taxes.
October 29, 2010
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning News
City of Frisco proposes property tax rate increase
August 04, 2010
Valerie Wigglesworth/The Dallas Morning News Frisco Blog
The city of Frisco is considering a property tax rate increase due to declining property values.
The city's rate of 46.5 cents would increase to 47.76 cents under the proposed 2011 budget. City Manager George Purefoy said the increase of 1.26 cents would go entirely toward paying debt and not be used for the city's maintenance and operations. The proposed increase amounts to an extra $31.50 a year for the owner of a home valued at $250,000.
Assistant city manager Nell Lange said existing property values declined by 4.3 percent, much of that being in the city's commercial sector. A special fund that sets aside revenues from property taxes in a square mile around Stonebriar Centre mall for public projects, for example, lost about $60 million in value compared with last year, Lange said.
Council members received a brief summary of the budget proposal on Wednesday and will get copies of the full budget on Monday. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for Aug. 17 and Sept. 7.
Last year, the city manager's office proposed no property tax increase. But council members decided 4-3 to increase the property tax rate by 1.5 cents to fill 17 key vacancies and take less from the city's savings.
Earlier this summer, Frisco ISD announced it would increase its property tax rate by 3 cents, pushing the overall tax rate to $1.42 per $100 assessed valuation for the next school year. This represents a 2 percent jump, or about $75, for owners of a home valued at $250,000.
Collin County's Budget Director, Monika Arris, told the Commissioners Court Monday that the final appraised values of all properties in the county was substantially higher than projected.
The result of the higher than expected valuations mean that property tax revenue is expected to decline by about 1.5% or $2.7 million. Earlier projections had led the court to expect a tax revenue shortfall in excess of $7.5 million.
Still missing from the revenue projections are the county's estimate of 2011 fines and fees. Fines and fees, along with investment income, interest and miscellaneous income account for about 40% of the budget and in recent years have trended down.
After hearing the latest estimates, several commissioners noted that the reduced tax shortfall, combined with the District Judges, Auditor and Purchasing Agent's suggestions for reducing the budget, have eased concerns of the county not being able to balance the FY 2011 budget without draconian cuts. They then voted 4-0 to lift the hiring freeze imposed earlier this year.
The Dallas Morning News has published an article on the county budget and the certified tax roll. Ed Housewright's article does a good job comparing the county with a few of its cities. You can read the article here.
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.
Council to decide fate of Douglass Community Center
By Kim Williams / The Plano Star-Courier
July 25, 2010 10:28 AM CDT
Negotiations between the city of Plano and Boys and Girls Club of Collin County have been in the works for several months. The item in debate is whether or not the BGCCC will take over responsibility of the Douglass Community Center.
The final discussion and vote by the city council will be at 7 p.m. Monday.
The community center has been serving its members since the 1970s and is considered a pinnacle hub for bringing residents together with a variety of activities.
The city of Plano has been leasing the center from the Plano ISD and operating it since 1987. Budget deficiencies have resulted in a citywide effort to reduce expenses through a variety of means, which include service and job reductions and budget cuts.
In a memorandum from Director of Parks and Recreation Amy Fortenberry to City Manager Thomas Muehlenbeck, she explains why the city is considering other options in order to save the center.
"While the Douglass Community Center 'fits' our agency's values and vision, it is not economically viable in its current structure, our market position is weak, and alternate coverage in this neighborhood is high due to the presence of the Boys and Girls Club of Collin County in the same building and the close proximity to the Plano Senior Recreation Center."
The BGCCC moved into the center in 1997. The club pays 17.5 percent of the maintenance cost, which is usually around $20,000 per year in exchange for use of the property.
When the city approached BGCCC last fall in search of a solution to the declining budget, "They were ready to jump in and help any way they could," said Fortenberry about the BGCCC.
"We will lose our center, activities and director," said Dorothy Ellis, Douglass Community resident. This is a fear that many residents share with Ellis, and Tanya Greene, CEO of the BGCCC, is working on possible solutions to this problem with Fortenberry to hopefully make a peaceful transition if the change of operations is approved.
"I know we can take care of the community center and can provide the services wanted by the members," Greene said. "We've tried to stay out of the politics and tried to just focus on the community."
If the agreement is approved, the city will sign a 15-year contract with the BGCCC with two five-year renewal options. This will result in the daily operations of the community center being transferred to the BGCCC along with all operational expenses, saving Plano citizens $508,213 annually. The BGCCC will assume daily management of the building within 30 days from city council approval.
As aging baby boomers head to suburbs, Collin County to feel impact
Saturday, July 24, 2010
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Tim Montgomery built his own retirement home.
In a land of McMansions, he limited his Celina house to one story. He widened bathroom doors to fit wheelchairs. He planned a spare bedroom for elderly parents. He designed his kitchen table to hold at least eight hungry grandchildren.
An Air Force vet turned teacher, the 54-year-old settled in Frisco a decade ago among other young working parents and their school-age children. Now these empty nesters and retired homeowners are uprooting the suburban stereotype.
Affordable living, jobs and a Sun Belt climate have made Texas one of the most attractive states for baby boomers. As America's "first suburban generation" ages, cities are scrambling to accommodate them.
Collin County will feel one of the greatest effects in the region, with its senior population more than doubling in the next decade. But the county – known for its youth rather than its elderly – already struggles with transportation, health care and affordable housing for its seniors. Cities that fail to reshuffle priorities, experts say, face strapped social services, budget pitfalls, disgruntled residents and tarnished images.
"For the most part, communities are not planning as well as they should be," said Doni Van Ryswyk, aging program manager at the North Central Texas Council of Governments' Area Agency on Aging. "There's a whole host of challenges in terms of infrastructure, livable communities and adequate transportation providers for people who are no longer able to drive.
"Even though Collin and Denton counties are relatively wealthy, there are portions that are already designated health professional shortages. That's only going to get worse as the population ages."
Unlike their Florida-bound parents, this generation doesn't want to move. Many deal with their own graying relatives and plan to work for years to come. Demographers have coined a term for this behavior: aging in place.
"[Leaving] would take me away from sons and grandsons," said 63-year-old Susie Reukema, a social worker who moved to Plano from Wisconsin three decades ago. "And at this point in life, family is a very big plus in the community."
Texas a hot spot
Such communities developed in Texas faster than anywhere else this decade. The Austin suburbs saw the highest growth rate in people 45 and older from 2000 to 2008, according to a recent Brookings report on the state of metropolitan America. The suburbs of three other Texas cities made the top 10, including Dallas'.
"Texas is a peek at the future of the suburbs," said William Frey, who wrote the report's section on aging. Most senior growth in the coming years will take place in bedroom communities, he said. Young minority and immigrant families may help offset the state's graying suburbs, but that won't happen for years to come.
Baby boomers, Frey said, "are people who are going to need social services at various times, and if it doesn't happen it will spill over to the image of the suburbs and quality of life."
He said, "One thing about the baby boomers and elderly is that they vote in large numbers and make their views known very loudly."
The number of Collin County residents 60 and older will increase by 118 percent between 2011 and 2020, estimates the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Dallas County's will move up 25 percent.
Plano already sees this shift in wait lists for subsidized senior housing and complaints about limited Medicaid providers. With a visibly aging population, it has taken the most focused approach to the impending growth. Officials charted a plan three years ago to provide taxi vouchers for senior citizens and match them with requested services.
"We were looking at it in the context of Plano in a period of transition," said Kate Perry, the city's senior planner. "It used to be the city had only families and young children. That changed and continues to change, and a major component is seniors."
Much of the region has yet to catch up, said Lee Stark, transportation services director at the Geriatric Wellness Center of Collin County. "Folks at the county level are really more concerned with addressing the needs of a growing county," he said.
Developing communities like Frisco and Allen have made some provisions for seniors, Stark said, but affordable housing and convenient transportation remain less of a priority.
John Lettelleir, Frisco's director of development services, said the city has anticipated its aging boomers. Frisco's senior center is in walking distance of the downtown square, near residences and restaurants.
"It wasn't big until two years ago, and then people started to panic," he said about the aging boomers. "Now it's happening and we have to do something about it."
Lettelleir said city officials want to update zoning ordinances to allow for flexibility in housing developments. This way, he said, empty nesters can relocate to apartments down the block or grandparents can settle in duplexes up the street.
But wary developers make such transitions challenging, he said. "They say, 'Change is good. You first.' "
Most cities realize they must address this shift, said Karen Walz, project manager for Vision North Texas, a public-private partnership that plans for the region's future. They're talking about mixed-use developments or revitalizing areas so they're in walking distance of amenities. They're considering transit options and weighing housing costs.
"Right now there isn't a regionwide plan to say 'how are we going to deal with that,' but a recognition that cities need to be thinking differently," she said.
They need to do it quickly.
read the rest of this article at The Dallas Morning News....
Anna officials say liquor sales have boosted revenue
July 17, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Anna is a one-stoplight town whose main drag features a feed store, a trailer park and The Malt Shop, a drive-in that looks unchanged from the 1950s.
Stereotypical small town? Yes, except for a little place called Coyote Liquor Den.
Anna – population 8,250 – is the only place in Collin County to allow liquor stores. And five years after the contentious election that let them in, Anna remains small and still miles from the suburbia creeping north, a laboratory of sorts for examining the effects of liquor sales on a community.
"I can't think of a situation that would be better," said Scott Testa, a business professor at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, who has studied alcohol trends. "No data collection is pure, but Anna has fewer factors that could skew the data."
Testa notes that arguments over alcohol sales center on the economic benefit vs. the perceived social harm. That's not lost on folks in Anna, which now has four liquor stores but not a single 7-Eleven or Starbucks.
"I still don't like to see liquor and beer signs around town," said Buddy Hayes, a 50-year resident and president of Texas Star Bank. "But sales have been excellent. I certainly appreciate what they've done for the city."
How communities fare with expanded alcohol sales is getting new attention because of elections this fall in Dallas and University Park to eliminate "dry" areas.
Anna's sales tax revenue has more than doubled since liquor stores were approved by just 19 votes. In 2005 Anna received $353,781, according to the state comptroller. In 2009, that number had swelled to $767,497 – an increase of 117 percent. That increase far exceeds Anna's 63 percent population growth during the same period.
Liquor store owners and managers in Anna were reluctant to discuss sales, except to say business was good. State and city officials don't break down sales taxes by product, so it's hard to measure liquor's exact impact. In recent years, a number of businesses – including a supermarket, an auto parts store and restaurants – have opened.
But the liquor stores have played a major role in padding city coffers, said Mayor Darren Driskell. "The sales tax dollars have been a huge boon for the city."
The windfall has helped build two parks, Natural Springs and Slayter Creek, and buy land for more, City Manager Philip Sanders said. It's allowed the town to expand its police presence from a single officer to a force of 11, open a new police station and reconstruct older streets, he said.
Meanwhile, officials say, the forecast ills of liquor stores haven't materialized.
The Collin County Substance Abuse Program assesses and refers juveniles and adults who have drug and drinking problems, said its director, Tommy Blakeman. Many are referred by courts.
Blakeman said he hadn't noticed any increase in alcoholism or alcohol-related crimes since the Anna liquor stores opened. He said he frequently gives community presentations and hasn't heard people lament the vote.
Police Chief Kenny Jenks said driving while intoxicated and other alcohol-related crimes haven't increased. Sexually oriented businesses haven't arrived. And, officials say, the liquor stores haven't caused the surrounding neighborhoods to deteriorate.
"Some of the nicest stores in town are the liquor stores," say Hayes, the banker. "And it's clean all around them."But while many Anna leaders laud the liquor stores, former City Council member Billy Deragon has a more skeptical view.
He worries about the effect on Anna's image of having Collin County's only liquor stores. Three of the four – Anna Liquor, Fossil Creek Liquor and Goody Goody – sit visibly on U.S. Highway 75 at the town's only exit.
"I still feel it's a negative that the first thing people see when they come into Anna is liquor stores," Deragon said. "Someone could say sexually oriented businesses are economic development. It's a question of where do you draw the line."
In Dallas, where voters will decide in November whether to eliminate areas that don't allow beer and wine sales, groups on both sides have sparred vigorously. However the arguments have primarily involved the accuracy of economic projections, not whether crime will increase.
Alcohol elections invariably stir strong emotions, said Testa, who has consulted for liquor companies.
He said research doesn't support the claim that greater availability of alcohol leads to higher crime.
"Certainly, there are cases where people with substance abuse problems commit crimes," he said. "To say it doesn't happen would be absolutely false. But those are relatively low. Even in towns that are dry, you still have those issues."
Another expert, however, cautions that alcohol sales affect communities differently and can produce negative results.
Traci Toomey heads the University of Minnesota's Alcohol Epidemiology Program, which researches ways to reduce social and health problems associated with drinking.
"Quite a few studies have looked at the density of alcohol establishments and various types of health and crime outcomes," Toomey said. "The preponderance of research evidence does suggest [that] as we increase the number of alcohol establishments in a given neighborhood, we see an increase in a wide range of problems.
"Some have shown violence, some higher levels of sexually transmitted diseases and some more traffic crashes, although I think the evidence is a little more mixed."
Rick Ballard, executive director of the Collin Baptist Association, said he hasn't heard of specific problems arising from Anna's liquor sales.
But he said the wider availability of alcohol can have insidious effects. For instance, underage drinking can increase and excessive drinking by adults can strain families, he said. "You can't necessarily put a statistic on it, but there are enough ills and damage to the family that you don't really want it around you."
'The citizens spoke'
Liquor sales didn't arrive in Collin County without a fight. A 2003 ballot proposal in Anna failed by a wide margin. The 2005 measure, to allow retail sales of all kinds of alcoholic beverages, passed with 51.5 percent of the vote.
Dan Lovitt, who led the petition drive to call the first election, said he was surprised by the strident opposition. Opponents circulated fliers that said DWI arrests would soar and strip clubs would arrive if voters approve liquor sales.
"I was amazed," said Lovitt. "It really opened my eyes to what politics can be like. I guess I went in kind of naïve."
Voters have rejected liquor sales in the Collin County towns of Fairview, Lowry Crossing, Melissa and St. Paul.
Ballot proposals for sales of beer and wine have fared much better. In the past decade, voters in Allen , Frisco and McKinney? have approved the sale of beer and wine at grocery and convenience stores. Parts of Plano have allowed beer and wine sales since 1977.
Deragon, the former Anna City Council member, said he felt so strongly about the problems liquor stores pose for Anna that he led a petition drive in 2007 to overturn the 2005 election.
But the subsequent election revealed a far different mood among voters.
With almost twice the turnout, more than 77 percent voted to keep the sale of beer, wine and liquor. Deragon said he has given up on efforts to rid Anna of alcohol.
"The citizens spoke," he said.
Link to this article at The Dallas Morning News....
The Observer comments:
The voters in Frisco also spoke, but that hasn't prevented the City of Frisco from spending almost a million taxpayer dollars to purchase land to try to block the election's outcome and thousands more dollars in legal attempts to use the courts to circumvent the will of those same tax payers.
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:
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.
City of McKinney Press Release
For Immediate Release
Bond election held in McKinney
Six propositions on ballot worth $51.35 million
McKINNEY, TEXAS (March 29, 2010) – On May 8, McKinney residents will vote to make decisions about the future growth of the city. A bond election will be held with a ballot including projects totaling $51.35 million centered on land acquisition, parks and recreation, public safety and streets improvements.
“McKinney’s bond election will have a huge impact on the next steps in the growth of our community. This year, we don’t have an election for representatives of our citizens, but the bond election is just as important. It is vital to the future of McKinney? that every resident vote and let city leadership know their decisions for the future direction of our fast-growing community,” said Mayor Brian Loughmiller.
The following propositions appear on the bond election, with voters deciding whether or not the McKinney City Council is authorized to issue general obligation bonds for these projects.
- $12.5 million for park and recreational facilities, including land acquisition, construction, improvements and expansion
- $11.35 million for public safety facilities, including land acquisition, construction and improvements
- $15.5 million acquiring, constructing and improving streets and associated drainage improvements within the city, including sidewalks and railroad crossings, traffic control and signalization devices, street lighting, public streetscaping and landscaping improvements, curb and gutter replacements and related improvements
- $5 million for public works facilities improvements, construction and land acquisition
- $4 million for construction and improvement to flood control facilities including creeks, dams and lakes
- $3 million for connectivity and improvements of municipal parking facilities in the Historic Downtown area
Early voting is available for McKinney voters starting Monday, April 26. For a complete list of times, dates and locations, visit www.mckinneytexas.org.
