Sunday, July 23, 2017

What is our priorities?

I recently saw the big news that our Aubrey mayor pro tem made a wager with the Pilot Point, TX mayor regarding next year's high school football game. It is not unusual for politicians at all levels to make friendly wagers like this. It shows a sense of pride for the community and in this particular case, probably a pretty good bet, as the Aubrey football team has greatly improved over the last couple of years. Having said that, I also think that politicians do little stunts like this to divert attention from the fact that they’re not doing the job they should be.

While this little bet does show community pride, neither one of these individuals have any influence over which team will win the next football game. They are not the coaches of these teams, nor will they suit up for the fall classic. What if they put this sense of community pride into something like lowering property taxes or giving the taxpayers more value for their tax dollars? What if these two officials made a wager on who could have the best roads in two years, or the most efficient public works department? That's not as sexy in Texas as the high school football game, but has a lot more impact on every aspect of the community. Having good infrastructure attracts businesses and developers, which Aubrey has not done over the last couple of years.

While there's nothing wrong with making a wager supporting your local school, there is a requirement to put that same energy into the job they were actually elected to do. I could only hope that the same community pride will be put into things that will really make the community better. I can only hope that they focus on real issues. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic that our officials will take on those things that matter, and I am less optimistic that their citizens will hold them accountable for their failures.

One great example of a lack of prioritization is that our Aubrey city council has spent several hours debating how many pets each household can legally have. However, it is doubtful that they will spend minutes on how the five plus million dollar budget will be spent. There will be a lot of energy on how to raise taxes or revenue, but absolutely no energy or discussion on if taxes could be lowered or how to provide better services. I hope our officials think about this, and I hope the populous hold them accountable to put their energy into things that affect the entire community.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Disappointing 85th Texas Legislature

As we wrap up another round of the Texas Legislature, I can’t help but think of another lost opportunity.  This session began with great optimism, as they always do, but in the end, the same old question arises; why did I bother?  Why do I continue to let myself be optimistic, only to be disappointed session after session?  Maybe the disappointment will wear off by the time the 86th Legislature rolls around, but right now, it seems hopeless.  

A property rights group made a huge push for real eminent domain reform, something that is long overdue in Texas.  There was some legislation introduced that would have went a long way in leveling the playing field for property owners dealing with condemnation.  This legislation which was authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst would have put some significant controls on the information pipeline companies would have had to provide property owners, while also requiring the condemning authority to pay for legal fees of the victim if they submit a low offer for the property.  It initially appeared that this legislation was going to go somewhere, then politics got involved. 

The real teeth in this legislation was with the requirement for the condemner to pay the legal fees of the victims, if the final judgment was 20% higher than the initial offer.  This was meant to prevent low initial offers.  A study was completed with the assistance of the League of Independent Voters of Texas on the last 23 condemnation cases from the State of Texas.  The cases are from around the entire state, from Houston to Lubbock to Fort Worth.   What this study highlighted, was that in instances where the victim disputed the initial offer, the average initial offer was 41% of the final offer, and the final settlement was on average 126% higher than the initial offer. So clearly this type of legislation was needed to provide relief to Texas landowners.

The hearings for some of these bills went really well, with passionate property owners who had their lives turned upside down by having their land condemned.  Of course the same old critics of any kind of eminent domain reform were also present.  These critics of course are the ones who benefit with the current way of doing business.  There were lies told of how this would increase litigation, and drive the costs up for public projects, which admits that landowners are being under paid for their property through eminent domain.  In the end these lies won, the legislators were fooled and nothing was accomplished. 

While sitting through hours and hours of testimony, it was clear that not all of the legislators were attentive to the testimony, while a few asked question and seem genuinely interested, others either were not really interested, or had no clue what the witness was talking about.  There was absolutely no empathy from the legislators for the victims of the horrific crime of taking someone’s property.  In some cases, the lights were on, but nobody was home.   

I wonder how long we will continue down the path to nowhere.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.  Maybe it is time that we consider voting for someone who is not burdened by a particular party, someone who can have an independent thought, without the party giving it to them.  This session showed me more than ever, why we need a group like the League of Independent Voters of Texas.  Without a strong third party, and independent thinking, there is little incentive for those legislators to care about whose property is being taken by who.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Million Dollar Swing

Aubrey has adopted some very expensive impact fees for developers.  For the last year, the council and area residents have been pushing for reform to these fees.  However, we were unable to get an action item on the agenda to make these crucial changes. 

