September 25, 2018

Not So Far Away

Dr. Malcolm Cross

A colleague recently gave me a sign which I’ve posted on the bulletin board on my office door.  It says, “Somewhere on an alien distant planet, in a galaxy far, far away, there is a government that really knows what it is doing.”

When I was first given the sign, I told my colleague that whoever produced it was overly optimistic, given the general nature of governments.  But given the news that’s come out of the Stephenville City Hall recently, whoever produced the sign might be on to something, and one may not need to search for a government on an alien distant planet far, far away for proof:  Our own city government has given us a couple of pieces of good news.

One such piece is the new city property tax rate:  $0.48 per $100 assessed valuation.  This is a nice tax rate cut of a penny.  Whether you find this to be an actual tax cut depends on whether the County Appraisal District raised your property’s valuation and, if so, by how much.  My own property’s valuation went up more than the tax rate was cut, so since I’ll be paying more in property tax this year than last year, I’m getting a tax increase.  But things could have been worse.  Had the city council not cut the tax rate, or had it actually raised the rate, then everyone’s tax bill, mine included, would be higher—perhaps much higher.

Actually, a tax increase of some sort, even with the tax rate cut, was probably both inevitable and necessary.  Even though seven of the nine city council members following the 2014 election were on record as having opposed the infamous 2013 tax hike, the council has never been able to cut the rate to pre-2013 levels until now, despite several years of economizing in city spending. It’s a fact of life that there will almost always be upward pressure on taxes as people demand more services and the cost of providing services goes up.  Under the circumstances, the city council should not be criticized for allowing taxes (as opposed to tax rates) to continue on up; rather, it should be praised for keeping the upward trend to a minimum by taking advantage of the increased property values to lower the rates.

If the actual tax per capita is to be lowered, both the property tax base and the sales tax base must be expanded.  Here, too, one can find good news. 

It’s been reported that soon we’ll have a new Aldi, Panda Express, hotel, restaurant, and retail center in Stephenville.  Each of these projects should produce more sales tax and property tax revenue when completed.  Fair is fair:  As someone who’s been quite critical of several recent economic development initiatives—tax breaks for some but not for others, city aid to private businesses to purchase equipment and improve facades, granting authority to the Stephenville Economic Development Authority to actually make expenditures rather than merely recommend them to the City Council—I must admit that these new projects represent real progress and vindicate those who wanted a more active city economic development program than I initially supported.  If all goes well then we really should see in the foreseeable future not only tax rate cuts, but actual tax cuts as well.  Well done, Stephenville.  Well done.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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