Election Day Polling Locations: Saturday, May 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
McKinney City Hall
222 North Tennessee Street
Precincts (Distritos) 2, 3, 4, 9, 45, 96, 98, 100, 114, 128, 160, 161, 179
Valley Creek Elementary School
2800 Valley Creek Trail
Precincts 97, 102, 129, 156
Scoggins Middle School
7070 Stacy Road
Precincts 38, 126, 169
Burks Elementary School
1801 Hill Street
Precincts 1, 44, 57, 99
Collin College Central Park Campus
2200 West University Drive
Precincts 13, 16, 20, 43, 150
Dowell Middle School
301 East Ridge Road
Precincts 12, 122, 131, 140, 149, 155, 173
Fire Station #7
861 Independence Parkway
Last week, the Bradford Pear trees in my yard broke out in glorious bloom, robins appeared on the lawn, the jonquils in the garden flowered and the Collin County Commissioners Court was on another 2 week vacation.
Yes, it's Spring Break time at the commissioners court.
The court last met on March 1 and their next meeting will be on Monday, the 22nd.
Just because they're on break, doesn't mean they still don't get paid. Two weeks of salaries for County Judge and 4 commissioners cost the taxpayers $22,188.38.
But I guess they need a break. It's been a hard campaign season, and it ain't over yet. Campaigning started in January, and for two members of the court won't end until November. While some candidates have to work in vacation time or a leave of absence to run for office, county officials have no such limitations. They get paid and get to campaign as much as they want. Heck, most even get to hit the county's vendors up for nice fat campaign contributions.
Over the last few weeks, Joe Jaynes was out campaigning for Kathy Ward, who lost the GOP nomination to Duncan Webb. Matt Shaheen was on the stump for Keith Self, who won. And Jerry Hoagland is still battling for political survival after finishing in second place to former Plano City Councilwoman Cheryl Williams.
Both Self and the winner of the Hoagland/Williams run-off will face Democratic challengers in November.
I guess they're all tired and need the break.
While they're all soaking up the rays, why is it I feel I want my money back?
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|
Collin County at bottom of federal funds distribution
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By JESSICA MEYERS / The Dallas Morning News
Collin County, known for its corporate headquarters and explosive growth, has a new distinction: The county reportedly receives the smallest amount of federal funds per person among the country's 200 largest counties.
A Brookings Institution report released this week looked at 2008 federal spending tied to the census in an effort to understand how the upcoming count will affect the distribution of more than $400 billion from federal programs. The bulk of federal assistance goes to states through grants for low-income households and highway infrastructure. States' per-capita funding is tied to income inequalities of high pay and high poverty, Medicaid income limits and the percentage of rural population.
Collin County didn't receive much federal money largely because it doesn't have an income disparity that pulls those funds, said Andrew Reamer, who authored the report. The county got $182 per person in 2008. Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, received the most funding per person at $6,032.
"In wealthier counties, people don't use Medicaid, so they aren't likely to benefit," Reamer said.
Medicaid alone makes up almost 60 percent of federal assistance spending. The low-income health program accounts for most of Collin County's funding, as well. But these services are less utilized than in Texas counties of similar size, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state's health and human services commission.
Collin County, which has a 6 percent poverty rate, has 31,064 people enrolled in Medicaid. El Paso County, with roughly the same population, has 133,079 in the program. Hidalgo County has 195,559.
That doesn't mean residents can slough off the upcoming census, Reamer said. "If Collin County is undercounted, it may not get its fair share from the state of Texas," he said, pointing to both fiscal and political ramifications. Businesses uses census data to identify markets, and an inaccurate count could lead to mistakes in investment, he said. The data will also be used to draw new legislative boundaries.
The 2010 census may also reveal just how short-lived the county's current distinction is, said Terry Clower, director of economic development and research at the University of North Texas. The county is becoming "more income diverse," he said.
The big news last week (aside from the elections) was the on again, off again, ready to go, not ready start of construction for the Performance Hall for the Arts of Collin County. Presently the project is in official "go mode", but the Frisco City Council may put the brakes on the project if it approves a second referendum on the bond sales for the hall.
During the same week, the North Texas Historical Center announced that because of funding cuts by the Collin County Commissioners Court, they may have to close their doors forever. The Historical Museum is in the old ca. 1911 post office building in McKinney.
At the center of the downtown McKinney square sits the old Collin County Courthouse, now the home of the McKinney Performing Arts Center (MPAC).
MPAC too is facing an uncertain future as the McKinney City Council has begun a 're-visioning process' that could spell the end of the Performing Arts in downtown McKinney.
All three projects, are victims of the poor economy. Local cities and the county are expecting tax revenue shortfalls and are looking for ways to trim their budgets. Because private donations are also affected by the downturn, these cultural institutions are in financial trouble.
Given the current 'hard times', it makes sense, at least on the surface, to kill funding for arts and history in order to preserve core functions, such as roads and public safety. No elected official, especially in this economy, is wiling to ask voters for a tax hike for the Arts.
But there are good arguments to be made for funding these entities.
One is simple economics.
While it is true that when times are hard, the prudent consumer stops discretionary spending, it is also true that in those same hard times, the savvy investor builds his portfolio. He buys when prices are low.
In the case of the Arts Hall, proponents argue that construction costs are cheaper than they have been in a long time, and much cheaper than they will be in the future. This is the time, they argue, just as America did in the Great Depression, to invest in our community. The costs are low, and the project will bring in much needed jobs.
During the Great Depression, this country invested not only in building parks, roads and buildings, but also in the arts and history. For example, "Federal One" consisted of, The Federal Art Project, The Federal Music Project, The Federal Theatre Project, The Federal Writers Project and The Historical Records Survey.
These programs were created because the government saw an opportunity to preserve its people's culture - culture that was threatened by economic and technological forces that could have doomed the traditional arts.
Now, no one I know is remotely suggesting that Collin County embark on its own New Deal, but it is critical to recognize that our past and our culture is also threatened today. The poor economy has greatly reduced the availability of private donations. If the public subsidies are also killed, we may loose our historic treasures like the old courthouse and post office forever.
Preserving MPAC and the Historical Museum require small, not huge investments.
If we as a community value our own culture, we can easily find a way to afford these projects.
We need to force budget cuts on all three of these programs. But they should be cuts, not mortal blows.
In the end, having a diversity of cultural venues enhances our communities and our quality of life. They bring people to our cities. They make our neighborhoods more attractive investments.
They are who we are.
Can we afford to loose them?
From North Texas E-News
Town hall meeting planned March 9 to discuss McKinney Performing Arts Center
By City of McKinney
Mar 5, 2010
McKINNEY, TEXAS (March 3, 2010) – A town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 9 at 5:30 p.m. in the Courtroom Theater at the McKinney Performing Arts Center (MPAC). Mayor Brian Loughmiller will speak on the city’s arts facility and take questions from attendees.
The meeting is open to any citizen who wants to attend and present their opinion surrounding MPAC and council’s previously released plan for the future of the city’s arts facility. Unlike the public input meetings, this town hall will give residents the opportunity to directly address and to be addressed by the Mayor during a Q&A session.
This town hall is part of the ongoing process to determine the future course of MPAC. The process started with initial feedback from arts groups who regularly use the facility. One of two scheduled public input meetings hosted by the McKinney Arts Commission (MAC) has been held to review the proposed plans, ask questions and give feedback. The MAC serves as the advisory board to the City Council about expenditures of city funds designated for promoting or sustaining the arts in McKinney.
UPDATE, March 8, 2010
The Frisco City Council voted today to leave intact the planned bond sales for the Arts of Collin county Performance Hall. From a City of Frisco press release:
FRISCO CITY COUNCIL TAKES "NO ACTION" DURING SPECIAL CALLED MEETING INVOLVING ARTS OF COLLIN COUNTY PROJECT
(March 8, 2010) "No Action" was taken during this afternoon's 'special called' Frisco City Council meeting, which revolved around Frisco's position on the Arts of Collin County project.
By voting to take "no action", Frisco continues to be a partner in the Arts of Collin County project.
Today's "no action" move means there will not be a proposition on the May ballot asking voters to revoke Frisco's remaining $16.4 million of the $19 million dollars in bonds approved by voters in 2002 for the Arts of Collin County.
The Arts of Collin County's Executive Director, Michael Simpson, is firing back at those on the Frisco City Council who are proposing that a referendum be held to allow the voters to rescind the decision they made in 2002 when they voted to approve issuing bonds for the Arts Center. Simpson, who is the former mayor of Frisco is sending the below email to Frisco voters urging them to support the Arts Center:
From: Arts of Collin County
Date: Fri, 05 Mar 2010 11:12:51 -0600
To: Bill Baumbach
Subject: URGENT - Arts of Collin County Facts
Important Facts on the 2002 Bond Election
At the last Council meeting there was a lot of talk about what happened in 2002 when the vote was taken to approve the bonds. Also, about 12 months later when it was discussed at three different Council meetings in October and November 2003 before the council decided to move forward with the project.
Here are the facts:
September Election-2002 Total Vote- 2,403 total Votes 1,624 (67% in favor) –Refer to City Ordinance 02-09-106
About one year later, when the council had to start deciding to move ahead with the agreements with the other cities, there were three (3) council meetings held where public input was taken. The facts are:
(the information below is directly from the Minutes of the meetings from the City Secretaries office)
Council Meeting-Oct, 21, 2003 A total of 11 citizens spoke-7 spoke in favor of moving ahead. 1 other was in favor and asked to find a way to make it work.
Council Meeting-Nov. 4, 2003 A total of 3 citizens spoke- 2 spoke in favor.
Council Meeting-Nov. 18, 2003 A total of 2 spoke-1 for and 1 against. At this meeting the council voted to move ahead with the project and not revote.
At three different council meetings-a total of 16 speakers (some the same each meeting) spoke and 10 were in favor.
If this item was so contentious among the voters as has been expressed by certain council members, why did only 16 speak out of the 2,403 who went to the polls and voted on the bond?
Again, ask your City Council to not revote this item, but to make a business decision on whether or not to move ahead on this item and determine when they might sell the bonds to build the arts hall.
Arts of Collin County
In other ACC news, The Arts of Collin County announced a $100,000 in-kind donation of sandstone from Sunset Stone. The sandstone will be used on the interior walls of the Arts of Collin County’s 2,100-seat performing arts hall.
Sunbelt Stone is owned by Scott and Lisa Carpenter, formerly of Plano and now a Highland Park resident.
Frisco voters have already approved bonds to build the Arts Of Collin County's Performance Hall.
Recently the beleaguered project got a huge shot in the arm when construction bids came in at $16 million less than planned. Donor's have already added $10 million to the public funds promised. And the City of Allen announced they would give the ACC a $5 million loan guarantee so that construction could begin.
But don't break out the shovels yet. From Thursday's Dallas Morning News:
An effort to put Frisco's bonds for the planned Collin County arts hall before voters again could cripple the project if they're turned down, Plano's mayor says.
Some members of the Frisco City Council want residents there to vote again to authorize Frisco's remaining $16.4 million in bonds for the project. They say the original 2002 vote was based on Frisco, Plano, Allen and McKinney teaming up. McKinney later opted out.
"The city gave its word," Frisco council member Pat Fallon said during a council meeting on the subject Tuesday that went late into the night. Fallon and some others on the council want a referendum on the bonds in May or November.
"If they feel this is the will of the people, why not ask them?" Fallon said Wednesday.
The council will meet Monday afternoon to decide whether to put the question on the ballot.
And if Frisco votes against re-authorization, what then?
"The deal dies," said Plano Mayor Phil Dyer, whose city would be left with Allen to figure out how to make up Frisco's share of the construction costs. The two cities would also have to pick up Frisco's portion of the operating costs once the arts hall opens.
Plano couldn't afford that, Dyer said.
As to what Frisco should do, Dyer said it's not his place to say.
Allen Mayor Steve Terrell said this is just the latest of many hurdles that the Arts of Collin County has faced over the years. He doesn't expect the project to be derailed forever if Frisco pulls out.
"We'll just keep going and try to make it happen," he said.
The man in charge of making the 2,100-seat performance hall happen, meanwhile, says he is frustrated by what he calls a misguided effort.
Mike Simpson, executive director for the Arts of Collin County, was there Tuesday as the Frisco City Council debated.
And Simpson, who was Frisco's mayor during the original vote, said the council thought long and hard before deciding to proceed with a three-city project. The matter was settled back then, he said. After seven years of Frisco's involvement, this shouldn't be an issue, Simpson said.
What the council should be debating, he said, is whether this is the time to move forward. Simpson has a construction bid that's brought the total costs for Phase 1 to $68.9 million, down $17 million from earlier estimates.
He's ready to finalize the contribution agreements and set a date for breaking ground in Allen.
"Did they not think I would get the job done?" he asked.
Frisco City Council member Jeff Cheney said Tuesday that he has struggled with the three- vs. four-city issue and what's right.
"Circumstances change," he said. "I'm not afraid to ask the voters."
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said the city prides itself on weighing the facts and getting things done. "There's too much to do here to dwell on this," he said. "A very real and valid dialogue needs to take place about if now is the right time [to build]."
DART considers letting more cities aboard at lower cost
Sunday, January 24, 2010
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas Area Rapid Transit is considering ways to bring new cities aboard without requiring them to pay a full cent of sales tax, which has been a core membership requirement since the agency's founding more than a quarter-century ago.
That full-penny requirement, which in recent years has meant more than $200 million a year in sales tax contributions from Dallas alone, has been the biggest obstacle to the agency's growth. One fast-growing suburb after another has chosen to stay out of DART rather than surrender all of its discretionary sales tax revenue to pay for bus and rail service.
DART president Gary Thomas said preliminary discussions have begun among his board members and leaders in cities that border the agency's 13 member cities.
"When we started DART in 1983, it didn't make sense for some of these outlying cities to be part of a regional system," Thomas said. "The revenues in those cities were not sufficient, and neither was the likely ridership. But here as we find ourselves with a lot of first-ring suburbs as part of the agency ... and we have gone way beyond that."
He and DART board members said they would like to persuade some new cities to join, though they said it will take a patient strategy.
The first efforts probably will be to persuade cities to simply contract for specified services – probably limited bus service, Thomas said, adding that doing so would require changes to DART rules.
"Right now, our board policy says I can only contract for commuter [rail] service," he said. "But some communities have approached us about contracting for bus service, so we have begun those conversations at the board to talk about a policy change.
"In other words, if a city wants to have us run three routes in the morning and three in the evening, then we'd send those buses – probably bringing the passengers to downtown Dallas or another central location – and send the city a bill, and they would send us a check."
That's a far cry from ushering in new cities as full members of DART, but, Thomas said, it's an important first step. All the cities that border DART cities have obligated their sales tax revenue for other purposes, and it will take several years for most of them to be in a position to even consider dedicating any of that money to DART.
"These cities would begin to carve out room in their budgets" so that a discussion about becoming a member – whether at a full penny or, if DART changes its rules, at a reduced rate – would be a less drastic step, Thomas said.
Finding new members – even if in a reduced capacity – would help DART in two big ways.
First, the new members would provide badly needed growth for an agency that hasn't expanded its revenue base since shortly after its founding.
The last city to join DART, by a local referendum in 1985, was Buckingham, a city later annexed by Richardson. There have been no attempts by any of its neighbors to join since then. Meanwhile, only two cities have dropped out – Coppell and Flower Mound, both in 1989.
Second, new members, even junior ones, could help ease frustration among some member cities confronted with sagging sales tax receipts.
One founding member, Plano, has already asked DART to prepare a summary of what would be required should it decide to quit, Thomas and officials in Plano said.
"We are working on that now," Thomas said, adding that staff is determining how many years Plano would have to dedicate sales taxes to DART following a withdrawal. "It wouldn't be for just a year or two. If a city were to have a [successful] pullout election, the service would stop the next day, but the financial obligations for that city may not stop that day."
The soonest Plano could hold such an election would be 2014, though officials there said no serious discussion of calling an election has begun.
Still, Thomas said DART takes any such request seriously. "It doesn't come up often, but occasionally it has ... They begin to say, 'Gosh, is there a better way to spend our money?' "
Not surprisingly, for Thomas the answer is no.
