Christenson: City Council’s money grab foiled
Here is item 10 on the July 6, 2020, City Council Meeting agenda “Consider resolution giving direction to the Ellis County Tax Office for calculating the voter approval tax rate for tax year 2020.” So what does this mean? Most of the people of our great City of Waxahachie would not understand this jargon. And, of course, would not be able to offer comments in the public meeting.
But this item was extremely important. What the resolution actually would do, as proposed by Mayor David Hill, would be to increase the maximum property tax increase for the average homesteader in 2020 by Eight Percent. Current law, Senate Bill 2, limits the amount of tax increase by 3.5%, or requires voter approval for any increase greater than 3.5%. Mayor Hill was attempting to use the COVID 19 Pandemic as a disaster, and thereby utilize a loophole in Senate Bill 2 to increase the threshold to an 8% increase and avoid a vote. This would have robbed the citizens of an important vote on the most recent property tax increase, after our City Council has increased property tax collections by over 50% over just the last four years while at the same time our population has grown by something like 3.4% a year. But Mayor Hill’s proposal was foiled after he failed to gain a second. Council member Kevin Strength then offered a resolution to delay the vote on the 8% increase until the next City Council meeting. That resolution was approved by the City Council.
The next week, our City Manager released a draft budget which included a 12.4% increase in property tax collections over last year. And all this during the COVID crises, when many people are really hurting to make ends meet. The proposed increase in property taxes would have had a devastating financial impact on many people already struggling to make ends meet.
I also want to mention that using COVID pandemic as an excuse to circumvent the voters’ rights under Senate Bill 2 was nothing but a ruse in my opinion. Mayor David Hill, in the Council meeting, admitted that Waxahachie received $2 million in COVID disaster funding, but could only spend $400,000. The unspent remainder will have to be given back. So there is no real basis to justify such a heady increase in our taxes and rob us of our right to vote, just a loophole in Senate Bill 2 that our Mayor Hill tried to jump through using COVID as a disaster excuse to take more of our money. By the way, Mayor Hill never offered any explanation as to what he planned to do with more of our money if his resolution was approved.
The only clear head in the public meeting was City Council Member Melissa Olson. Ms. Olson had publicized the true meaning of the tax increase agenda item and City Council heard a slew of public comments on how harmful the continued tax increases would be on the people that live here. Ms. Olson parried the 8% increase and the circumvention of our right to vote and offered a 3.5% cap for the average homestead taxpayer for tax year 2020. The resolution was knocked down however, as Ms. Olson could not muster a second from any other Council Member, including Mr. Beatty, Mr. Strength, Ms. Shipley, and Mr. Hill. Some of our City Council simply cannot get enough of our money. We need more people like Ms. Olson on City Council to look after the interests of the citizens.