Guest Column: The Rest of the Story

In Friendswood, Opinion by Reporter NewsLeave a Comment

By Cheryl E. Johnson, PCC
Galveston County Tax Assessor Collector

Although I was warned not to say anything about Friendswood ISD’s Tax Ratification Election (TRE), as the County “Cut Tax” Assessor Collector, I have a duty to the voters who count on me to be their voice. So, I read what was being said about FISD’s nine cent increase, researched the facts and now, to quote the late Paul Harvey, will tell you “the rest of the story.”

FISD says it will use the extra money to increase teacher salaries $1,500 and all others 2.5%. It will make capital improvements and use the balance to make up for State funding losses expected because values increased. It claims to be one of the most fiscally conservative districts in Texas, asserts the average homeowner’s taxes will increase by $51.28, that this is the first rate increase since 2002 and only two pennies!

The facts are FISD promises to increase salaries with or without voter approval so, why spend money on an election? The district increased salaries every year since 2011 from 2% to 3.5% without exceeding the rollback rate so why is this year different? Other local governments provided COLAs without increasing tax rates so vastly, why is it okay for FISD to do so?

Online audits reveal State funding has been steady since 2011 when the low was 24% with 27% the norm, despite incredible value increases during the same period so, what decrease in State funding?

FISD may be more fiscally conservative than some but it is holding an unnecessary election and continues to collect its own taxes at a cost of nearly $100,000 more than if the county performed this service. This would fund over 60 of the teacher increases – a difficult fact to ignore.

The rest of the story on a homeowner’s bill is that the average home will experience a $234.83 increase if the TRE passes because 61% of residential values increased. If the TRE fails, the rate will “rollback” to the legislatively limited $1.29703, the average home tax bill will still increase $174 and 39% will pay less. As one of the 61%, my taxes will increase $496 to $752 no matter what happens. I assume the $51 was arrived at by using the $0.02 increase over last year’s rate.

This may be the first rate increase since 2002 but that is because FISD spent the additional revenue generated by increasing values rather than responding, as the Legislature intended, by lowering the rate. By keeping it the same for 14 years, revenues were 55% higher last year. Passage of the TRE will bump that to 87% more than in 2002.

Although I appreciate that the district refinanced debt resulting in a lower rate – debt is a temporary increase while maintenance and operations rates are not. Thus, the proposed $0.09 will be with us forever or another 14 years, if history repeats itself.

So, what to do? Vote September 10th. Then remind your elected representatives that our families are doing with less while they spend our “pennies”.

Cheryl E. Johnson, PCC
Galveston County Tax Assessor Collector
August 12, 2016