But he said complaints from Plano, which has two busy light rail stations plus extensive bus routes, reflect growing pressures among older suburbs as they weather an economic downturn while their neighbors use their sales taxes to promote economic development.
"Certainly in these tough economic times, cities are looking for ways to look for relief in their financial system," he said.
He said DART has begun studying ways to increase service to Plano, with a special focus on how to ramp up services for elderly citizens.
Meanwhile, Mayor Phil Dyer of Plano said there has been no serious talk of withdrawing from DART, despite occasional criticism. But he said it's easy to lament the flow of more than $55 million in annual sales taxes out of the city.
"If we had this election again, and had the option of using the penny for economic development, I am not sure how it would come out this time, either here in Plano or in any of the DART cities," Dyer said.
Rick Stopher, mayor pro tem in Irving, said his city is thrilled to finally be able to welcome rail service to town as the Orange Line opens in phases beginning next year.
"We're had our difficulties with DART, but right now we're like a kid with a shiny new toy; we can't wait for it to get here," he said. "But we have these conversations all the time, questions about whether DART has been a good investment."
Mileage Meters? Texans Could Get Taxed By the Mile
By KEN KALTHOFF / NBCDFW Channel 5
Updated 11:19 PM CST, Fri, Jan 15, 2010
A tax on the miles you drive could be a way to pay for Texas roads in the future.
Texas transportation planners are studying the idea of a “mileage meter” to help raise money.
Cars built after 1999 have a computer port that can access many types of data about the vehicle.
Progressive Insurance already offers a device that connects to that port for pay as you go rates.
“Mileage does have a lot to do with it,” said Mike Leonard, a Progressive insurance agent in Carrollton. “The less the miles, the less exposure Progressive has. So therefore, they’re willing to give you a discount on your rates.”
The Texas Department of Transportation is investigating whether such a device might also be used to tax drivers for how much they use roads.
“I’m not ready to embrace that technology, but it is a technology we may have to look at,” said State Sen. John Carona, of Dallas, a Republican.
Carona said Texas has an estimated $100 billion worth of unfunded transportation needs.
“The money simply does not exist, and if people are being honest with constituents, they come out and just tell them that," he said. "We don’t have the money in Austin, and there isn’t the ability locally to raise this money to be able to solve these problems.”
Carona said a 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax approved 19 years ago no longer covers Texas transportation requirements. The state senator said he believes Texas has resorted to too many toll roads, which he claims cost citizens more in the long run.
“It’s not a good public policy," he said. "I would argue continued advancement toward more toll roads is bad for Texas.”
Another pay-as-you-go plan might require drivers to electronically record their mileage at the gas pump, which is already required by for some private company cars.
Carona said raising the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon could pay for all the unfunded transportation needs, but Carona has found that option has found that option extremely unpopular among state lawmakers.
One way or another, all of the options require citizens to pay more to solve Texas transportation needs.
“We are substantially behind the times in dealing with this,” Carona said. “We’re going to face substantially greater congestion and air quality issues.”
Property tax cap for seniors puts some North Texas cities in a bind
Sunday, January 17, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Six years after Texas voters gave cities the ability to cap property tax bills for senior citizens, cash-strapped communities that opted in are starting to feel the costs.
Cities stand to forfeit billions of dollars in values from their property tax rolls this year because of the caps even as many municipalities face their worst budget deficits in years.
Those losses are projected to grow sharply as property values climb and waves of aging baby boomers become eligible.
The permanent local-option caps, which voters added to the state constitution in 2003, apply to residents age 65 and older. At least 244 cities have adopted the municipal tax caps since 2004, according to the state comptroller.
"All of these cities, they are going to cause themselves imminent trouble in the future," said Dick Lavine, a senior fiscal analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. "That's all property value that's no longer able to support schools, fire, police, roads and sewers."
Figuring out how much taxable value the caps have wiped off the books is difficult. Neither the state nor local appraisal districts keep reliable data about the losses.
Clearly, the numbers reach into the billions. By comparison, school districts, which operate under mandatory senior citizen tax caps, forfeited an estimated $47 billion in taxable value in 2008.
In Collin County, tax data shows, the municipal caps erased more than $200 million in value from the books of nine communities last year.
That figure does not include an optional tax cap for seniors on county property taxes, which expunged an additional $560.9 million, the analysis showed. More than 100 counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, have passed optional senior tax caps. The city of Dallas has not.
All of that lost taxable value translates into millions of dollars in revenue for local government – more than $2.4 million this fiscal year in Collin County and its cities. And it puts greater pressure on leaders in those communities to slash services or raise property tax rates for nonseniors.
Easing the burden
Providing tax relief for the elderly became a political hot potato after a real estate bubble in the 1970s that, for many, drove up property tax bills to unreasonable levels.
Texas and other states have since eased the burden on older fixed-income homeowners with homestead and other exemptions.
The senior tax caps, written by state Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, are meant to provide further relief. The proposal received overwhelming support from lawmakers and voters.
Once eligible, a resident's tax bill becomes frozen at its current amount. Disabled residents also qualify, although their impact on local budgets is far less.
The thinking is that the cap's budgetary impact will always be limited because even as more seniors qualify, others will move or die. When that happens, the full value of those properties returns to the tax rolls. Widowed spouses age 55 and older continue receiving the benefit.
Oscar Garcia, a 77-year-old Fort Worth retiree who has actively campaigned for the senior caps, said the measure is crucial to struggling older homeowners.
"This applies to people who have been paying their fair share of taxes all of their lives," Garcia said. "It's not unfair to pass the burden to the next generation. That's the way it's always been in life."
But with property values certain to rise in the long term and the senior population far outpacing overall growth in Texas, the tax caps could one day become a ball and chain on municipal budgets.
The state's elderly population, about 2.4 million, is expected to double by 2030, according to estimates from the census and state demographer. Texas' total population, 24 million, is projected to grow far more gradually.
Perhaps no city illustrates the predicament better than budget-challenged Plano, which capped senior citizen tax bills in 2004.
Even as Plano struggles with budget deficits, the city is expected to forfeit more than $765,000 in revenue this year because of the senior cap. The losses have risen sixfold since 2005, driven largely by growth in the city's elderly population.
The forfeited amount is relatively small given Plano's general fund budget of about $220 million. But the losses have exacerbated the city's financial problems and will only grow.
The cap also has blunted Plano's ability to raise money through property tax rate increases.
Plano has twice raised its tax rate since 2006. But because of the city's senior cap, those increases do not apply to one-sixth of the roughly 56,000 properties in Plano that qualify for homestead exemptions, according to local appraisal data.
Plano Mayor Phil Dyer was a City Council member when the cap passed and voted for the measure. But even then, he expressed concerns about the long-term consequences.
"The monetary impact is for real, and it's going to get larger," he said. "I'm not in favor of taking it away by any means. But it is going to be a significant drain on a lot of this city's resources."
For that reason, in late 2007, the city of University Park took a different approach.
Instead of adopting a tax cap, the city approved a much larger tax exemption for elderly homeowners that can be adjusted annually for market conditions.
"Putting a freeze on senior taxes is a one-time forever decision," said Kent Austin, University Park's finance director.
"You make that decision without knowing for certain what's going to happen in your community. What if the over-65 population goes from 10 percent to 50 percent of your city? You've then frozen half of your tax base."
Of course, the impact differs based on a city's demographics, property values, tax rates and other factors.
Grand Prairie and Mesquite, for instance, predict modest cap hits to their budgets.
"I don't think the impact is going to be that significant," said Diana Ortiz, Grand Prairie's finance director. That city has lost about $200,000 so far because of the caps.
On the whole, government experts say the logic behind the senior tax caps is flawed.
"It's poorly conceived," said Michael Pagano, dean of urban planning and public affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It assumes that, at age 65, everybody retires, your income doesn't change and you're not well off. It has nothing to do with your ability to pay."
Brown, the author of the tax caps, said, "By and large, the freeze has been very effective for those on fixed incomes."
But as the broader impact of his legislation has become clearer, he wishes he had tailored the proposal more narrowly to benefit only those of modest means.
"I don't want to see seniors in million-dollar homes getting a huge tax break," he said.
Tweaking the tax caps would be difficult – both politically and logistically.
Said Dyer of Plano, "It's something we decided to do. And we can't really reverse it. Now, we're going to have to work around it."
According to this editorial from The Dallas Morning News, the quality of Texas highways sunk from 8th to 17th in the nation.
In DFW toll lane miles will grow from 520 to over 3,300 miles by 2030. Many of these lanes will charge tolls in excess of $1/mile.
There are no major highway projects planned for the Collin county area that are not dependent on the collection of tolls for financing. Most of these new roads will be built and managed by private enterprise, not government. These new roads will require that they make investors a decent profit - if they don't, tolls will rise.
Collin County will be seeing its share of these managed lanes and toll roads. Frisco is already almost completely locked in by toll roads, and if the Central Expressway expansion is tolled (as is likely), all of our larger cities will be largely inaccessible without the paying of tolls.
If nothing is done, our citizens will live in continual traffic gridlock, and our air quality will worsen. Our continued growth will stall if we do not have the necessary transportation infrastructure to sustain that growth. We simply will not be able to attract major corporations, if their employees can not get to work.
Yet, we've heard very little from our County Commissioner candidates and incumbents on their plans to prevent Collin County from, in effect, becoming a "Gated Community" with a $20 price of admission in tolls for a daily commute.
It would be easy to simply place the blame on the state and federal governments. But here, in one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, just blaming someone else does nothing to solve our problems.
The Collin County Observer will be pleased to publish, unedited, any statement from a commissioners' court candidate or incumbent on planning and/or financing the needed expansion of our transportation systems.
DMN - NTTA leaders fear Dallas area's push for toll roads is moving too fast, CCO ,December 28, 2009
Mass transit sinking in Collin County?, CCO, October 11, 2009
DMN - North Texas Tollway Authority OKs rate hike, CCO, July 17, 2009
As if we need reminders that traffic around here is a drag.
The Texas highway system has slipped several notches in new state rankings from the free-market Reason Foundation. Rated for performance and efficiency, Texas has fallen from eighth in the nation to 17th.
The reason: urban congestion. Texas' metro highways now rank as the 11th most congested in the nation, according to the Reason analysis.
That's bad for business, bad for the air, bad for the quality of life.
At least the bad news helps remind state leaders of their negligence in protecting urban economies from the corrosive effects of impossible traffic.
Too little state money has been flowing to metro areas to complete and improve regional highway grids, and top leaders are generally bankrupt of bold, definitive ideas to reverse the trend.
That leaves North Texas with few options to building a massive system of tolled and partially tolled highways.
Just how massive may come as a shock to drivers whose monthly TollTag? charges rival their utility bills:
•Today, North Texas has 520 miles of tolled lanes.
•In 2030, the region is expected to have 3,379 miles of tolled lanes.
Those include hybrid projects like the massive LBJ rebuild, which will provide free lanes as well as toll lanes for drivers willing to pay for guaranteed speed. That's a useful traffic-management tool, even if people with toll fatigue won't see it that way.
It's hard to get state lawmakers to admit it, but the widening web of tollways is preordained by their refusal to boost the main source of state road revenue: the motor fuels tax.
That tax was last raised, to 20 cents a gallon, in 1991. Since then, inflation has eroded the buying power to about 13 cents.
The Senate transportation chairman, Sen. John Carona of Dallas, has the guts to call for an increase of 10 cents a gallon. But few others have been interested in discussing that obvious step, preferring to focus on new borrowing programs.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is reviving talk of financing projects by borrowing against additional sales taxes that would be generated along a new roadway. He also wants to analyze whether money now dedicated to rural roads should be shifted to fighting urban congestion.
Both ideas deserve careful consideration by lawmakers, but we doubt they would bring enough money to avert a predicted cutoff of new state highway projects come 2012.
Neither do we see funding initiatives among transportation ideas announced yesterday by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her run for governor. She said she is skeptical about the need for new money and wants to concentrate on an audit of TxDOT?. Gov. Rick Perry has made it clear that he thinks roadways are underfunded, but he has stopped short of calling for specific new sources of money.
If state leaders are unwilling to own the problem and point the way to a solution, they may someday have to deal with a threat that Carona pointed out in the Reason study: Mississippi is gaining on us.
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%|
Since their introduction in Collin County in early 2006, electronic red-light cameras have generated not only money for cities and the state, but also their fair share of controversy.
Statistics compiled by the Texas Department of Transportation, and analyzed by The Texas Tribune, show that in 2008, Collin County cities raked in over $4 million in revenue from over 80,000 citations written after drivers were caught by these cameras. O
Over $1 million was generated by 2 cameras alone - The county's most profitable camera, at Coit and Spring Creek in Plano raked in over $600,000, while another at Custer and SH 121 generated over %585,000 in fine revenue.
According to a story on NBCDW.com, the area's top performing camera is in Duncanville. The camera, at Danieldale Rd and US 67 generated over $1 million in one year.
Plano, McKinney and Richardson all deploy red light cameras. Frisco, which installed 2 o the cameras in 2006, pulled them out of service in May of 2009.
|Chart courtesy of The Texas Tribune|
"While some [Texas] cities have lost money on the cameras in recent years, they've been lucrative for many others, generating, by a conservative estimate, as much as $60 million in fines. The cities share their profits — fines, less expenses — with the state, and spend the rest on traffic safety," notes The Texas Tribune.
A 2008 report by TxDOT states that the cameras do a good job of reducing traffic accidents. According to the report, "there were 586 annualized collisions across all intersections. In contrast, 413 annualized crashes were reported during the same time period following installation which resulted in an average decrease of 30%."
"In regards to red light violation crashes, there were 265 annualized right angle collisions prior to the installation of the camera system. By way of comparison, an annualized total of 151 post-installation collisions occurred for a crash reduction change of 114 events. This 114 difference represents a 43% annualized decrease in right angle collisions at the treatment intersection locations."
Some have complained that the cameras actually increase the number of rear end collisions when drivers brake suddenly to avoid being nabbed by the cameras. The TxDOT report notes that, "There were 106 annualized rear end crashes that occurred at intersections prior to the installation of the camera systems. Post-installation, there were 111 annualized rear end collisions that occurred. Although the number of overall rear end crashes increased slightly by 5% or approximately 5 crashes, 66% of the intersections decreased or maintained the same frequency of rear end crash events."
Listed below are the red light cameras active in Collin County. On the right hand column of this blog is an interactive map showing the locations of all the cameras. Clicking on any one camera will bring up detailed information on citations, traffic, revenue and accidents.
RED LIGHT CAMERA
|Plano - Coit Rd and W Spring Creek
|Plano - Custer Rd and SH 121||
|Plano - W Plano Pkwy and Dallas Pkwy Southbound Service Rd||
|Plano - Legacy Dr and Dallas Pkwy Southbound Service Rd||
|Plano - W Park Blvd and Ventura Dr||
|Plano - Legacy Dr and Dallas Pkwy Northbound Service Rd||
|Plano - Preston Rd and W Plano Pkwy||
|Plano - Jupiter Rd and E Plano Pkwy||
|Plano - Preston Rd and W Spring Creek Pkwy||
|Plano - 15th St and Independence Pkwy||
|Plano - W Spring Creek Pkwy and Custer Rd||
|Plano - Coit Rd and Park Blvd||
|Richardson - Jupiter and SH 190||
|Plano - W Parker Rd and Dallas Pkwy Southbound Service Rd||
|Plano - SH 121 and Dallas Pkwy||
|McKinney - Virginia and Stonebridge||
The Dallas Morning News writes that some parents in North Texas are questioning their local schools' policies of teaching only abstinence in sex ed.
In the article, titled "Texas sex educators take tentative steps beyond abstinence" the DMN's Jessica Meyers wrote that one parent at a recent McKinney school district's curriculum information night was frustrated that she couldn't even find the word 'condom' in the glossary of the district's health ed textbook.
New state laws require now that local school districts include parents and community members in the decision making process of setting up sex education curricula. The News article notes that, "A newly amended law requires that districts spell out their human sexuality curriculum to parents. It also stipulates that school health advisory councils meet four times a year and consist of at least five members, a majority of whom are parents."
As far as I know, all Collin County school districts teach a draconian brand of abstinence that research proves doesn't work.
