by Frank Williford
A public hearing on county tax increase is scheduled for September 15, 2010. This will be the first of two hearings as required by state statue.
It seems clear the County Commissioners are considering a substantial tax increase. I started to wonder why? Have the Commissioners not heard how tough economic conditions presently are and how we are all going to be hit with large additional tax increases as a result of congressional activity in Washington?
The average home value in the county increased by more than one percent in the past year. The State Comptroller’s Office website has this to say about the effective tax rate imposed by counties. “The effective tax rate should be kept at about the same level as the prior year. If property values increase, then the tax rate should decrease. If property values decrease, then the tax rate should increase.” This seems easy enough to understand. I started to wonder why, then, the County Commissioners would be considering a tax increase on the average home of from 3.36 percent to 9.31 percent in dollar terms. After all dollars are what matter no matter how the planned increase is presented.
This first posted notice is not a trial balloon! Something is amiss!! An increase of this magnitude can only mean one thing. The folks managing the county business have lost control of their budget expenses. Before even addressing a tax increase for next year, the tax paying citizens should first ask what shape the county budget is in THIS YEAR. What expenses have been reduced significantly and how big is any present shortfall? What are the causes and what are the potential remedies without raising taxes?
The Commissioners Court website says the dollar tax increase to pre-2010 existing property owners will be $1,958,709. Included in this increase is a necessary amount to pay for the voter approved transportation bond. This statement gives rise to a single simple question: What is the transportation bond P&I dollar payment due next year? The 2011 Parker County P&I obligation for ALL Bonds, Certificates of Obligation and Tax Receipt Notes is $1,367,038. How much of this is specifically for the transportation bond? The other elements of P&I due have already been accrued, ( that is unless some of the funds have been transferred to other accounts). Until this question gets a satisfactory answer the tax payer must assume spending is out of control.
I decided to research a little information about Parker and similarly situated surrounding counties. I did not think Tarrant County would make a good comparison even though that is the reference the commissioners used when they voted themselves an extremely generous pay raise in 2007-2008. I decided it would make better sense to look at surrounding counties more nearly like Parker County.
Digging for information can be difficult and it is not easily obtained. After getting some details I started to understand why it is not broadcast. I believe all of the information I have is factual but some has proved difficult to verify by an alternate source. Therefore I will merely say I believe it is correct and I have made it so to the best of my ability.
The hole that is being dug for the Parker County tax payer is huge! Apparently we the tax payers have been asleep at the oversight switch for far too long. I have already mentioned pay rate so let’s look at that subject a bit closer:
Of 243 reporting Texas Counties only 20 (8.2%) had Commissioners Court salaries equal to or higher than Parker County.11 counties did not report at all and of the 20 counties referenced only 3 have budgets smaller than Parker County. The remaining 17 counties for the most part have very large budgets that require intense administration. Their county seats are true metropolitan areas such as FT. Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and El Paso. It is clear Parker County ranks with the top 20 by the measure of Commissioners Court salary, supplements and other emoluments. Let’s look at these 20 counties from a business perspective.. Their average population is 6.9 times the population of Parker County. Their average budget is 6.4 times the budget of Parker County and on average they spend less tax dollars per person than Parker County does.
Now let’s have a look at how Parker County stacks up against our neighboring counties which are more like us than are the top 20 counties..
From 2007 to 2010 the pay of County Judge raised from $80,000 to $94,500 (+18.13%). In addition the County Judge receives a supplement of $21,000 per annum plus a vehicle. County commissioners pay rate went from $70,000 to $84,000 (+20%) plus $12,000 supplement and a vehicle.
Palo Pinto County:
The 2010 pay rate for County Judge is $55,986 with $22,000 supplement but no vehicle. County commissioners receive $50,976 with no supplement but with a vehicle.
From 2007 to 2010 the County Judge pay was increased from $67,580 to $71,230 (5.40%). His supplement is $5000 and he does not get a vehicle. The commissioners enjoyed a pay increase of from $56,980 to $60,519 (6.21%) over the same time frame. They get a $5000 supplement and no vehicle.
From 2007 to 2010 the County Judge saw a pay DECREASE from $65,990 to $63,000 (minus 5.29%). He does get a supplement of $15,000 but no vehicle. The commissioners had a pay DECREASE of $235. Their supplement is $12,000 and they get a vehicle.
It would appear the recent news coverage about run-away salaries and benefits for government employees holds true for Parker County also. Reading through the 500+ page proposed county budget supports the claim that salaries, benefits and other special emoluments have taken significant jumps even since the current severe recession began in late 2007. Every working person is working for pay. There is nothing wrong with that. Periodic raises are appropriate also, so long as they are matched to present economic conditions and productivity increases. Pay freezes and even pay roll backs are not all that uncommon during tough times. How much has increased pay and benefits contributed to the present shortfall? I cannot tell with any certainty from looking at the proposed budget since there are so many exceptions taken. However I see no reason why this question should not be asked.
I believe the tax payers of Parker County deserve some straight answers about why spending is out of control and what has already been done and what will be done to regain control before raising any taxes or applying new ones.
If you are a tax payer in Parker County, speak up! Let us know if you approve or disapprove with the manner in which commissioners court is using your tax dollars.