For commercial property, the impact fees can cost as much as the land itself.  However, our mayor who owns a large track of land in The Meadows Subdivision, has exempted herself from these fees.  The fee structure is confusing to say the least, but at a minimum, this will amount to several hundred thousand dollars in fees that were waived for her. 

If that were the end of it, that would be bad enough.  However, a month prior to exempting herself from these fees, the city had to spend just under $250,000.00 on a drainage project for the same property she had exempted from these fees.   

The mayor has also delayed any attempt to reform these fees and it is becoming more and more apparent why.  She has listed her property for sale and one of the selling points is “impact fees waived”.  Therefore, the longer the impact fees remain unreasonably high, the more valuable her property is with them waived.     

These fees are meant to help with improvements to infrastructure which is definitely needed here.  If you happen to live or drive on Highmeadow Road, you will be particularly impacted by all of this, as this will be the road used for all of the construction vehicles for this additional development.  This road already shows signs of wear, and certainly will not stand to the abuse of cement trucks and construction vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no money to pay for the repairs when the road is destroyed. 

When you consider all of this, you the Aubrey taxpayer, will be on the hook to pay at least a million dollars that your mayor will directly benefit from.  If you wonder why your property taxes keep going up, now you know. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Compensation provided by the State of Texas for Property Taken Through Eminent Domain

Compensation provided by the State of Texas for Property Taken Through Eminent Domain

Over the past several legislative sessions there have be several attempts to rectify the broken Texas eminent domain laws. These changes were approved through legislation with a Constitutional Amendment in 2009 and SB18 in 2011. Those who have and utilize the power of eminent domain make claims that the system is fixed and is now fair and just for the property owner.

The Texas Attorney General's (AG) office provides legal support for state agencies utilizing the governmental power of eminent domain. The primary agency that uses this power is the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which primarily uses this authority to obtain property for right of ways for road construction and expansion across the state.

Through public information requests, the last 23 condemnation cases from across the State of Texas that were processed through the Texas AG's office show that previous attempts to provide adequate compensation for victims of eminent domain have failed. The initial offer of each of these condemnation cases was compared against the final settlement. (See chart below.) In several of these cases, there appeared to be a settlement where the victim accepted the State's offer for the property, thus avoiding a hearing. (In these instances the final settlement mirrored the initial offer, which would be extremely unlikely if a hearing before the commissioners' court had actually been held.) Even including the cases that settled, the initial offer averaged only 61% of the final offer, well below what those who use this power suggest is common.

A more realistic number is found by using those eminent domain cases that were clearly disputed and went to commissioners' court for a hearing to determine value. If you factor out the cases where the initial offers were accepted, the initial offer was 40% of the final settlement.  Clearly those entities utilizing the power of eminent domain must give a fair offer to the victim for the property being taken and that is not currently happening in most instances. Note: This study only addresses land taken by the State of Texas for roadway construction; the numbers for private entities that utilize the power of eminent domain are not publicly available. It is suspected that figures for those offers would be much lower than those of the public entities.

Presently victims of eminent domain in Texas must pay their own legal expenses and any other fees associated with attempting to get fair market value for their property. To dispute the offer of a condemning entity can easily amount to thousands of dollars. Texas Senate Bill 740 and House Bill 2684 proposes that if the condemner's final offer is 20% greater or more than the amount of the initial offer, the condemning entity must pay certain expenses, including the victim’s legal fees.

Texas eminent domain laws have obviously not gone far enough to protect private property rights. Additional measures must be completed to bring Texas up to the standards that Texans expect and deserve.  If you believe in protecting private property rights, you must support Texas Senate Bill 740 mentioned above as well as 741 and 742.  Passing them would be a good start for protecting the property of hard-working Texans.

Following is a document outlining the 23 cases including initial offer the victim received from the state and the final payment. All of this information was received from the Texas Attorney General's Office, and therefore should be considered accurate.
Contact information –
Calvin Tillman – 940.453.3640
Larry Beard – 512.461.9666

Initial Offers and Final Settlements for Takings by the State of Texas for Roadways
Initial Offer
Final Offer/Settlement
Percentage Initial Offer is of Final Settlement
Difference Between Initial and Final
Percent Final/Initial
Bouhoutos Brown
FBC Oak Cliff
Strata Holding
Art Environmental
Lubbock National Bank
Downstream 973
Downstream 973
Branch Banking
JP Morgan Chase
Bank of America
Jarmillo Revis
Metro Joint Venture