The article notes that, "Texas is regularly singled out for its clashing statistics. More government money is spent on abstinence education here than any other state, but Texas leads the country in the percentage of teen mothers who've given birth more than once. It has the country's third-highest teen birth rate.", and then goes on to quote a Frisco High School junior as saying, "They just kind of say, 'Don't do it,'... "And then before prom, they say, 'Don't go to Motel 6.' "
# # #
Don McLeroy has been on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) since he was first elected to the Board in 1998. He has been a staunch opponent of teaching evolution and has led many of the SBOE's more far right efforts to restate science, english language and social studies curricula to a more fundamentalist christian cant. He represents District 9 which includes a large part of Collin County.
McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan, does not have a campaign website that I can find. He does, however, maintain a site titled "A Little Clear Thinking About Texas Public Schools" where he explains his philosophy of education.
Last year, Gov. Perry nominated McLeroy to be the chair of the SBOE, but the nomination was defeated in the Texas Senate.
The Plano Star Courier article quotes Ratliff saying, “My opponent has shown time and again that he wants to work for public education by telling teachers and education professionals that he knows better than they do what public education needs,” he said. “I simply do not agree with this approach or belief.”
“I want to work with the folks that have been there and know what they need from the State Board of Education,” he said. “I believe in public schools and trust those involved in our public schools to know what is best for our children’s education.”
On his campaign website, Ratliff explains why he is running against McLeroy, "I am running for the SBOE because I want to work for public education by asking what I can do that will help. My opponent has shown time and again that he wants to work for public education by telling teachers and education professionals that he knows better than they do what public education needs. I simply do not agree with this approach or belief."
The race for SBOE, District 9 will mirror many of our local races in Collin County that highlight the schisms within the local GOP between moderate conservatives and the new far-right conservative movement.
# # #
The Plano Downtown Development Fund is flush with cash, reports Theodore Kim, Matthew Haag, and Valerie Wigglesworth in today's Dallas Morning News.
The fund is fueled with property taxes from the downtown businesses and was expected to bring in about $25 million, according to the article. However, because of rising property values, the fund could find itself with $43 million at the end of its life in 2014.
What to do with all that money?
Some $16 million has already been spent on downtown development projects, like the "Courtyard Theater and a multiuse school facility known as the Cox Building".
Now the city want to spend the remainder in consolidating property for development, and the PISD wants some of it to fund an $11.5 million reconstruction of Mendenhall Elementary School, which is just north of downtown and is the city's oldest elementary school.
Aging older schools in east Plano that primarily serve low income, minority students is a major issue in PISD and is a main driver in the district's attempts at redrawing attendance zones in east Plano.
# # #
This afternoon, Collin College and 5 area universities signed an agreement to open the Collin Higher Education Center.
The Center will be located in the new Collin College Administrative Campus being built at the intersection of SH121 and central Expressway. The Center is scheduled to open in January of 2010.
At the Center, students will be able to complete junior- and senior-level college classes and master and doctoral programs offered by Dallas Baptist University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of North Texas. The CHEC fills a major gap in Collin County which has no 4 year university.
Dr. Cary Israel, the president of Collin College pointed out that the CHEC will offer convenience to area students and will "save thousands and thousands of gallons of gasoline" with students able to pursue their studies locally.
And speaking of Collin College, last Friday night, the College hosted its "Living Legends" award ceremony at the new library on the Central Park Campus. The Living Legends program honors citizens whose dedication to education have made an extraordinary difference in the county.
The College honored 4 new Legends. for the first time, the College honored a company and a group of citizens. The 2009 Living Legends are, The Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, the Citizens of McKinney, Texas, Plano attorney David McCall, and Frisco ISD superintendent Dr. Rick Reedy.
Collin College is celebrating its Silver Anniversary this year. It also is celebrating the naming of its 25th Living Legend. As part of ensuring a lasting legacy of the Living Legends, a naming opportunity has been established with a goal of raising $250,000 to name a room that recognizes the Legends on one of the campuses. More than $100,000 has been raised to date. Photographs and profiles will be displayed near the naming site so their legacy will be a lasting memory.
You can't fault the Wylie ISD trustees for lacking in perseverance. So far, they've tried twice in less than a year to get the voters to approve their bond package, only to be turned down.
On November 3 they will try one more time.
It was back in November, 2008 when the voters faced two propositions from the Wylie ISD. One asked voters to approve $98.3 million in bonds, the second asked the voters to approve raising their taxes so that teachers and staff could get salary increases.
The results were interesting. 52% of the voters supported the tax hike, while 52% of the voters rejected the bonds. (Political analysts I've talked to say such a vote split indicates that voters support the idea of good schools, but don't trust their elected school board.)
In May, the school board tried again. This time, they tried harder.
First, they trimmed the bond request by $13.8 million - down to a total of $84.5 million.
They also pulled an old trick out of their hat. Knowing that May elections have very low turnouts, the board tried to make it very easy to get all district employees to vote. What they did was to designate every school in the district as an early voting location for one day. These early voting polls were manned by WISD staff, but were still expensive, costing the taxpayers an additional $13,403.32 in voting machine rentals and county tabulation expense. The total out-of-pocket cost to WISD taxpayers for the May election was a whopping $21,287.74 for an election that should have cost about $7 thousand.
But still the voters refused to approve the bonds. The proposition failed in a 51% - 49% vote. Only 69 votes seperated the 'ayes' from the 'nays'.
On the first Tuesday in November, Wylie voters will once again choose whether to accept or reject a WISD bond issue. This time, responding to voter demands that the board break up the bond package into several propositions, the trustees are asking for approval of 3 different bond packages - totaling almost $77 million.
The 3 propositions on the ballot are:
"THE ISSUANCE OF $7,775,000 OF BONDS FOR INFRASTRUCTURE FOR FIBER OPTIC AND SECURITY UPGRADES AT ALL CAMPUSES AND IMPROVEMENTS TO THE WYLIE STADIUMS AND LEVYING THE TAX IN PAYMENT THEREOF, INCLUDING THE COSTS OF ANY CREDIT AGREEMENTS EXECUTED IN CONNECTION WITH THE BONDS."
|Fiber Optic Ring/Security Upgrades for all campuses||$ 2,681,300|
|Wylie Pirate Stadium (Constructed in 2003)||$ 3,612,100|
|Shaffer Stadium (Constructed in 1975)||$ 1,481,600|
"THE ISSUANCE OF $24,940,000 OF BONDS FOR ADDITIONS AND RENOVATIONS TO BURNETT JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, HARRISON INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL, HARTMAN, BIRMINGHAM AND AKIN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF ACHIEVE ACADEMY AND LEVYING THE TAX IN PAYMENT THEREOF, INCLUDING THE COSTS OF ANY CREDIT AGREEMENTS EXECUTED IN CONNECTION WITH THE BONDS."
|Burnett Junior High School Additions and Renovations (Constructed in 1975)||$ 8,477,700|
|Harrison Intermediate School Infrastructure and Renovations (Constructed in 1967)||$ 2,586,100|
|Hartman Elementary School Additions, Renovations and Infrastructure (Constructed in 1963)||$ 4,800,300|
|Birmingham Elementary School Additions, Renovations and Infrastructure (Constructed in 1985)||$ 4,009,300|
|Akin Elementary School Kitchen Additions and Renovations (Constructed in 1988)||$ 1,023,000|
|Achieve Academy*||$ 4,043,600|
"THE ISSUANCE OF $44,250,000 OF BONDS FOR ADDITIONS, CONVERSIONS AND ATHLETIC IMPROVEMENTS TO WYLIE EAST HIGH SCHOOL AND ADDITIONS, RENOVATIONS, INFRASTRUCTURE UPGRADES AND ATHLETIC IMPROVEMENTS AT WYLIE HIGH SCHOOL AND LEVYING THE TAX IN PAYMENT THEREOF, INCLUDING THE COSTS OF ANY CREDIT AGREEMENTS EXECUTED IN CONNECTION WITH THE BONDS"
Wylie High School (Constructed in 1996)
Wylie East High School (Core facility was constructed in 2006)
The trustees say that the bonds are needed to ensure equitability between schools on the east side of town and schools on the west side of town. They point out that the voters wanted the bond issues split up and they were. Most of the campuses slated for renovation are 20 to 40 years old and sorely need modernization. The additions to the new Wylie East High School should not come as a surprise, they argue, since the school was purposely financed and built in phases in order to spread out the expenses.
The WISD bonds page FAQ states that, "The Wylie ISD Board of Trustees has listened to the community and responded with a reduced bond proposal that is presented in three propositions. In this referendum, many of the projects included in the two unsuccessful bonds have been moderated and or postponed until a later bond to respond to the Wylie community while still meeting the educational needs of Wylie students."
However, putting the stadiums in with IT improvements may cause Prop 1 to fail. While of the $44.2 million in Prop 3, over $15.5 is for athletic facility improvements and bound to stir up cost conscious taxpayers.
It's not too surprising that opposition has already mobilized. Driving around Wylie, one sees many "Vote NO" yard signs, but few pro bond signs.
The only other items on the November ballot are constitutional amendments. So far these amendments ave been non-controversial, so a very light voter turnout is expected. Predicting the outcome of very low turnout election elections is dangerous. The general rule is, "he who turns out his voters, wins". If the school district can mobilize its own employees and parent organizations, it can get the bonds to pass. Otherwise, the weak economy will make it easy for cash-strapped voters to view the bonds as 'just another tax increase'.
The Wylie ISD will hold a public forum on the bond propositions, Monday, October 12, 7 p.m. at Wylie East High School. All community members are invited to attend.
Lovejoy ISD voters have approved a $0.02 tax increase by a wide margin.
The final tally was:
FOR: 382 (60.25%)
AGAINST: 252 (39.75%)
The new tax rate will be $1.535 per $100 valuation. The school district had promised to use the increased revenue to purchase 2 new school buses and classroom technology.
It was a low turnout election - only 634 voters (7.37% of those registered to vote) bothered to go to the polls. Two-thirds of those who voted, voted during the early voting period. About 200 turned out on election day.
The Lovejoy Independent School District encompasses an area of approximately 19 square miles, bound by Plano ISD on the south, Allen ISD on the west, and McKinney? ISD on the north. Lovejoy ISD is currently responsible for the education for over 2,000 students. Since 1917 Lovejoy has served the residents of Fairview, Lucas, and other surrounding neighborhoods.
Monday morning, the county commissioners court approved a $240.2 million budget for fiscal 2010 with only a few small last minute changes.
The budget passed by a 5 - 0 vote, making this year the first that I remember where Commissioner Jerry Hoagland voted FOR the budget.
The 2010 budget is less than 0.3% larger than last year and it breaks no little ground in new programs, discontinued programs, or improved services. The new budget calls for 1,794 county employees, a net increase of two.
Employees were held to an average 1-1/2% 'pay for performance' increase, while elected officials' salaries did not increase from 2009.
Despite rhetoric from a few commissioners who would like to characterize this year's tax burden as a 'cut', county tax revenues are expected to increase slightly from last year. However, the tax rate, set at $0.2425 per $100 in valuation, remains unchanged, making this year the 17th consecutive year with no tax rate increase. Those homeowners in the county who saw their valuations drop this year will get a tax cut, those whose valuations increased will see a comparable increase in their county taxes. The typical homeowner will realize a $3.48 reduction in 2010 county property taxes.
The commissioners also approved a 264 page "schedule of fees". These fees, ranging from court costs to dog pound charges, along with court fines total approximately 15% of the the county's revenue.
The FY 2010 Proposed Budget is here. (Note: big file - 952 kb)
The FY 2010 Schedule of Fees is here.
The FY 2010 Elected Officials' Salary list is here.
The FY 2010 property tax rate breakdown is here.
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.
Early voting begins today for the Lovejoy ISD tax increase ratification election.
Early voting runs from September 14, 2009 through September 25, 2009 at the Lovejoy Independent School District Administrative Building, 259 Country Club Road, Allen, Texas 75002.
In addition, Lovejoy ISD voters may vote at the following early voting locations and days:
- Sloan Creek Middle School - Sept. 14, 6:00 P.M – 9.00 P.M.
- Lovejoy Elementary School - Sept. 17, 6:00 P.M – 9.00 P.M.
- Hart Elementary School - Sept. 17, 6:00 P.M – 9.00 P.M.
- Puster Elementary School - Sept. 17, 6:00 P.M – 9.00 P.M.
- Lovejoy High School 2350 - Sept. 18, 6:00 P.M – 9.00 P.M.
The purpose of the election is to approve a $1.5535 tax rate - The proposition on the ballot reads as follows:
APPROVING THE AD VALOREM TAX RATE OF $1.535 PER $100 VALUATION IN THE LOVEJOY INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR THE CURRENT YEAR, A RATE THAT IS $0.01995 HIGHER PER $100 VALUATION THAN THE LOVEJOY INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT’S ROLLBACK TAX RATE.
For those not voting early, election day is September 29, 2009, 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Lovejoy Elementary School Gymnasium, 259 Country Club Road, Allen, Texas.
God doesn't pay property taxes, and that seems to bother at least one Wylie City Council member.
At last week's Wylie City Council meeting, Councilman Red Byboth complained that Wylie has lower tax revenue than other cities in the area because an “inordinate amount” of the city's land is occupied by tax-exempt property – churches, schools and the water district. (Byboth missed mentioning the National Guard Armory and City of Wylie properties.)
Byboth's comments came during a discussion over expanding the Downtown Historic District to include property owned and occupied by St. Anthony's Catholic Church.
At a public hearing, held by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission back on July 7 to consider the Historic District's expansion north of Brown St, several property owners, including the Catholic Church spoke against the proposal. According to the minutes of the P & Z meeting, 57 property owners were notified of the proposed change. "Fifteen responses were received with five in favor and ten against the request."
Four of the affected property owners, including an official from the parish, testified against the expanded district. Three citizens testified for the proposal, one was Councilman Red Byboth, who does not own property near the Downtown Historic District.
Acceding to the will of the residents, the P & Z voted 4 - 2 to recommend denial of the proposed expansion of the Historic District to the City Council, thereby setting the stage for last Monday's discussion by the City Council.
According to the city charter, a super majority of the council was needed to overturn the P & Z recommendation.
The discussion was opened by the City Planning Director, Rene Ollie.
The Wylie News reported that:
In a letter to the city signed by both the Bishop of Dallas and the pastor at St. Anthony's, the church objected to, "additional and totally unnecessary restrictions of unknown impact on future parish development.”. The church also wrote that, “The proposal constitutes an inappropriate taking by the city of a church’s existing rights,” and “seems to primarily target the Parish with no perceived benefit ...”
The Pastor of St. Anthony's, Father Andrew Semler, was at the meeting and told the council that he was “happy with the relationship” between the church and the city. He said the parish wanted “to be left alone to worship as called in the Catholic faith.”
He said that the church members fear that, if the church continues to grow, 50 years from now the relationship between church and city could become “more adversarial.”
Fr. Semler was likely referring to City of Boerne v. Flores, where in 1997, the US Supreme Court affirmed the right of a city to use a historic regulation to prohibit a church from constructing an addition to their church building.
According to the Wylie News, Councilmen Byboth and Porter objected to the tone of the church's letter, with Porter noting that, “It seems like you think we’re doing something to stop you.”
The Wylie News article then notes that:
The council then voted 7 - 0 to amend the expansion of the Historic District to exclude church property, except for the parcel containing the "old white church".
Wylie News, Historic District excludes St. Anthony, Sept. 1, 2009
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.
Is it a surprise that NTTA, saddled with huge multi-billion dollar debts after purchasing the concession for SH 121 needs to raise money?
Could it be that NTTA would want to raise funds by imposing large, onerous, and seemingly arbitrary fines and fees on Texas drivers? Could these large fees (up to $25 for every toll gantry passed) create a voter backlash?
Now some board members at NTTA are coming to their senses and realizing that by 'sticking it' to local drivers, they are sowing the wind. They are not afraid of the local citizens - after all the NTTA Board of Directors is not elected, but they are afraid of the Texas Legislature.
Could it be that enough pissed off voters might persuade their legislators to serve up a whirlwind of regulations, a whirlwind sown by the excesses of NTTA?
In an article written on July 1, Lindenberger explained the arithmetic of the NTTA's fees:
The 'fees' are civil penalties, but failure to pay them is a criminal offense, as over twelve thousand local drivers have found out after Collin County JP courts issued warrants for their arrest.
Let the whirlwind begin.
Friday, the Texas Education Agency released the 2009 academic ratings for all schools and school districts in Texas.
How did Collin County's districts fair?
Of the 14 school districts in Collin County, only one, Lovejoy ISD was given the highest rating - 'exemplary'.
