Tag Archives: Property taxes

Canyon ISD does the (seemingly) impossible

My jaw dropped when I saw this story on Amarillo.com — the online version of the Amarillo Globe-News: The Canyon Independent School District Board of Trustees has approved a budget that will decrease the tax rate for CISD constituents for the upcoming fiscal year.

What? Huh? How in the world?

I lived in the Canyon ISD for more than two decades. Most of that time I owned a home in southwest Amarillo. The Canyon district reaches into the southernmost portions of Amarillo. I don’t recall ever benefitting from a tax decrease from the governmental entity that comprises the largest portion of property owners’ tax bill.

This is a good deal.

I want to cheer the Canyon public school system that I used to support with my property tax money. It’s not every day when government can make such an announcement.

It’s not that dislike paying taxes. I know they are an essential part of financing the myriad duties we demand of our government. I don’t mind paying federal taxes, or college taxes, or city and county taxes … or public school district taxes.

The good news for my wife and me is that we’re old enough to quality for a Texas homestead exemption that freezes our tax burden.

Still, the news out of Canyon ISD puts a smile on my mug. CISD managed to give its teachers a raise, build a new school, maintain and hopefully improve existing campuses … and decrease the tax burden on the residents who foot the bill.

CISD board president Bruce Cobb called the decrease a “momentous” occasion. That might be a bit of an overstatement … but not by much.

City grapples with charting its own destiny

My education into the community my wife and I call home has taken a major step forward, courtesy of an assignment I completed for KETR-FM radio’s website.

I wrote a story about Princeton, Texas’s struggles to enact a home rule charter, and how four ballot box failures have kept the city functioning under laws established by the state of Texas.

Read the KETR-FM story here.

It is, to say the very least, one of the more peculiar municipal conflicts I have ever seen.

The city, dating back to 2007, has had four municipal elections that sought a city charter. It has fallen short every time. The opposition to home rule comes from a group of residents with specific bones to pick with City Hall. They express concern over tax policy and over annexation.

One of the leaders of the opposition, Michael Biggs, doesn’t even live within the city limits. He resides just south of the city, which means he cannot vote in these elections. Still, he is able to persuade enough of the city’s voters to go along with his opposition to enacting a city charter.

The city assesses a municipal tax rate of 68 cents per $100 assessed property valuation. A charter would enable the city to levy a tax of as much as $2.50 per $100. City Manager Derek Borg told me that possibility is a complete non-starter; it won’t happen, not ever!

Annexation is the bigger bogeyman for the anti-charter folks. They don’t want the city to envelop their property. What fascinates me, though, is that the city cannot do it without property owners’ permission, which apparently doesn’t assuage the concern of those who oppose the charter idea.

I am perplexed, indeed, that the city cannot seem to muster enough electoral support within its corporate limits to overcome the opposition that stifles City Hall’s effort to establish a home rule charter. The election returns I’ve seen reveal abysmal voter turnout in a city of several thousand residents.

The most recent measure, which failed in May 2014, went down to defeat by a vote of 260 to 151 ballots. The 2010 census put the population of Princeton at roughly 6,800 residents, which means that half of those residents were eligible to vote in the municipal election. Most of them weren’t interested enough to cast their ballots.

State law places plenty of restrictions on how cities can govern themselves. They surrender a good bit of “local control” to legislative fiat.

In my view that is no way to run a city. Maybe one day — and I hope it is soon — Princeton will be able to write its own rules for how it charts its own future.

Happy Trails, Part 13

I recently told a longtime friend of mine that I am now “fully retired” and he responded with an observation that he hadn’t met any retired individual yet who didn’t enjoy retirement to the hilt.

Today, we got some good news and some great news in the mail. It all relates to our retired status.

The tandem bit of cheer arrived enclosed in a single envelope from the Potter-Randall County Appraisal District, the entity that assesses the value of property in the two counties that Amarillo straddles.

The good news is that the assessed value of our property has escalated significantly in the past year. That didn’t surprise me, given all the commercial/business construction that’s ongoing not far from our home.

The great news is that our estimated property tax bill remains the same as it was last year. Texas state law allows old folks like me to have their property taxes frozen in perpetuity. Ain’t it cool?

