Monday, April 19, 2010

Township Taxation - models and options

There is no wonder I hear the same story everywhere I go.  “Please lower my taxes.“  I remember the unmarried teacher who told me about her struggle to raise her two children on her salary. She has no means to continue to pay her taxes that continue to spiral upward.  I remember the story of the 59-year-old gentleman who seeks a job, any job, but cannot find employment here.  There are many such accounts waiting to be heard. Saying that we will reduce taxes is easy; doing it is not. We must meet our obligations and protect our core values.
Last week, some homeowners received their 2009 property assessments. I am told that because investment companies and individuals are buying houses as rental property, big bucks are being spent to upgrade them to sell to rental agencies, and as a result, home values rose in the area by 15% this last year, by 10% four years ago. The total obviously adds up to 25% in just four years.  Personally, I have made no upgrades, but get assessed as if I did anyway. I could no more sell my house for what the county assessor says than a man in the moon. I have often thought that to make the system fair and the government accountable, we should have a guarantee by the government to buy the home for the value they say it is worth. I have a feeling that if we did that, the process would be a bit fairer, don’t you?  Valuation of homes is claimed to have remained flat here in The Woodlands during the last year according to a local real estate analysis, revealing a 2% decrease in the value of high cost homes and about 2% increase in the value of other homes. Higher assessments make good news to our government. Government income continues to fund projects. Controlling the budget is the only way to reduce taxes. By law, the government must levy sufficient taxes to meet the budget.
Case after case, we see residents suffering from taxation based on home market value. One buyer said he bought a home across the street, because one day his family might move here.  He lives in California. Many of us actually live in our Woodlands houses. We should not be taxed so much as to force us to leave the community. Renters and leasers do not normally contribute to the welfare of our community; it is likely that the residents in those homes take little real interest in the community, and they sometimes add extra burden to our community services, especially if they do not maintain their yard or bring in added behavioral or covenant issues.
What should we do?
1.    Lower the tax rate. The prior TCID proposed a rate of 29.7 cents on $100 evaluation in preparing us to vote on the three propositions to form our government and to tax homeowners. We are currently taxed at $32.8 cents. It is highly unlikely that we will get the rate reduced by more than one cent. That does not result in much savings on the lower cost homes.
2.    Give homeowners a homestead exemption break. Sugarland, for example, has either a five or a seven cent homestead reduction from their $0.30 city tax rate.  Therefore, homes to rent or lease or for vacation homes are taxed at $0.30 but those living in their homes pay much less. In real estate, Sugarland is a significant competitor to The Woodlands.
3.    Limit the impact of higher assessments.  There is a state law that limits the rise to 10% from year to year. That law is archaic. In a low inflationary period such as today, the limit must be set at the economic index or some other relevant suitable index. With residents achieving a 1% pay raise rise or even decreased pay, why should the local governments continue to spend money like we are in a terrific economic environment? The entire middle class of America seems to be either on fixed income or worse.  To enable this strategy, I am told we will have to seek legislation.
4.    Give the 65+ community a homestead break. They have been paying their share for years and now are pulling their savings down to pay taxes and volunteering their time to boot.       
 Will we take action on these options? If I have any say on the matter, we will!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Woodlands Township Election 2010 - select four candidates to govern our township

Nothing like a political campaign to underscore the importance of local government in our lives! Many people are heavily involved in national politics due to the magnitude of national issues, and they even talk about it at the coffee bar. Our local election is right around the corner, but not enough people are tuned in to it. We will elect four members of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors. That in itself makes this a very important election. The majority of the governing board will be determined, completing the transition to the new township government. These four residents will be part of a seven member team charged with managing a $78 million budget and establishing your taxes to fund their budget. The decisions of these seven people will directly affect the daily lives of all residents and businesses within the boundaries of The Woodlands Township.  But how many will actually go to the polls?

There are four positions with several candidates running for each position. You as a voter need to review the candidates for each position and elect the four who best fit your needs. In my opinion, all of those elected must be representing you, not themselves. 

It is extremely important to elect the right candidates for the right reasons. Each candidate must be willing and able to spend time asking questions, researching issues, understand the operation of The Woodlands Township, understand the needs of the residents and businesses, be engaged in activities, and be able to make thoughtful decisions. This takes a great deal of time. If a person has a full time job, that person is unlikely to be thorough.  Get to know your candidates. Make sure they are genuine and are focused on the needs of both businesses and residents. Vote for the person who will get you the most for your tax dollar while maintaining the values of The Woodlands.

Ours is a great community. Let's make it even better. Vote for what you think is right for the  community. That is all a person can ask of you.

Last year and the first quarter of this year, our board voted on many motions which are summarized in a form that I hope is easy to read. How each person voted is noted for each motion. I provide this information to you simply as a means to understand what the board does at the monthly meetings and to show how each incumbent is voting. Government meetings are open to the public so that the public can see what is considered and what issues are contested. To conform to state open meeting requirements, the agenda is published in advance of a meeting; the meeting is limited to the agenda; minutes are subsequently published; and even a video of the meeting is published.  It is up to us to review the performance of our directors. Convincing arguments for a proposition are often stated behind the scenes to influence the outcome of a motion. That is unfortunate, because it leaves those discussions beyond the reach of the public, partially negating the purpose of open meetings. Some people seem to vote "yes" on everything. There are however others who will question motions, seek answers and vote "no" when the motion does not fully serve the public's interest. The data in the links below is provided for your awareness and interpretation.

I encourage residents to watch the video of the last meeting and make conclusions. Also review the performance statistics on the links below.

Click here to see board motions and individual votes on those motions
Click here to see the summary of individuals voting for board motions
Click here to see the last board meeting to observe behaviors and perspectives