Ten received an 'recognized' rating, which is the next highest. The Dallas Morning News reports that Allen ISD, which was scored as 'recognized', narrowly missed earning the coveted 'exemplary' rating.
Three school districts, including the 2 largest (Plano and McKinney) were rated as only 'acceptable'. Also scored as 'acceptable' was the Anna ISD. All three school districts have managed to stay in the lower rated 'acceptable' class for the last three years, despite the fact that McKinney and Anna citizens pay some of the highest school property taxes in the county.
Solid gains were realized by the Blue Ridge, Community, Farmersville, and Wylie school districts. These three improved their grades - earning 'recognized' ratings in 2009, while having been rated as only 'acceptable' in 2007 and 2008.
While no districts in the county were given an 'unacceptable' score, two schools were. Plano's Armstrong Middle School and McKinney High School both earned 'unacceptable' grades.
According to an article in the Dallas Morning News' McKinney Blog, McKinney High lost its 'acceptable' rating due to the poor graduation rates for Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students.
McKinney ISD officials have said that the low rating given to MHS would be appealed. They blamed the low scores on clerical mistakes by school officials. An MISD press release quoted Superintendent Tom Crowe as saying, "The teachers and administrators of MHS have worked very hard to maintain high academic standards and have seen the fruits of their labors through the improved academic performance campus-wide... It is a real shame that one indicator has caused this rating."
In explaining that MISD would appeal to the TEA, Crowe said, "As a district and campus we bear the responsibility for improving the process of coding students properly when they transfer out of the district, move out of state, pursue a GED, or begin home-schooling. But it is imperative that when judging the quality of education at a school the other factors are considered. In this case, they are close to achieving `recognized' status, but will be labeled `unacceptable' until we have the opportunity to appeal the designation."
Crowe's protests sound suspiciously similar to the complaints MISD made in 2007 when the AP and Johns Hopkins University listed McKinney North High School as on of the nation's "dropout factories". Once again, MISD blamed transfer student statistics for the dubious distinction. In 2007, MISD called the university's methodology a 'joke'. At least this time, they blamed themselves.
Anna ISD is a rural district without the high property valuations of most other school districts in the county. Anna ISD taxpayers pay one of the highest tax rates in the county, but they still can not seem to advance past an 'acceptable' rating. The same can not be said for the Plano school district. Plano's taxpayers pay one of the lowest tax rates in Collin County. Perhaps if the citizens of Plano want to return to the days when people actually moved to Plano for the excellent schools, they will consider investing in those schools.
Lovejoy ISD is the polar opposite of Anna. Although their taxpayers pay a similar rate as Ann's do, the Lovejoy ISD contains some of the per capita highest valued residential property in the region. The citizens investment in Lovejoy has paid off. Although it is the smallest district, it is the only one to consistently be rated 'exemplary', the state's highest rating.
The most tax efficient district in the county has to be Farmersville ISD. Like Anna, Farmersville is mostly rural farm land. Yet their children are educated in a district rated as 'recognized', while their parents pay the lowest school taxes in the county.
The highest school taxes are paid by the citizens of Prosper ISD. A few years ago, PISD invested heavily in building for future growth. While some of that growth has been realized, the economic downturn does not bode well for any immediate tax relief for Prosper ISD.
Collin County ISD Ratings 2007-2009
|District||2008 Tax Rate||2009 Dist. Rating||2008 Dist. Rating||2007 Dist. Rating|
|Blue Ridge ISD||1.54||Recognized||Acceptable||Acceptable|
2009 Campus ratings by district
|District||# Exemplary||# Recognized||# Acceptable||# Unaceptable||# Not Rated|
|Blue Ridge ISD||1||2||1||0||1|
|McKinney ISD||12||9||8||1 (McKinney HS)||1|
|Plano ISD||32||24||6||1 (Armstrong MS)||5|
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.
Collin County's fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. Fiscal 2009 is now 75% done and with budget planning already begun for FY 2010, it seems like a good time to search the county's check register to see how our commissioners are spending our tax dollars on themselves.
Commissioners make a great salary. They get to set their own pay rate and benefits - and it shows. In 2009 each commissioner made $111,146.00 in base salary. Keith Self, the County Judge was paid $136,073.00. In addition, the commissioners and county judge are entitled to a fine health insurance plan, retirement benefits, life insurance, and long and short term disability policies.
They are also entitled to submit expenses for reimbursement. So far in FY 2009, the Commissioners have been reimbursed for over $2,600 in 'business meal' expenses alone.
There is a large disparity among the commissioners in the use of tax dollars for their meals - Pct. 2 Commissioner Jerry Hoagland seems to be the biggest eater on the court. His $1,785 in meals takes the lions share of all reimbursed dinners - accounting for almost 70% of the entire year's charges by commissioners. Pct. 4 Commissioner Kathy Ward spent the least - she spent zero tax dollars for her food.
FY2009 Reimbursements for Business Meals
|Jun 09||$ 0||$ 233.54||$ 111.40||$ 0||$ 0||$ 344.94|
|May 09||$ 309.74||$ 392.16||$ 156.56||$ 0||$ 0||$ 858.46|
|Apr 09||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0|
|Mar 09||$ 0||$ 126.12||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 126.12|
|Feb 09||$ 0||$ 66.90||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 66.90|
|Jan 09||$ 0||$ 90.90||$ 0||$ 0||$ 252.96||$ 343.86|
|Dec 08||$ 0||$ 281.68||$ 20.38||$ 0||$ 0||$ 302.06|
|Nov 08||$ 0||$ 74.92||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 74.92|
|Oct 08||$ 0||$ 518.77||$ 0||$ 0||$ 0||$ 518.77|
|Total||$ 309.74||$ 1,784.99||$ 288.34||$ 0||$ 252.96||$ 2,636.03|
The County judge and commissioners have submitted a total of over $13,500 in reimbursable expenses. These expenses are for travel, training, conferences and meals. County Judge Keith Self was the biggest spender overall, racking up reimbursed charges of over $4,800. The next largest spender was Pct. 3 Commissioner Joe Jaynes, who spent almost $4,400. Again, the smallest spender was Commissioner Kathy Ward, who turned in only $375. in expenses.
Total FY2009 Expense Reimbursements
|Jun 09||$ 0||$ 386.69||$ 111.40||$ 119.90||$ 26.71||$ 954.44|
|May 09||$ 309.74||$ 545.27||$ 178.56||$ 119.90||$ 655.26||$ 1,498.99|
|Apr 09||$ 245.36||$ 0||$ 309.70||$ 0||$ 756.96||$ 1,312.02|
|Mar 09||$ 259.73||$ 126.12||$ 744.18||$ 136.15||$ 779.32||$ 2,036.50|
|Feb 09||$ 238.50||$ 66.90||$ 464.56||$ 0||$ 1,356.71||$ 2,126.67|
|Jan 09||$ 0||$ 90.90||$ 2,125.09||$ 0||$ 512.96||$ 2,728.95|
|Dec 08||$ 0||$ 658.84||$ 106.89||$ 0||$ 0||$ 765.73|
|Nov 08||$ 0||$ 525.04||$ 337.99||$ 0||$ 75.95||$ 938.98|
|Oct 08||$ 0||$ 518.77||$ 0||$ 0||$ 675.36||$ 1,194.13|
|Total||$ 1,044.33||$ 2,918.53||$ 4,378.37||$ 375.95||$ 4,839.23||$ 13,556.31|
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.
HB515 was introduced by Reps. Allen Vaught and Carol Kent, both Dallas Democrats. The bill would allow citizens to file a petition forcing an election to merge the Dallas County Hospital District (Parkland) with a contiguous county. Elections would have to be held in both the petitioning county and in Dallas County, and voters in both would have to approve it for the merger to take place.
The Collin County Commissioners Court vehemently opposes the bill. Merging with Parkland is one of their worst fears.
Dallas County Judge Jim Foster and Parkland President Dr. Ron Anderson both testified that the merger was to the benefit of all counties, and might be needed so that Parkland could remain a level 1 Trauma center. If Parkland were to give up their level one status, the closest level one center would be in Houston. It was pointed out that when a traffic accident in Collin or Rockwall Counties results in a horrific trauma, the patient is almost always airlifted to Parkland - whether or not the victim is insured. Loss of access to Parkland would inevitably cost the lives of some suburban residents.
Dr. Anderson and members of the committee pointed out that Parkland not only served the poor and indigent, but also insured Dallas and suburban residents with the region's premier trauma center, burn unit and 24 hour psychiatric center.
Parkland's indigent care covers uninsured citizens who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Judge Foster testified that last year, Parkland absorbed over $20 million in unpaid bills from suburban residents. Collin county covers up to 100$ of FPL, but also subjects applicants to an asset test that disqualifies more poor folks than the income level does. Other counties have more stringent income qualifications.
At one point during his testimony, Dr. Anderson quoted the Ellis County Judge as telling him, "Why buy the cow, if I can get the milk for free."
While County Judge Keith Self attended the hearing, he wisely (after the drubbing he got the last time he appeared before the County Affairs committee) did not testify. Commissioner Kathy Ward and the County's Health director, Candy Blair spoke on behalf of the commissioners court.
Commissioner Ward was closely questioned by several members of the committee, especially Chairman Garnet Coleman and Rep. Valinda Bolton. The Chair, in particular was inclined to lecturing on the history of health care benefits and legislation in Texas. Commissioner Ward, however remained poised and gracious, and the committee reciprocated. Her reception was in stark contrast to the last two legislative appearances by our county officials.
Ward testified that the county was willing to explore new ideas in indigent care, but that they were opposed to HB515 because the election would be too expensive and because it wasn't clear how much of Parkland's debt Collin County residents would have to assume.
Ward also stated that Collin County paid its bills. She noted that last year, the county paid Parkland on 143 invoices for 'qualified' Collin County indigents. What she did not list was the number of bills that went unpaid, because the county would not grant benefits because of income or asset tests.
Ward noted that an election would cost the county over $400,000. She rightly stated that HB515 would allow only 50 voters to file a petition to force an election. Ward pointed out that Collin County had any number of political activists who could go to any 7-11 and get 50 signatures before lunch.
Ward's $400,000 figure would be correct if the referendum was the only item on a county-wide ballot. However, HB515 does not mandate a special election. Nothing in the bill would prevent the commissioners from scheduling the election at the next regular election date. Combining the referendum with normally scheduled elections would drastically reduce the cost.
Ward also objected to a provision in the bill which would grant Dallas County commissioners the right to appoint the Hospital district's representatives from the annexed county. She stated that there was no way Collin County Commissioners would agree to that. She is right on target with that - in order to be fair to all sides, that provision of the bill needs to be reworked.
As to the debt issue, it is addressed in the bill, "If the district has outstanding debts or taxes, the voters in the election to approve the annexation must also determine if the annexed territory will assume its proportion of the debts or taxes if added to the district."
Candy Blair told the committee that according to Parkland's own statements during its last bond election, 90% of patients from suburban counties were insured and their bills were paid at a much higher percentage than patients from Dallas County.
With both HB515 and the Local Option Transportation Bill (SB855) asking local voters to take control over their own destinies by using the ballot box to decide if they want to support mass transit or improved health care. The 81st legislature is blazing a new trail in proposing innovative approaches to some of the most difficult political problems we face in suburban Collin County.
The legislature is not dictating new taxes, instead it asks the voters, "Is a mass transit system worth paying higher taxes?" and "Is improving health care access worth paying a hospital district tax?"
The county would do well to negotiate with the legislature to remove the more objectionable provisions of these bills - and then let the voters decide.
The hearing on HB515 begins at time stamp 4:26:25.
Kathy Ward's testimony begins at time stamp 4:55:33.
Two State Senators and four State Legislators represent the voters in the Texas State Legislature from districts that include parts of Collin County.
We the voters elect these folks to represent our interests, yet many of our local governments believe they have to hire expensive and well-connected lobbyists in order for their voice to be heard.
It would be near impossible to determine exactly how much of your tax money has been spent by local Collin County governments and quasi-governmental bodies to lobby the current session of the Legislature. However, the Texas Ethics Commission does require lobbyists to register and to reveal who they are representing, along with an estimated billing of their efforts.
I have listed below those lobbyists who have reported that they represent local government bodies, as well as government associations that our tax money pays dues to, and quasi-governmental bodies that operate with your tax dollars.
All this lobbying begs the question, Why do we need to pay others to insure that our elected officials look out for us?
The following list is distilled from Texas Ethics Commission Reports. The list shows the client, followed by their lobbyist(s), along with the lobbyists registration number and the anticipated reportable revenue from that client.
City of Allen
Hill, Fred (00020297) $25,000 - $49.999.99
City of Celina
Scott, Rider (00035064) Less Than $10,000.00
City of Frisco
Aghamalian, Brandon T. (00059188) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Carr, Snapper L. (00039466) $10,000 - $24,999.99
McCartt, J. (00050674) Less Than $10,000.00
Russell, Kerry E. (00017375) Less Than $10,000.00
City of McKinney
Erben, Randall H. (00013689) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Wakefield, Kakhi Huffaker (00062269) Less Than $10,000.00
Yarbrough, Brian G. (00037475) Less Than $10,000.00
City of Richardson
Hill, Fred (00020297) $50,000 - $99,999.99
Collin County, Texas
Hudson, James Greg (00036094) Less Than $10,000.00
Conference of Urban Counties
Hill, Fred (00020297) $50,000 - $99,999.99
County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas
Allison, James P. (00050989) $100,000 - $149,999.99
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Brown, Jay P. (00039172) Less Than $10,000.00
Gibson, Machree Garrett (00028312) Less Than $10,000.00
Graydon, Galt (00013173) Less Than $10,000.00
Hill, Fred (00020297) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Propes, Jay W. (00014474) Less Than $10,000.00
Swan, Shannon Lea (00014744) Less Than $10,000.00
North Texas Municipal Water District
Embrey, Ty H. (00056282) Less Than $10,000.00
Lewis, Ron E. (00020172) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Martinez, Mindy M. (00060781) Less Than $10,000.00
Rochelle, Martin C. (00053106) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Russell, Kerry E. (00017375) Less Than $10,000.00
Sledge, Brian L. (00041086) Less Than $10,000.00
Valdez, Gerald A. (00053423) $25,000 - $49.999.99
North Texas Tollway Authority
Acevedo, Julianne (00053651) Less Than $10,000.00
Cain, Randy C. (00025263) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Eschberger, Brenda (00029854) Less Than $10,000.00
Johnson, Michael J. (00055885) Less Than $10,000.00
Kelley, Russell T. (00013737) Less Than $10,000.00
Kemptner, Sara (00057952) Less Than $10,000.00
McCarley, James Bradley (00034739) $50,000 - $99,999.99
McGarah, Carol (00051437) Less Than $10,000.00
Waldon, Barbara (00057030) Less Than $10,000.00
Texas Association of Counties
Boethel, Carey (00013205) Less Than $10,000.00
Brown, Timothy W. (00060546) Less Than $10,000.00
Casteel, Carter (00051154) $50,000 - $99,999.99
Emerson, Paul K. (00060548) Less Than $10,000.00
Erskine, Candis B. (00035590) $ 0.00
Erskine, John M. Jr. (00012969) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Flores-Ortiz, Aurora (00060541) Less Than $10,000.00
Forbes, Nanette (00056550) Less Than $10,000.00
Ford, Victoria C. (00060035) $10,000 - $24,999.99
Garcia, Laura (00060547) Less Than $10,000.00
Hill, Fred (00020297) $150,000 - $199,999.99
Leo, Myra (00034631) Less Than $10,000.00
McGinnis, Larry D. (00013432) $25,000 - $49.999.99
Nicholes, Laura (00053596) Less Than $10,000.00
Norris, Karen A. (00013179) Less Than $10,000.00
Roberts, Cary L. (00033594) $50,000 - $99,999.99
Sugg, Paul J. (00050735) Less Than $10,000.00
Thompson, John (00053597) Less Than $10,000.00
"It's not going to be for sissies." That's how County judge Keith Self cautioned the members of the court on testifying before a Texas House Committee. Self was relating to his experience at the Texas House Committee on County Affairs hearing on HB561 last Monday.
In his description of the hearing he said "it was all there, the politics of destruction and demonization." What he meant to say was, "There were a lot of witnesses there who disagreed with me." He then charged that he was chastised by two counties whose IT efforts were still in the dark ages.