That brings me to another point, on which I’ll dwell only for a moment. It’s that taxing entities that seek additional revenue to pay for brick-and-mortar projects — which they submit to voters in the form of bond issue elections — often run into resistance from the least-affected constituency group: elderly homeowners.

For instance, a school system wants to build a new school. The entity calls for a bond issue election, but it might get defeated because older voters reject it. They claim they don’t want to spend more on property taxes; therefore, they reject these bond issues because they don’t want to bear the additional burden.

Except that they don’t bear any additional burden! State law freezes their property tax bill!

But … I digress.

I’ll just salute the state for giving old folks such as yours truly a break on their tax bill, while allowing the value of our property to increase.

Indeed, that increase will come in handy, too, once we get ready to put our house on the market.

Growing older isn’t so bad … you know?

No one likes tax increases, but eventually …

property-taxes1

Amarillo’s municipal leadership wears the minimal tax burden it imposes on property owners proudly.

I totally understand their reason for it. No one wants to impose tax increases on those who pay the bills. I don’t like paying more in property taxes any more than my neighbors.

The city tax rate is likely to become a talking point as city leaders talk among themselves — and to the public — about how to pay for the escalating cost of the proposed downtown multipurpose event venue.

The MPEV price tag has gone up since the November referendum in which residents agreed to proceed with the downtown ballpark at a cost of $32 million. Well, now it’s more than $50 million.

How does the city pay for it? Will it ask more from property owners who right now pay a little more than 30 cents per $100 assessed valuation for city services?

It could happen. Then again, it might not.

I’ve been a property owner in Amarillo for nearly two decades. We built our home and have paid our taxes gladly every year. We think we’re getting a pretty good deal for what we’ve paid since 1996.

But to be candid, I’m not wedded to that dirt cheap price. Since I consider myself a “good government liberal,” I am willing to dig a little deeper when the need arises — and if it is going to help my community grow.

That’s how I am viewing the MPEV as part of the comprehensive and wide-ranging effort to improve our city’s central business district.

At the time I took my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, a new commissioners court took office in Randall County, led by newly elected County Judge Ted Wood. I remember the commissioners’ insistence that the county not raise taxes. They were intent on keeping the county rate low.

Then the demand for more service — caused by population growth — overcame commissioners’ ironclad commitment to fiscal restraint.

The commissioners then approved a tax increase that went far beyond the rollback rate mandated by state law. A petition came forward to roll those taxes back. It passed and the county had to reduce services as a result.

The pain was temporary, but it still hurt.

Amarillo shouldn’t be wedded forever to its famously low municipal tax rate. It’s something like the second-lowest municipal rate in Texas.

Stand tall, Amarillo!

When the time comes, though, for an increase — even a small one — to pay needed enhancements and improvements to the city we all cherish, then we should be ready to take ownership.

When did state impose property tax?

State Sen. Dan Patrick is making some grand promises as he runs for Texas lieutenant governor.

One of them involves his vow to cut property taxes for homeowners if he gets elected next year. Thanks for making the promise, senator. How are you going to deliver on it?

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/10/23/in-new-tv-spot-patrick-says-hellcut-property-taxes/

His new TV ad doesn’t spell out how the lieutenant governor — who presides over the Texas Senate — can cut property taxes.

I watched the ad and pulled out my latest property tax statement from the Randall County Tax Collector-Assessor’s Office. Here’s what I noticed:

I pay taxes to the City of Amarillo, Amarillo College, Randall County, the Canyon Independent School District and the Randall High Plains Water District. Locally elected boards and commissions set every one of those rates. State law allows me to exempt $15,000 of my home value from CISD taxes, for which I am grateful. I’ll be able to freeze my property taxes when I turn 65, which is just around the corner. I thank the state for that, too.

Patrick, one of four major Republicans seeking the lieutenant governor’s job, offers a tantalizing sound bite in his latest ad. I’m waiting, though, to hear just how he intends to usurp local governing authorities’ power to reduce my property taxes.

Maybe he believes the lieutenant governor’s is even more powerful than everyone thought.