In my first major letter as an Aubrey city council member, I want to take the time to communicate my views on the proposed budget and tax rate for the fiscal year 2017-18. The budget has been the council’s primary focus for the last several weeks, and we’ll be voting on it very soon.
Why have I waited this long to speak out? As a new council member, it has taken me quite a while to dig in and learn about the city’s budgeting procedures and the various statues which govern that process—and I’m still learning.
As you might imagine, city budgeting is a relatively complicated undertaking with a lot of moving parts. The city first has to wait until the county sets the effective tax rate based on assessed property values, and then the mayor must take time to create a budget that not only meets the city’s basic needs, but also addresses goals for the year.
Overall, I feel this year’s budget is a decent package. The budget not only meets the city’s basic needs, but it also addresses some of our goals such as raises and increased benefits for city staff, a much-needed rehab of the Waste Water Treatment Plant Headworks, and more.
If I had been tasked with the job of creating the budget, I would have done things differently—but that is not the role of city council. The council’s responsibility is to vet proposals and gauge whether they are in the best interest of the citizens. As such, it also means the council is not present to rubber-stamp proposals from the staff, mayor, or fellow council members.
Such disputation of proposals occurs not to be argumentative, to disparage another’s work, to question intelligence, or to demonstrate a lack of trust. Rather, counter arguments help refine proposals for the benefit of all. Challenges force us to double-check ourselves and to present the best plans possible. I expect my views to be challenged—including what I write here today—and such challenges will sharpen me. And all of this brings me to my first point.
I find I cannot vote in favor of the budget as currently proposed.
In my view, the proposed budget has a single, glaring problem that precludes garnering my support. Put simply, it is a deficit budget in that it draws upon the city’s reserve funds to cover expenditures. And in fact, this budget’s deficit spending is in addition to a proposed tax hike, which I’ll address shortly.
I’m a firm believer that a budget must be balanced or it’s not a workable budget. Expenditures must be covered by revenues. A municipal budget, while more complex than a household budget, must still be fiscally responsible and not attempt to spend more than it brings in.
I still believe there’s room for compromise, however. Fellow council member Chris Rich offered some proposals to use funds that are thought to be unencumbered from the new Winn Ridge subdivision development. His proposal included using these projected Winn Ridge revenues to cover some of the proposed budget’s expenditures. A counter argument offered against Chris Rich’s proposal was that it isn’t wise to use one-time revenues to cover ongoing expenditures—and I actually agree with this. However, I believe there are sufficient one-time expenditures within the proposed budget that could be paid for with these one-time revenues.
To press the issue a bit further, isn’t drawing on our reserves, as the proposed budget would require, also a use of one-time monies to make the budget work?
Additionally, there is actually no need to use these projected revenues to cover these expenditures in the first place because the city has already collected more than enough money from the Winn Ridge development to cover not only the shortfall mentioned above, but also to make the proposed tax hike unnecessary.
I understand some council members are hesitant to use the Winn Ridge funds in such a manner, and there are some who question whether or not those funds are truly unencumbered. But my view is that if we’re unwilling or unable to compromise on this particular issue, then the budget must be cut and balanced.
But let me be clear. I don’t support any cuts that result in a reduction in services below the currently proposed levels, nor do I support any cuts resulting in removing the proposed increased wages and benefits to city employees. I only ask that the budget is balanced.
JUST A LITTLE MORE
This year’s proposed tax rate of .561956 may in outward appearances seem to keep taxes the same as last year, but because property taxes are linked to assessed property values (which have been increasing each year), the proposed tax rate is in reality a tax increase. Yes, the proposed tax rate is level—it is exactly the same as last year—but due to increased appraised property values, the majority of property owners in Aubrey will see an actual tax increase of $30 to $45 over last year.
Why is this a big deal? Why quibble over the cost of dinner and a movie? Because the government has a responsibility to justify taking money from the pockets of its constituents. That tax money belongs to you, the citizen.
According to the Truth in Taxation Summary from Denton County, this year’s proposed increase would be the fourth tax increase in a row. While the tax rate in Aubrey has gone down year over year, the actual amount you’ve been paying out of pocket has risen.
During a recent council meeting, in response to my opposition to this tax increase, I was told that I need to find a better job so I can pay the higher taxes. Honestly, this sort of thinking fills me with sorrow for the taxpayer. This mindset indicates a lack of empathy for the citizens of Aubrey—the majority of whom are lower middle-class families, and some of whom are on fixed incomes.
I will never apologize for attempting to lower taxes, but I will certainly apologize when tax hikes are unavoidable. But in this case, I don’t believe a tax increase is merited this year.
I’ve also heard it said that Aubrey needs the money and that we must keep the tax rate higher to account for future needs due to pending growth. But should Aubrey’s current taxpayers be on the hook for the needs of future residents?
Does Aubrey have significant growth-related challenges in the years ahead? Yes. But I believe that growth can and should pay for itself. Developments coming online soon within our city limits such as Winn Ridge and Aubrey Creek Estates—as well as pending developments within our ETJ—should be responsible for paying for their share of fire and police coverage, and they can be.
I’ve been told cutting taxes during a growth period is a bad idea. But if we can’t cut taxes when higher-value properties will be added to the city’s tax rolls, and when sales tax revenues are on the rise, when can we cut taxes? Growth means more money will flow into Aubrey’s coffers from a broader tax base, and Aubrey’s current taxpayers should feel less encumbered because of this growth, not more.
With an upcoming $51 million Aubrey ISD bond election, residents are likely going to feel a property tax pinch already, so I don’t believe now is the proper time for us to demand Aubrey citizens pay even more in city taxes.
Tying all this back to the budget, I remain unconvinced the city needs to ask you to pay “just a little more” to reach our budgetary goals. Between either reaching a compromise to use funding from alternative revenue streams or through cutting unnecessary expenditures, we can avoid both drawing on the city’s reserves and raising taxes.
If the proposed tax increase was meant to meet the city’s needs while avoiding dipping into our reserves, I might be persuaded by the merits of a tax increase. But the proposed tax rate does not address that issue, and based on my reasoning above, I cannot support the proposed tax rate.
Again, I still believe there are time and room enough for compromise.
That’s my view. What’s yours? Constituents are always welcomed and encouraged to contact me at [email protected]