In fact, there were no personal or nasty attacks. HB561 is a bad bill; it drew a determined opposition from auditors from around the state. The County Affairs Committee saw the bill as an attempt by the county to circumvent the verdict of the court in Collin County vs. Collin County Auditor
Self noted that he "learned a lot" from the experience. He was warning the court that Collin County efforts to support a bill allowing a county to require engineers, architects and surveyors to compete for county business by competitive bid would face strong opposition.
Self was speaking about the county's support for HB1105. That bill, authored by Jodie Laubenberg and Ken Paxton was written at the request of the Collin County Commissioners.
Self is right, he's going to face some very stiff opposition to HB1105. And he'll likely lose.
He might as well get used to it. It would appear that none of the county's legislative agenda will make it into law.
Collin County has defined these bills as its Legislative Agenda:
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to the authority of county auditors with respect to computer software and data of other local officers or departments."
This bill aims to strip the county auditor of the ability to monitor software. It was filed at the request of Collin County, and was presented in public hearing on Monday. It will not get out of Committee.
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to certain employment functions of county government."
This bill is also seen as an attack on the Collin County Auditor. It was debated in Monday's public hearing. I suspect its only chance of getting enacted will be if all mention of the auditor are removed.
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to the use of video teleconferencing systems in certain criminal proceedings."
This bill would allow video testimony in grand jury proceedings and in certain plea hearings. It is generally considered unconstitutional, and will not get out of committee. It was written at the request of the Commissioners Court.
Author: Jodi Laubenberg, Parker | et al.
"Relating to procuring contracts for certain professional services by a governmental entity."
This bill would allow the county to add a competitive bid dimension to the process of selecting engineers and architects for large construction projects. It was also filed at the request of the commissioners court. While the bill has some merit, it will draw powerful opposition. I doubt it will survive.
SB855 & HB9
Author: John Carona, Richardson & Truitt | et al.
"Relating to local options regarding transportation and mobility improvement projects in certain counties."
These bills would allow citizens to hold an election to form a mass transportation district that could levy a variety of taxes. It has wide support of most of the larger cities, and of DART and the RTC. It is expected to pass. The County opposes the bills.
HB2334 & SB882
Author: Geren & Carona
"Relating to the powers and duties of a regional tollway authority, including the establishment of an administrative adjudication hearing procedure; creating an offense."
These bills would gut the ability of the Collin County Toll Road Authority to build any toll road without getting the approval of the NTTA. The bills are seen as an aggressive self-defense move by the NTTA after Collin County tried to take over a portion of the Dallas North Tollway. By grasping for a piece of the DNT, the commissioners may lose the ability to build the Outer Loop. The bill sets the stage for a David and Goliath political battle. The problem is that the county forgot to bring their sling. Or as I remember from the "Untouchables", the county brought a knife to a gun fight. The commissioners are asking NTTA to negotiate a truce.
County Judge Keith Self, whose record on campaigning for transportation issues has proven to be pretty dismal, is leading a personal blog and email campaign against the "Texas Local Option Transportation" bills introduced in the Legislature.
In an email to supporters (and on his blog) Self charged that, "something must be done or a catastrophe will happen".
Currently the voters have no ability to call a referendum on mobility projects.
His last foray into transportation elections was in the 2007 Bond Election, when Self campaigned against the bond package.
He wanted the county to use "pass through financing" from TxDOT to finance large construction projects, leaving the cities to pay for their own smaller secondary road improvements. His plan was a bad idea then and was soon proven to be a very, very bad idea, when not long after the election, the state killed the whole "pass through" program.
It would appear that Judge Self doesn't trust the citizens to vote in their own best interests. He and our commissioners would rather tax us without an election by using their newly created Collin County Toll Road Authority to build highways that tax by the mile.
No citizen voted for the Toll Road Authority. There has been no election or referendum on the Outer Loop - the commissioners court makes the decisions.
Remember, this commissioners court also campaigned for and approved the SH 121 toll scheme - evidently without reading the fine print. It was the fine print that enabled TxDOT to grab all $3.2 billion of the concession fee. Collin County has yet to see a dime.
Now there is much wrong with the 2 bills submitted to the legislature. There needs to be a lot of work done to insure that local county citizens are not expected to bear the entire burden of building their transportation infrastructure. Traditionally the Federal and State governments have shouldered the lion's share of the costs of major highway and inter-urban rail projects.
They still need to do so. We need to be assured that passage of these bills does not ease the pressure we must put on our state and national leaders to help us build for our future.
The trend of "pushing down" the responsibility for major infrastructure financing needs to be reversed. If we don't how long will it be before we require small cities like Melissa or Fairview to pay to improve Central Expressway?
Other parts of the bill will require a lot of analysis and compromise. The bills offer a wide range of fee and tax options that voters could choose from in the referendum. Some, like $1/hr parking fees need to get deep sixed. Nevertheless, these bills offer a way for Collin County citizens to become the masters of their own fate with regard to construction of commuter rail and major highways.
In his email, Self writes that, "This bill is structured with the belief that you, the voter, will vote for any tax that is put on a ballot with no discernment whether or not the added tax is absolutely necessary or not.". I can't speak for the bill's authors, but it seems that in any election the voters can say "Yes" or "No".
Why doesn't Self trust our citizens to make responsible choices? Because they voted for him?
Judge Self's reasoning become clearer when in his next sentence, he wrote, "Where is the review to make sure that every tax dollar is being spent as wisely as possible before we add yet another tax? Where is the prioritization to make sure that your tax dollars are being spent for the most important government functions?". Obviously he feels that the wisdom to decide resides solely in the Collin County Commissioners Court.
I'm going to disagree with that.
The text of HB-9
A recent Texas Municipal League Legislative Update contains a good "plain english" explanation of HB-9
An interesting analysis of HB-9 by Dallas Morning News' reporter Michael Lindenberger published Feb. 16.
Keith Self's Blog
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.
Local Chambers of Commerce have for the past several years sponsored events and a trip to Austin for community leaders and citizens during Collin County Days. There are usually several opportunities to meet and network with state leaders and the local legislative delegation. And so it is this year.
Governor Rick Perry will give the keynote address at the opening luncheon.
I am giving some serious thought to attending. I even scheduled vacation time for those 2 days. The $125 registration fee didn't seem overly expensive, since there was a lunch reception included. But then I read the planned schedule of events.
The program includes a series of informal panel discussions. Looking at some of the leaders of those panels I realized that I would be paying $125 to listen to lobbyists' propaganda.
For example, the healthcare panel is to be led by Arlene Wohlgemuth, Founder and President, Three Point Strategies. I've called Ms. Wohlgemuth the "Pied Piper of Texas", as she played a legislative tune while leading hundreds of thousands of poor children off a cliff.
Ms. Wohlgemuth was a Republican legislator instrumental in the ruinous privatization of Texas's social service system. Her role and the disastrous effects to the poor of that privatization was graphically documented in a recent Dallas Morning News investigative report titled "State of Neglect". Ms. Wohlgemuth's firm, Three Point Strategies lobbies the legislature primarily on behalf of health care companies.
The Taxes and Spending panel is led by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a lobbyist and conservative activist, and former press secretary for Ron Paul. He is described as a devotee of the "Austrian School of Economics", which believes in a radical laissez faire government policy. He is presently the director of Empower Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Empower Texans PAC.
The other two panels are not led by lobbyists, but by State officials.
The Energy Panel is led by Barry Smitherman, the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission. His PUC is largely responsible for the fact that Texans pay some of the highest electricity prices in the nation.
The other panelist is Dub Taylor, the Director of the Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office. Mr. Taylor had previously served on the Texas Railroad Commission and now is a leader of the state's efforts towards energy efficiency and sustainability.
The Transportation panel will be chaired by Steven Polunsky, the Committee Director, Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. Mr. Polunsky is a former policy maker at TxDot and was Director of Research at the now defunct Texas High-Speed Rail Authority. The Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., an outgrowth of the High Speed Rail Authority gave a presentation to the Commissioners Court last week. The Collin County Commissioners declined to endorse its plans believing them to be too expensive and not cost effective.
There's no balance on the discussion panels. No representatives from Common Cause, from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Public Citizen or from any group except right-wing lobbyists and state agencies. While some of the speakers, especially Mssrs. Polunsky and Taylor can offer some real technical insight into the issues, only one works at the legislature. This is supposed to be a legislative trip.
Where are our state legislative leaders on these 4 subjects? I'd really like to hear from Dallas's Senator Carona the chair of the Transportation Committee on our $1.2 billion of SH121 funds,. Or from our own Senator Shapiro on the effects of property tax cap bills on education.
Businesses and citizens in Collin County have a real stake in many of the deliberations of the 81st Legislature. They deserve the respect of our state leadership. Instead, it appears my $125 would go largely for attendance at a far right pep rally.
That's too bad.
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.
Mr Lindenberger has written an excellent overview of some of the near term issues facing the financing of our highways. However he neglects to mention that the "billions of dollars in debt" are mostly the $5 billion of highway construction bonds approved by the voters in the 2007 constitutional amendment election. That transportation Proposition 12 was approved by over 62% of the voters.
The citizens want new roads to be built - not as toll roads and using debt if necessary.
Mr. Lindenberger also fails to mention the fact that a substantial portion of the Texas gas tax revenue is siphoned off by the legislature for non-transportation uses. For example, 25% of the gasoline tax is mandated for education. In one recent case, TxDOT promised $20 million in gas tax money to help fund a park in downtown Dallas.
Also not mentioned is the similar siphoning off of federal gas tax money to non-transportation use. Making the federal situation worse is that Texas is also being shortchanged. Only about 70% what it's citizens spend in fuel tax money is returned to Texas projects... and it seems our local congressmen don't give a damn about it.
The Collin County commissioners don't seem too fazed by the voter backlash against toll roads either. Last week they approved the formation of the Collin County Regional Toll Authority - to develop the county's portion of the Outer Loop as a toll road.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
State transportation officials are poised to issue billions of dollars in debt to help speed road construction, a move that will keep Dallas-area projects on schedule for now but will do little to shore up the state's long-term road-funding crisis.
"We have 15 major highways proposed in Dallas-Fort Worth, and all 15 are planned as toll roads. In that situation, you can no longer say tolls are an option for motorists. If they are all built, you won't be able to drive anywhere in Dallas without using a toll road."
Texas Senate Transportation Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas
The Texas Department of Transportation will likely begin issuing $1.5 billion in bonds within 60 days, pending the recovery of the nation's upended credit markets, and is taking steps to borrow another $6.4 billion over the next few years.
Historic turmoil in the credit markets is already costing the department hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra interest payments each week on some of its smaller loans, and any efforts to borrow much more will be complicated – and likely delayed – if the markets do not improve.
Credit worries aside, the decision to borrow billions enables TxDOT to end months of hand-wringing over whether it will have the money to complete projects local officials throughout Texas have been depending on. Late last year, the agency announced it was going broke and would have to delay some of those projects.
The new borrowing will allow the state to keep projects on schedule. But the big debt will do nothing to reduce the state's long-term shortage of road funds and could make paying for future projects more difficult as interest costs grow.
"Borrowing money does have the benefit of building projects faster," said Michael Morris, North Central Texas Council of Governments' transportation director. "Borrowing money does nothing for building more projects [in the long term]. Some people will be confused that building projects faster solves the problem, but it doesn't address the total funding need."
Mr. Morris says North Texas' transportation needs are $50 billion ahead of expected tax revenues between now and 2030. Some critics call those numbers too pessimistic, but everyone agrees that the number is big. Conservative estimates have said statewide needs will outpace funding by $50 billion to $60 billion.
Meeting last week in Austin, Texas Transportation Commission members said the bond program won't fix a basically busted system – and could make things worse if the Legislature doesn't eventually provide new tax funds.
"The system for funding TxDOT is fatally flawed," said Ned Holmes of Houston, one of five members of the Texas Transportation Commission that runs the department.
A political problem
Few leaders in Austin disagree with Mr. Holmes.
But while lawmakers, the governor and TxDOT all seem to agree Texas needs more money for roads, consensus on a solution beyond more borrowing has proven devilishly difficult to reach.
One camp argues that, of course TxDOT is going broke, given that state gasoline taxes have remained flat since 1991, at 20 cents per gallon. However, efforts to raise the tax rate have been dead in the water for years.
"As far as the gas tax goes, there is simply no appetite in the Legislature for that. None at all," said Allison Castle, press secretary for Gov. Rick Perry, said. "To make a real difference, you'd have to raise it 50 to 55 cents per gallon. Raising it a nickel or two would be just giving false hope."
But even simply indexing the 20-cent-per-gallon rate to inflation would have a huge impact over time, said Senate Transportation Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas. He said he is going to press for that this session.
"If we had had the courage to do that two years ago, we'd be in a substantially better place already," Mr. Carona said.
For the past five years, the governor has pushed instead to build more toll roads and then to borrow heavily against future revenue.
"Toll roads are fair, as they are essentially user fees, and drivers can decide whether to use them or not," said his spokeswoman.
Opposition to tolls, especially private toll roads, was a powerful force during the 2007 session, and even lawmakers who say some tolls are helpful also argue that Mr. Perry has pushed too hard for tolls.
"We have 15 major highways proposed in Dallas-Fort Worth, and all 15 are planned as toll roads," Mr. Carona said. "In that situation, you can no longer say tolls are an option for motorists. If they are all built, you won't be able to drive anywhere in Dallas without using a toll road."
Mr. Holmes, too, acknowledged the governor and the agency under former chairman Ric Williamson had been too focused on tolls as the solution.
"They came up with a solution that did not require TxDOT to go to the Legislature to ask for new funds," he said. "But tolling was never going to work by itself."
Ready to borrow
For now, the only solution lawmakers and the governor have agreed on is to borrow another $8 billion.
It's not a new direction. From 2002 to 2007, the department first went on a borrowing spree – and then a building spree, much to the delight of traffic-clogged regions like North Texas. In those years, the department spent as much as $5 billion a year in construction contracts.
But by 2007 TxDOT had spent the money and was left with flat revenues, rising costs and hefty interest payments. TxDOT says it has about $2.5 billion in tax money to spend on major road contracts annually, about half what it was spending in recent years. It also warns that soaring maintenance costs could soon eat up as much as $2 billion a year.
It's budget season again for most governments (except school districts) in Texas. With the new budgets, come new taxes.
Setting local taxes is a process that is highly regulated by state law. Most of the rules can be found in the Tax Code Section 26
Section § 26.06(b) requires two public hearings and specifies the form of the notice of those hearings.
Section § 26.06(d) states that, "If the taxing unit operates an Internet website, the notice must be posted on the website from the date the notice is first published until the second public hearing is concluded."
As is usual, when the Texas Legislature tries to make something easy to understand, it generally achieves the exact opposite of its intent.
The public notices describe a Tax Increase as a growth in total taxes collected for the year. When the area is growing, some, most or all of that increase in tax dollars may come from new properties, even when the tax rate has been cut.
Property valuations may also increase or decrease the tax revenue a government can collect.
Your tax rate could go down, but because your valuation increased, your tax bill would rise anyway. This is common in fast growing Collin County.
Therefore many of the citizens covered under these Notices of Tax Increase will not see a tax increase. For example, Collin County cut it's tax rate and granted a 5% homestead exemption. Therefore very few county taxpayers will see a larger county tax bill in 2009.
Wylie citizens will, no matter their valuation, see a substantial hike in city taxes due to the large rate increase that is proposed.
I encourage you to look at your city's website for more information, to ask your city council questions and to attend the public hearings. Government needs constant reminders that the money they spend is really yours. Remind them.
Local Notices of Tax Increase published on the internet:
The County of Collin, Texas, will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 2.1 percent.
The first public hearing will be held on August 26, 2008, at 9:00 a.m. in the Commissioners Courtroom located at the Collin County Government Center, 210 S.McDonald St., Suite 626, McKinney, Texas, 75069.
The second public hearing will be held on September 2, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. in the Central Jury Room of the Collin County Courthouse, 2100 Bloomdale Rd., McKinney, Texas, 75071.
City of Allen
The City of Allen will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 2.87 percent(percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on August 12, 2008 at 7:00 PM at Allen City Hall, 305 Century Parkway, Allen, Texas 75013.
The second public hearing will be held on August 26, 2008 at 7:00 PM at Allen City Hall, 305 Century Parkway, Allen, Texas 75013.
