Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Taxpayers Beware: Local Budget Season is in Full Swing

Don't kick me when I'm down...

Ah, the Dog Days of Summer, when Texans must not only cope with excessive temperatures, but also the trials and tribulations of local government budgeting season.  In Williamson County our various school boards and cities, as well as the county government, are making budget plans for the next fiscal year.  Unfortunately, some of these budget proposals  include tax increases for local families already struggling for survival in this difficult economy.

Leander ISD:  Upon discovering that state budget cuts were not so drastic after all, some board members have chosen to back away from planned cost-savings measures for the district.  Instead, possible tax increases for LISD residents are on the table.  Although last year's 3.2 cent increase (per $100 of valuation) put LISD amongst the highest in the area, the Board is considering another increase of 4.6 cents; putting them at a whopping rate of $1.49.  The Board will allow public comments at the August 18th Board Meeting, scheduled for 7PM at the Cedar Park Middle School Cafeteria. 

Round Rock:  The City of Round Rock is planning to increase its property tax rate again this year, from 41.728 to 42.321.  By a 5-2 vote in 2010, the Council increased the rate from 39.661.  Of course, this is called 'balancing at the effective rate.'  The city says that property valuations are down, so if they don't increase the rate, they will collect less property tax revenue next year.  Interestingly enough, the Williamson County Appraisal District has indicated that property values are actually up this year.  Most of the Round Rock homeowners I know are very upset about the significant increase in their home valuations this year.

The City website tells us that there will be "no proposed increases to retail water and wastewater rates," but every Round Rock homeowner knows his/her water bill has increased this year.  In my own household, although we used 2,000 fewer gallons of water in May 2011 than 2010, our water bill increased by 25% due to new fees and charges. 

Overall, the general fund budget is slated to increase by 2.4%; the increased funds will go to street maintenance and employee raises.  Round Rock City Council members will discuss the budget at their retreat August 16-17, and plan to vote on the tax rate and budget at the September 8 and September 22 meetings.  Contact information for Council Members is available here.   Council Meeting information here.

And of course there is Williamson County.  Last year, despite intense lobbying from the Wilco Employees union, the Commissioners unanimously voted to keep the tax rate steady, a decision for which they have endured relentless and very personal attacks.  The 2011-12 budget as presented by the County Budget Officer calls for an additional $5.19 million in spending over last year and includes new voting machines, new hires, and employee raises.  As the Austin American-Statesman reported,  "Commissioners don't yet know how they will pay for all of it."  Commissioners will discuss the tax rate at the August 9 meeting, and vote on the budget August 30. 

Spending increase proponents will all claim that these increases are necessary and essential, and some of them are.  The problem is that taxpayers in the private sector have a lot less to contribute.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, personal income has steadily decreased since 2008, and while private wages decreased by $2.2 billion in June of this year, personal taxes increased by $2.3 billion during the same period.  Now with the U.S. debt-rating downgrade, widespread unemployment, and market losses in recent days, there are no signs of relief in sight.  Sounds like us private sector folks are going to get kicked while we're down. 

One particularly bright spot in Williamson County is the City of Cedar Park; for the second year in a row, the Cedar Park City Council has crafted a truly conservative budget with no proposed tax increases.  Kudos to these guys on the CP Council, perhaps they should conduct seminars for some of the other muncipalities.  Round Rock ISD will keep taxes at the same rate, but Hutto ISD, which has been struggling financially, is considering a 5-6 cent increase to be approved by voters. 

If you are concerned about the proposed tax increases for your family, I strongly encourage you to contact these elected officials and attend meetings to provide testimony.  You do not need to be an attorney, we're not running around suing people here, our leaders just need to hear from the community.  And please be courteous and polite; Williamson County is in strong need of a return to civil discourse. 

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