The Aubrey City council will vote on the 2016 proposed property tax rate on Tuesday September 15, 2015. I have voiced my opposition to the manner in which we came up with the property tax rollback rate. I felt by taking out additional debt solely to raise the rate was not ethical nor transparent. However, it seems as though my definition of transparency and being ethical is not in the majority. As this has unfolded, it has become more and more apparent that the lack of transparency was by design. I have referred to this tactic as manipulation, gerrymandering, a loophole, and cooking the books; city staff referred this tactic as a tool and it was referred to as an accounting maneuver in the local paper. Either way, I am extremely disappointed that this is the path we have chosen.
When we were given the presentation on the budget by the city’s financial advisor, the subject of the $92,000.00 loan was brought up. I specifically asked if we were taking out the loan to raise the rollback rate. At this point the finance director for the city stood up and took over the presentation. He presented this as a mechanism to pay off debt, which most on council support. Even I was convinced that the main purpose of this loan was to pay off debt. However, a discussion after the meeting confirmed that the rollback rate was indeed being artificially inflated. No one would admit until they were pressed, that the sole purpose of the loan was to inflate the rollback property tax rate. They were only transparent, when it was forced upon them. And we wonder why no one trusts the government.
It is also important to point out that we are not actually paying off any debt. Taking out new debt to pay off old debt, nets the same amount of debt. We did get better terms on the new debt, which will save some money in interest, but the main purpose of the debt was to raise the tax rate, which will net another $100.000.00 or so in property tax revenue. Money saved by paying off older debt will be secondary to the raising of taxes. No one can actually tell me how much money taking the new debt will save the taxpayers, but they know off the top of their heads how much the tax revenue will increase.
It is apparently illegal to rob Peter to pay Paul, so there has to be another step in this process. So were not technically paying off debt, but rather putting this into the general fund an allocating to something else, and then taking funds that was allocated and paying off the older debt, which were not sure exactly what old debt we’re going to pay off. If this sounds confusing, it is, and it is for a purpose. Typically if can keep people confused about a subject, they are less likely to oppose it. Their eyes glaze over and they nod their head.
Right now the money from the new debt is slated to buy safety equipment for the Aubrey Fire Department. It is being characterized that if we do not approve this property tax manipulation, then we can’t buy the safety equipment for the fire department. This was even emphasized when the fire chief showed up to discuss how important this safety equipment was, and how badly needed it was, insinuating that if you voted against this, you were voting against getting this safety equipment for our firefighters. Which is a very sleazy and undermining tactic. The city council as a whole has always said that safety comes first, and so not matter what happens, the fire department will get their safety equipment. If we needed to cut something, we would cut somewhere else, not the safety equipment. When I pressed them on this, they admitted that if the artificial tax increase did not pass, we would still get the required safety equipment.
I told them this it was very disingenuous to assert that voting against this, would endanger our fireman. Of course they denied that this was done intentionally. However, you would have to be a fool to think that this was just a coincidence, although, I’m sure some will be fooled. Mayor Janet Meyers, went as far as to suggest that we would have to fire a police officer if we did not submit to her shenanigans. I am sure that they will try to say I am against our police and fire department. However, none of this is true, I made a commitment that I would not approve a budget that did not include a raise for our first responders. After the manipulation, we can still only afford a 1% pay raise for them, which is a slap in the face. They are the lowest paid in this area; this budget, nor this manipulation will change that.
The city has had a turn-around financially in the last couple of years, thanks to some fiscal responsibility. However, I am not sure about the current administration, and don’t believe they have earned the right for me to give them more tax dollars. Outside of the last couple of years this council has overwhelmingly shown they cannot be trusted with our tax dollars. We did not get into the mess we are in by making good financial decisions, and I am certain that this council will not spend money wiser than the taxpayers.
Each of us that holds public office takes an oath of office which in parts states that “will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and Laws of the United States and of this State”. By adding debt and manipulating our property tax rollback rate, we are not fulfilling the commitments of the oath we took. While this manipulation is not technically illegal, I am sure that the legislative intent of this law was not to allow this manipulation. Therefore, at minimum we are not meeting the intent of this law.
If we truly needed a few extra bucks from each household, we should have been more transparent. We should have given the citizens the right to have a rollback election if they objected to the tax rate. If we had done that, we would have asked our citizens for the additional funds. The way we are going about it, we are taking it whether they approve of it or not. Although we have had some discussion on this, it is clear that the hope was to get this passed without much attention. Without my opposition to this, it is doubtful that anyone would have even known what was going on.
If you should think that what I’m suggesting is not accurate you can listen to the meetings in their entirety on the city website at: http://www.ci.aubrey.tx.us/.
Whatever happens on September 15, 2015, I commit that I will continue this discussion, and hopefully we don’t continue to pull the wool over the Aubrey citizen’s eyes. A government without transparency, is not a government of the people or for the people.