City of Anna
The City of Anna will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 3.08 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on August 30, 2008 at 10:00 AM at Anna City Hall Administration Building, 111 N. Powell Parkway, Anna, Texas 75409.
The second public hearing will be held on September 9, 2008 at 7:30 PM at Anna City Hall Administration Building, 111 N. Powell Parkway, Anna, Texas 75409.
Town of Fairview
The Town of Fairview will conduct a public hearing on a proposal to increase the total tax revenues of the Town of Fairview from properties on the tax roll in the preceding year by 18.88 percent on September 24, 2007 at 6:00 PM.
The Fairview Town Council is scheduled to vote on the tax rate that will result in that tax increase at a public meeting to be held on September 27, 2007, at 6:30 PM At Town of Fairview, Town Hall, 500 S. Hwy 5, Fairview, Texas 75069.
City of Frisco
The City of Frisco will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 2.41 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on August 25, 2008 at 6:00 PM at Vivian McCallum Room, 6101 Frisco Square Blvd., Frisco, Texas 75034.
The second public hearing will be held on September 2, 2008 at 6:30 PM at Council Chambers, 6101 Frisco Square Blvd., Frisco, Texas 75034.
City of McKinney
The City of McKinney will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 4.12 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26,Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on August 19,2008 at 6:30 PM at McKinney? City Council Chambers, 222 N. Tennessee Street, McKinney, Texas 75069.
The second public hearing will be held on September 2,2008 at 6:30 PM at McKinney? City Council Chambers, 222 N. Tennessee Street, McKinney, Texas75069.
City of Murphy
The City of Murphy will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 14.03 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on Monday, August 18, 2008 at 6:00 PM at City of Murphy – Council Chambers, 206 N. Murphy Road, Murphy, Texas 75094.
The second public hearing will be held on Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 6:00 PM at City of Murphy – Council Chambers, 206 N. Murphy Road, Murphy, Texas 75094.
City of Plano
The City of Plano, Texas will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 5.20 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 5:00 p.m. at the Municipal Center Council Chamber, 1520 Ave. K, Plano, Texas.
The second public hearing will be held on Monday, August 25, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. at the Municipal Center Council Chamber, 1520 Ave. K, Plano, Texas.
City of Richardson
The City of Richardson will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 2.00 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on August 18, 2008 at 7:30 PM at 411 W. Arapaho Road, Council Chamber, Richardson, Texas 75080.
The second public hearing will be held on August 25, 2008 at 7:30 PM at 411 W. Arapaho Road, Council Chamber, Richardson, Texas 75080.
City of Royse City
The City Council of the City of Royse City will hold Public Hearings concerning the Tax Rate on August 27, 2007 at 6:30 PM and August September 4, 2007 at 6:30 PM at Court/Council Chambers, 100 W. Main St., Royse City, Texas.
City of Sachse
The City of Sachse will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 14.43 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be August 25, 2008; the second public hearing will be September 2, 2008 at City Hall, 5560 Highway 78.
City of Wylie
The City of Wylie will hold two public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 25.39 percent (percentage by which proposed tax rate exceeds lower of rollback tax rate or effective tax rate calculated under Chapter 26, Tax Code).
The first public hearing will be held on August 21, 2008 at 6:00 PM at Wylie Municipal Complex, 2000 Hwy 78 N., Wylie, Texas 75098.
The second public hearing will be held on August 26, 2008 at 6:00 PM at Wylie Municipal Complex, 2000 Hwy 78 N., Wylie, Texas 75098.
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.
There may be more than one way to bring transit service to non-DART cities in Collin County, says County Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
It doesn't have to be the assortment of new fees and/or taxes that regional transportation officials hope to pass in next year's Legislature, he says.
So why shouldn't cities go ahead now and look into non-tax possibilities for starting their own transit service to hook into DART rail in Plano?
Good question. In fact, they should.
Mr. Jaynes has shown leadership in inviting six cities – Plano, Allen, Fairview, McKinney, Melissa and Anna – to join the county in exploring possible business plans for new rail transit service. It would use the DART-owned right-of-way formerly known as the Union Pacific line. The line runs north from Plano, through Allen, Fairview and McKinney and into Sherman.
The proposal calls for the city councils to pass a joint resolution to advertise for consultants who would present different ideas – perhaps public-private partnerships. Ideally, the work would be paid for with a grant from the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Mr. Jaynes has the right goal: to bring rail transit to commuters who want an alternative to sitting in traffic jams on North Central Expressway or wherever. Traffic will only get worse in hot-growth Collin County, and high gas prices only make matters worse. Plus, transit has demonstrated the economic benefit of attracting new development to its stations.
As for the best way to pay the considerable cost of laying track and building stations, the Regional Transportation Council should continue working with lawmakers to fashion a package of new fees and taxes to take to the Legislature next year.
Commissioners approve a 5 percent homestead exemption
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Monday, June 23, 2008
The Collin County Commissioner’s Court approved a 5 percent homestead exemption for county taxpayers in a split vote during Tuesday’s bi-monthly court meeting.
All commissioners approved the exemption except for County Judge Keith Self and Commissioner for Precinct 2 Jerry Hoagland.
The homestead exemption must be adopted before July 1 in order for it to be included in the next year’s tax statement.
Commissioner for Pct. 3 Joe Jaynes made the motion to approve the exemption, and originally wanted to include a one-fourth of 1 cent county tax rate cut for taxpayers in a motion but deleted the tax rate cut because not enough commissioners agreed with him. A 5 percent homestead exemption would save a family who has a house valued at $200,000 approximately $12 per year house, Jaynes said.
“It will save the homeowners money because the families are the ones who are paying $4 a gallon for gas,” Jaynes said.
However, Hoagland said that he wanted to leave the tax rate as it is and spend $25 million for the Collin County Outer Loop, which will connect the county with the adjacent Denton and Rockwall counties. Hoagland was not in favor of lower the tax rate because he felt the exemption for homeowners could be perceived as anti-business because it places the burden on the business community to pay for the offset of taxes not being paid with a homestead exemption, Hoagland said. Self said that he agreed with Hoagland and didn’t want the exemption to be perceived as anti-business.
Commissioner Jack Hatchell said he was in favor of the 5 percent homestead exemption and didn’t feel it was anti-business because many large businesses in the county receive tax abatements.
Immediately after the court approved the homestead exemption, the court approved a tax abatement for Ensemble Studios and Microsoft, who will hire 120 employees in Plano to design computer games. All members of the court approved the abatement except for Jaynes, who voted against the tax abatement because the county staff recommended that the abatement not be approved because it does not comply with the county’s policy for tax abatements, he said.
Per the staff report, the tax abatement proposal does not meet the county’s policy regarding tax abatements, which states that the company requesting the abatement should have a minimum of $15 million in real property value for cities with a population of 50,000 or more, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ current year estimates.
The city of Plano’s current population estimate as of Jan. 1, 2007 was 255,700 and the real property taxable value of the Ensemble Studios and Microsoft company is proposed to be $10,519,000.
“Why does Microsoft need a tax abatement?” Jaynes said, to which many people in the audience laughed at Microsoft is a multibillion dollar company.
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.
Monday is Collin county's last chance to pass a homestead tax exemption for 2009.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Jaynes first proposed the homestead exemption last August as a way for beleaguered homeowners to avoid tax hikes, even in years when the tax rate is cut. Because of ever increasing home valuations, it is usual for a home owner to see their taxes go up every year - whether or not the actual tax rate has increased (or even been cut).
This year, Jaynes re-introduced the idea to a decidedly mixed reaction from the other members of the court.
Commissioners have debated the issue and looked at innumerable alternatives for the last 6 court sessions. The exemption has been voted on twice. On both occasions, there was one commissioner absent and the vote was tied 2-2. By law, the issue must be decided before July. Monday's meeting will be the last opportunity to pass a real homeowners' tax cut this year.
Monica Arris, the new Interim Budget Director, has been getting a workout producing spreadsheets of various tax cut/homestead exemption scenarios for the last several court meetings. This time she has covered all the bases, giving the commissioners a whopping 24 different tax alternatives.
At the last court session, a compromise was offered consisting of a $5,000 homestead exemption combined with a small rate cut. The compromise was defeated 2-2.
County Judge Keith Self and Commissioner Jerry Hoagland have voted against the homeowner cuts, while Commissioner Phyllis Cole has joined Jaynes in voting for it.
On Monday, final passage of the exemption will be decided. Its outcome will most likely depend on who is there and how Commissioner Jack Hatchel casts his vote.
Note: The Commissioners Court will meet this Monday, June 23 at 1:30 P.M.
The discussion of tax rate cuts vs. homestead exemptions is agenda item #6. 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 #6.
The meeting is on the 6th Floor of the Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald St. in McKinney
Collin County Observer posts on homestead exemptions:
Self and Hoagland kill tax cut for homeowners, June 12, 2008
Self & Hoagland oppose county homestead exemption, May 17, 2008
Collin County Taxes - How do we stack up?, August 30, 2007
County tax cuts on the horizon?, August 29, 2007
What are they thinking of?
There is so much wrong with this proposal that I am starting to wonder if the Mayor and council aren't smoking some loco weed before their meetings.
First, It is totally absurd for elected officials to use taxpayer money to persuade other elected officials to spend more taxpayer money.
I'm sorry, Mayor....but that is just wrong.
Second, If the Mayor and Council members believe that their representation of over 112,000 McKinney citizens doesn't give them fair access to the elected Collin County state representatives and senator, then the voters have put their trust in either the wrong city officials or the wrong legislative representatives.
If Ken Paxton and the rest of the Collin County delegation aren't doing their job in passing legislation that McKinney needs, then the voters need to elect someone who will. (The same goes for the City Council)
And, if he needs it, Mayor Whitfield could sign up for some of Jerry Hoagland's assertiveness training for a heck of a lot less than $90K/yr.
Third, The McKinney Chamber of Commerce serves an important and valuable role, but it does not represent all the city's citizens. It represents the business community.
If McKinney businessmen don't feel they are getting enough respect in the legislature, they should read the second point above, or use their PAC funds to gain the influence they feel they need. In any event, taxpayer monies should not be spent to further the Chamber's legislative agenda. Taxes are collected to benefit the citizens, not the chamber. The Chamber of Commerce collects their own dues.
Fourth, The city already has a lobbyist. The City is a member of several organizations of city governments. Their dues to these organizations support a network of lobbyists. The chamber likewise has access to a cadre of lobbyists through their affiliation with the state and national chamber.
Fifth (and not least), The McKinney Chamber of Commerce has a PAC which donates campaign dollars to city council and legislative incumbents and candidates.
There is a real need for the council to keep an "arm's length" from the Chamber and its PAC when spending tax money trying to influence elected officials who the PAC may be either financially supporting or opposing.
If the City Council votes to waste the citizens' tax dollars on such an ethically suspect venture, then I think the voters should immediately demand the recall of any councilperson who votes for this flawed scheme.
The McKinney Courier-Gazette article, "City may hire a legislative lobbyist for $90,000 a year" is here.
Joe Jaynes, Collin County Commissioner Precinct 3, will testify at 9 a.m. on Wednesday before the Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade on the adverse impact of Municipal Utility Districts on Texas counties.
The public hearing will include comments on state policy regarding county development authority related to MUDs in unincorporated areas.
Jaynes says county taxpayers will have to foot the bill to pay for police and fire protection for MUDs in unincorporated areas unless counties are given the authority to limit or assess developer fees for MUDs.
“The counties just want to be at the table when these MUDs are formed,” Jaynes said. “We don’t believe that taxpayers in Wylie should have to pay for police and fire services for those who live next door to Celina. It’s a matter of fairness.”
The public hearing is part of the committee’s review of state and local policies relating to development and growth in rural and unincorporated regions of the state. While cities have the authority to zone residential and commercial development, and establish standards for lot sizes and building standards, counties have no such authority in unincorporated areas.
Jaynes said county governments need some type of authority to require MUDs to take fiscal responsibility for their own public safety systems, or establish themselves within a city that has the infrastructure in place to provide public safety needs through developer fees.
The hearing, held in the Capitol Extension building in Austin, can also be viewed online here.
Update June 18
MCG - Jaynes tells senate committee adverse affects of MUDs
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Collin County Commissioner for Precinct 3 Joe Jaynes testified before the Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade hearing in Austin on Wednesday about how Municipal Utility Districts adversely affects all county taxpayers.
Jaynes said via phone after he testified that the he is not anti-development, but would like to see an impact fee charged to developers of MUDs in incorporated areas of the county to pay for improvements to country roads that lie outside of MUDs and emergency services in a MUD.
“Phase one of the MUD out in Celina will cost $10 million to widen the Dallas North Tollway. Who is going to pay for it? You and I will. I think the county should have impact fees from developers. If you have a MUD developer that an tax and condemn property outside of their MUD, which will be a very dense subdivision on State Highway 289, then people in McKinney and Allen shouldn’t have to pay for roads to that subdivision,” Jaynes said after he testified at the hearing.
He joined numerous other county commissioners from throughout Texas to talk about how most MUD developers only pay for the development of roads within their MUDs, which leaves taxpayers in cities where the MUD may not be in or to pay for the emergency services and roads in the MUD, he said.
Typically, in most MUDs in Collin County, the county pays for police and fire protection and road improvements for MUDs that lie in unincorporated areas of the county with county taxpayers’ money.
“The counties just want to be at the table when these MUDs are formed. We don’t believe that taxpayers in Wylie should have to pay for police and fire services for those who live next door to Celina. It’s a matter of fairness,” Jaynes said. An example of a MUD that is built in the county and not in a city is the Trinity Falls MUD, between Hardin Boulevard and US 75, that is in located north of the city of McKinney’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and outside of the McKinney city limits. The MUD is actually comprised of two separate MUDs on 1,700 acres east of Weston and north of McKinney.
Jaynes asked the McKinney City Council at a public hearing held in December 2006 to not approve a development agreement with Marlin Atlantis, who is developing the Trinity Falls MUD, because county taxpayers would have to pay for the roads that are built near the MUD. The council approved a development agreement and strategic partnership for the two Trinity Falls MUDs in December 2006.
Not all subdivisions that are either MUDs or fresh water supply district that is located in unincorporated areas of the county. The Parks of Honey Creek subdivision, which will have 5,000 homes at build out and is a fresh water supply district, lies in the Weston city limits.
Jaynes, along with the Collin County Commissioner’s Court approved the creation of the fresh water supply district for the Parks of Honey Creek as the developer, Tomlin Investments and Land Advisors, has agreed to pay for all police and fire protection and roads that are near the MUD, such as Farm-to-Market Road 543, and other county roads adjacent to the subdivision.
Opinion published in the Dallas Morning News
Sunday, June 15, 2008
As gasoline prices surpass $4 a gallon, it is becoming crucial to expand both light and commuter rail throughout Collin County.
As Collin County's representative to the Regional Transportation Council, I also sit on the Regional Rail Committee. However, I have a growing concern about the committee's discussions on how to finance rail expansion. At every meeting I have attended, the philosophy has been to raise this tax or increase this fee. Many of these increases have to deal with gas taxes, motor vehicle registration fees, increased sales taxes and even a new transportation tax.
In my view, especially with today's economy, these approaches are wholly unrealistic. Imagine asking voters to approve an increase in the gas tax in the hopes that in 10 or 20 years we can get rail expanded throughout the county. That is not something I can support.
There are better solutions.
First of all, rail – whether commuter or light – is expensive. I believe that local governments should make the necessary cuts to begin to provide for rail funding. For instance, if cities set aside a portion of their economic and community development sales taxes, it would be both a good start and set an excellent example of governmental entities working together to bring about much needed mass transit. Besides, without mass transit, in the long run, we run the risk of reduced economic and community development.
Local governments should also become active in buying real estate along rail corridors and using the development rights to attract private investors. Solutions like these should be thoroughly explored and then, if there are any shortfalls, voters should be approached to address those shortfalls.
In today's economic times, governmental entities are going to need to think outside the box and take steps to cover the costs of expensive but worthwhile projects such as rail. The current attitude of placing the costs squarely on the backs of taxpayers is a recipe for disaster that should be avoided at all costs.
Recently, I have recently met with representatives of the cities along the DART-owned line that runs from Plano through Anna. We will be sending out a request for a proposal to bring a consultant on board to develop a business plan and discuss methods and financing to expedite rail to this area. Collin County and its cities have to take a proactive approach. Just sitting and waiting on DART will not get the job done.
My goal is to see the day when the trains running north in the mornings are just as full of employees as the trains running south are today.
Republican Joe Jaynes, the only county commissioner facing an re-election opponent in November, is the county's representative to the RTC (Regional Transportation Council).
Jaynes makes several good points about the need for a rail mass transit system. However his financing plans, like most we've seen are way too vague and seem to me to be an attempt to shift the political and financial responsibility to someone else. Saying that "that local governments should make the necessary cuts to begin to provide for rail funding" is a cop out.
Rail will cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. What is Collin County willing to do? What cuts are Collin County willing to make? Is the county prepared to go to the legislature with a concrete plan for using existing tax revenue to finance commuter rail? Is the county willing to use their spending discretions to force the local EDC's to give up revenue?
For some reason, I doubt it. For example, County Judge, Keith Self has made it clear that he will oppose any transit tax, and during his campaign, he stated he was opposed to subsidized commuter rail.
It's too easy to jump on a grandstand and preach that somebody else needs to cut services or expenses. Let's see the Collin County Commissioners Court come together and show some real leadership in hammering out a plan, selling it to themselves, to the cities, to the taxpayers and to the legislature.
The kind of changes in our local paradigms needed to solve our transportation issues will require courageous leadership. For a long time now, courageous leadership has been in short supply in Collin County government.
I note that in the article, the Dallas Morning News cites Joe's campaign website, but his taxpayer paid county email address. The use of the county email system for non-county business was an issue in Jaynes' primary race. I wish I could tell if this opinion piece was campaign rhetoric or the business of the commissioner.
If North Texans are going to see a new 251-mile network of suburban rail lines by 2030 – an idea that remains a cherished goal of elected officials and regional transportation leaders – they are going to have to pay for it, and pay steeply.
The project will cost about $9 billion – an amount that would be funded almost entirely by new fees and taxes.
The question of what those fees should be took center stage Thursday as the Regional Transportation Council voted to authorize a plan that will cobble together a menu of possible tax increases to pay for what is being called Rail North Texas.
Among the fees that the staff has proposed are higher property taxes, higher vehicle registration fees, a new sales tax on gasoline and a new tax on new car purchases, and a new resident impact fee, among others.
Between now and August, council members will meet with Texas lawmakers to find support for a menu that will produce the hundreds of millions of dollars needed each year while drawing the lowest possible amount of opposition from lawmakers and voters alike.
Several elected officials who spoke Thursday said public support for the rail idea has only increased in the wake of worsening traffic and soaring gas prices. But as always, the question came down to how to pay for it.
Plans had initially called for the rail expansion to be paid for by sales tax increases, a funding source that would require legislative approval. That idea – which would allow cities to hold sales tax elections to raise rates above the state cap of 8.25 percent – has failed in each of the past two sessions of the Legislature.
In a vote on Tuesday, County Judge Keith Self and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jerry Hoagland voted "No" to granting Collin County homeowners a $5,000 homestead exemption from county taxes.
The motion to offer the homestead exemption was made by Commissioner Joe Jaynes and seconded by Commissioner Phyllis Cole. The vote was 2 - 2 (commissioner Jack Hatchell was absent). Lacking a majority, the motion was defeated.
Jaynes asked that the homestead exemption be put on the next court agenda set for June 24.
This was at least the fourth commissioners court meeting to discuss a homestead exemption and the second vote on the issue. On May 13, Hoagland and Self sponsored a motion to require the tax rate be cut instead of offering homestead exemptions. That motion also failed with Hatchell and Cole voting against (Jaynes was absent).
Presumably then, Jack Hatchell will cast the deciding vote at the upcoming June 24th meeting.
Jaynes said he is suggesting the exemption as a way to give a real and permanent tax break to county homeowners. He points out that since home valuations are constantly increasing, any rate cut usually only offers a one year cut in real taxes - and frequently no cut at all.
Hoagland complains that the citizens don't understand homestead exemptions; that the exemption is too confusing to taxpayers in one of the most highly educated counties in the nation.
Self defended his opposition to the property tax relief by stating that liberals want to pass progressive taxes, that is one reason they are calling themselves progressives. Self believes that a tax rate cut is fairer and more friendly to local businesses. (Under a homestead exemption, businesses would see no cut in taxes).
This writer believes that a modest exemption, like the $5,000 one proposed by Jaynes, coupled with a smaller rate cut is a good compromise that will offer some relief to almost all of the county's taxpayers.
A homestead exemption is a permanent tax cut. The $5,000 of property value exempted will never be taxed. The exemption is also the fairest way to distribute tax relief. All homeowners, rich or not, will receive exactly the same cut in their tax dollars.
A rate cut, however, gives a larger dollar savings to the owners of an expensive home and an even larger cut to typical business inventories.
While county taxes are a very small part of the burden our citizens pay (school district rates are usually 6 - 8 times higher than the county's), it is still important to not collect taxes that are not needed.
Collin County runs a huge surplus. At any given time, it might have $300 million in the bank. The county can afford a cut in taxes. In this year of insane gasoline and food prices, homeowners need all the help they can get. The county should cut taxes.
The homestead exemption is the fairest and most permanent way to offer some relief to our beleaguered taxpayers. There is a good compromise on the table. Self and Hoagland need to work with the other commissioners in crafting a solution that preserves the exemption.
RTC subcommittee considers tax increases to fund regional rail system
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Monday, June 9, 2008
Members of the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Regional Transportation Council subcommittee are considering using one-eighth of 1 cent sales tax, or some form of a tax, to pay for rail expansion in Collin County and throughout North Central Texas.
Partnership Committee members are proposing using one-eighth of 1 cent in sales tax from cities that have economic development corporations, or a 4A corporation, and community development corporations, or a 4B corporation, to pay for rail service in those cities.
Voters would have to approve spending one-eighth of 1 cent sales tax to be used for rail service. The McKinney Economic Development Corp. and the McKinney Community Development Corp. are both funded by one-half of 1 cent sales tax.
The one-eighth of 1 cent sales tax is one of nine funding options that all involve a tax of some form to pay for a regional rail and bus transportation system that would serve nine counties in North Central Texas. The other options include a vehicle mileage tax, which the city of Portland, Ore. uses that tracks the mileage of a vehicle; a gas sales tax; a motor vehicle sales tax; a voter registration fee; a local option gas tax; a new resident fee; a local subsidiary option; and a transportation property tax. The counties being considered to help fund the regional rail system are Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall and Tarrant counties.
The funding options are outlined on the NCTCOG’s Web site www.nctcog.org/rnt, which includes the Rail North Texas Worksheet where people can choose an amount of tax to allocate to fund the NCTCOG’s $428 million regional rail system.
Collin County Commissioner for Precinct 3 Joe Jaynes, who is a member of the RTC, has attended the rail sub-committee meetings where some RTC members have suggested increasing the gas tax to pay for a regional rail system. Jaynes is against all tax increase proposals to pay for the regional rail system, he said. Jaynes does not want to increase the gas tax to fund a regional rail committee because he doesn’t want to further burden taxpayers who are already paying $4 a gallon for gas. “I think the government should bring something to the table. Before we get rail service, government has got to make some cuts. The second option for funding would be to get private investors before we increase any taxes to pay for rail service. The legislature always diverts money from the gas tax revenue to the general fund and we had $3 million in gas tax revenue last year,” Jaynes said.
How high do gas prices have to go before we get serious about mass transit?
How bad does the air we breathe have to get?
How gridlocked must the High Five be?
How high must tolls go?
How much longer will we have to wait for politicians to come up with and sell a working plan for regional mass transportation?
According to the Dallas Morning News, WISD trustees will be floating a proposal for a large tax hike they say is needed to cover rising expenses, and slower than expected tax base growth.
The proposal would raise WISD taxes 10% - from $1.29 to $1.52. If passed by the trustees, the tax hike would have to be approved by voters in November
Wylie school board will discuss asking voters to OK higher taxes
Friday, May 30, 2008
By EMILY POWELL / The Dallas Morning News
Wylie school board members will discuss Monday whether they should ask voters to approve higher school taxes to cover teacher raises and balance the district's budget.
Superintendent H. John Fuller is expected to recommend a 13-cent tax increase and $3 million in expenditures from the district's $13 million reserve fund at the special meeting.
"We'd been living on growth," Dr. Fuller said. He said changes in state funding laws and rising fuel costs – combined with a greater slowdown in student growth than anticipated – make the district dependent on local taxes as a significant source of revenue.
Taxes would go from $1.39 per $100 of assessed property value to $1.52 per $100 of assessed value. Under the proposal, the homeowner of a $163,905 home – the average value of a single-family home in Wylie – would pay $2,491 in taxes, an increase of $213.
Last week, the Collin County Commissioners Court met at Murphy City Hall. On its agenda was a notice that the court would go into executive session (secret meeting) for, "consultation with legal counsel on County Auditor's AG Opinion request of April 3, 2008 concerning IT and Financial auditing."
The Texas Open Meetings Act does allow "private consultation" with the county's attorneys if there is a law suit pending or contemplated. Since the county has filed suit in the 219th District Court for a Declaratory Judgment against the Auditor, we can assume that a law suit was indeed contemplated.
However, the Texas Open Meetings Law does require that all votes and decisions taken by the commissioners court be done in open session, with minutes recorded of each vote taken.
§ 551.102. REQUIREMENT TO VOTE OR TAKE FINAL ACTION IN OPEN MEETING.
A final action, decision, or vote on a matter deliberated in a closed meeting under this chapter may only be made in an open meeting that is held in compliance with the notice provisions of this chapter.
§ 551.021. MINUTES OR TAPE RECORDING OF OPEN MEETING REQUIRED.
(a) A governmental body shall prepare and keep minutes or make a tape recording of each open meeting of the body.
(b) The minutes must: (1) state the subject of each deliberation; and (2) indicate each vote, order, decision, or other action taken.
I was at, and I have watched the tapes the Murphy meeting. After returning from executive session, Judge Self announced, "I would like to reconvene the commissioners court. We have no actions to be taken, so we stand adjourned."
No actions? Well a few days later, the county did file suit. Who, if not the commissioners court, authorized such a drastic (and expensive) law suit?
Collin County taxpayers will be forced to pay huge legal bills for both sides of this idiotic turf battle. I ask again, Who authorized filing suit against the Auditor?
According to law, "The county auditor shall have continual access to and shall examine and investigate the correctness of:(1)the books, accounts, reports, vouchers, and other records of any officer;" Don Cozad, the county's auditor, wants the authority to audit the computer programs and protocols that send financial information to create the financial statements. However, the commissioners consider those programs their turf, and they want the IT department responsible for their correctness.
The Auditor asked the Texas Attorney General for a legal opinion on the issue, and that scared the pants off our commissioners. Not willing to wait for (or afraid of) the Attorney General's ruling, they filed for a Declaratory Judgment, effectively demanding a court decide - not the AG.
This turf war could get expensive. The County has retained Peter S. Vogel a partner of Gardere, Wynne, Sewell, LLP. Mr. Vogel is Chair of the Electronic Discovery and Document Retention Team and co-chairs the Internet and Computer Technology Practice Group at Gardere, Wynne, Sewell. One thing I can tell you is Mr. Vogel is no light-weight - he doesn't come cheap.
As of now, the court records show Mr. Cozad as representing himself. We can be sure that will change and suitable counsel will be hired to represent him - at taxpayer expense.
The case will have to be heard by a visiting judge, since all the Collin County district judges will have a conflict of interest in the case - they are Mr. Cozad's bosses. A few weeks ago, Cozad told the commissioners that he requested the AG's opinion on direction of the district judges. So in effect, the judges are being sued in their own courtroom.
As I said, this is a turf battle. The victor controls the software. The taxpayers pay the bill.
The cost of ring side seats at a Vegas heavy weight title match will seem to be a bargain compared to the cost of this bout.
Who authorized the law suit and hiring Mr. Vogel?
Was it done in secret?
What are the commissioners afraid of?
Anyone notice that the Plano ISD suddenly comes to the conclusion that taxes will increase a week AFTER the bond election?
I don't doubt the bonds were needed. I don't doubt that PISD is cash strapped. However, I get real angry when officials, whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers, feed those same taxpayers spin.
I want all elected officials to hear us. Damn it! Tell us the truth, and tell us in a timely manner. Or forget about getting re-elected.
Plano ISD expects to raise tax rate, run a deficit
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
By STELLA M. CHÁVEZ / The Dallas Morning News
Plano school officials said this week that they expect to raise taxes again and that they'll have to use reserve funds to balance the budget for the second year in a row.
School officials said they project a $14.6 million deficit unless they cut something from the $492 million now planned for the 2008-09 school year. Last year, school trustees approved a $485 million budget and had a $14.7 million deficit, which was also covered by reserve funds.
The budget includes a 3 percent pay hike for teachers, librarians and nurses. Administrators would get a 2.5 percent salary increase. Both groups got a raise last year.
District officials say that this year's increase will cost about $9 million but that it's worth it to retain good teachers who are being courted by other districts.
"We try to keep them moving forward. There aren't too many districts that freeze salaries," said Richard Matkin, associate superintendent for business services.
"It's a very competitive market out there."
School officials also blame changes in state funding formulas and rising fuel costs for much of the spending strain.
The board is scheduled to vote on the budget June 17. A public hearing is scheduled the same day for residents to give trustees their views.
Under the plan, the district is planning to raise its total tax rate by 3.5 cents. The tax rate would go from $1.2684 per $100 of assessed property value to $1.3034 per $100 of assessed property value. Under that proposal, the homeowner of a $262,500 home – the district's market average based on preliminary tax rolls – would pay $3,421 in taxes, up from $3,330.
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.
Over the last year, the idea of offering Collin County taxpayers a homestead exemption has been discussed in at least 5 different commissioners court meetings.
With property values rising every year, taxes keep going up - even when the tax rate is cut. Many believe that a homestead exemption is the best way to reduce the real taxes that a typical homeowner pays the county.
At the request of the commissioners, the county budget department created a spreadsheet showing the net effect, on taxes paid by a homeowner, of a tax cut vs. a homeowners exemption.
The numbers make a compelling case for a homeowners exemption.
If no tax cut or homeowners exemption is granted the typical county homeowner will see his taxes go up $23.11 in 2008.
If the county cuts the tax rate from .245 to .24 (a half cent) that homeowners taxes would still go up $10.85
But if a $10,000 homestead exemption were passed, that same average homeowner would be billed for no additional taxes. In fact his bill would go down $1.39.
The homestead exemption passes on tax savings to those who need it most - middle class taxpayers.
The net effect of either plan on the county reserves is about the same.
A general tax rate cut, however mostly benefits businesses with large land or inventory holdings.
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland (ever the stalwart defender of the rich and powerful) made it clear last week that he will oppose a homestead exemption. He claimed exemptions were "too confusing" for the average citizen to understand.
Poppycock, Jerry! You know you are being disingenuous. Virtually every homeowner in the county understands homeowners exemptions. You get one on your city and school taxes, I get one, and almost every other homeowner gets one.
County Judge Keith Self agreed with Hoagland who made a motion to "simplify the discussion", by concidering ONLY a tax rate cut. Self seconded the motion, which was defeated by a 2 - 2 vote.
The issue will be revisited for the 6th time at the next court meeting.
The commissioners court has until July 1 to pass a homestead exemption for fiscal year 2008.
For the 3rd time this year, the Commissioners Court is scheduled to take up the issue of tax relief for homeowners.
On the table are possible homestead exemptions or outright tax cuts.
Because county property values increase every year, a tax cut would still make the taxes for the owner of the average $235,800 home go up.
With no tax rate hike, the average homeowner will see his county tax rise by $23.11. With a 1/2 cent cut, his taxes still would rise by $10.85.
However the same homeowner would see a $1.39 cut in taxes with a $10,000 homestead exemption. Less affluent homeowners would see even a larger cut - for a $100,000 home, the tax cut would be $14.70.
The County Budget Department's analysis of cuts vs. homestead exemptions is here.
Note: The Commissioners Court will meet this Tuesday, May 13 at 1:30 P.M.
The discussion of tax rate cuts vs. homestead exemptions is agenda item #7. 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 #7.
The meeting is on the 6th Floor of the Collin County Courthouse at 210 S. McDonald St. in McKinney
See CCO previous posts:
Tax Cuts vs. Homeowners Exemptions April 13, 2008
Collin County Taxes - How do we stack up?, August 30, 2007
County tax cuts on the horizon?, August 29, 2007
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