Hearing on Lowering the Dallas County Tax Rate Tomorrow Morning, No One Has Signed Up to Speak

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins

That headline is not entirely accurate now, because, after Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told me this morning that no one has signed up to speak on lowering the tax rate, I signed up. But others should, too. As I told him, most taxpayers will likely be at work — in their offices, in the courtroom, in the hospital — making money to pay those higher taxes.

Why is it so important to attend tomorrow’s meeting? As we told you last week, property taxes are way up and have hit everyone, particularly moderate income level wage earners, particularly hard this year. Home values may have increased, but that doesn’t help you unless you are selling and moving to a less pricey area. State law prohibits the annual rise in taxable property values from exceeding 10 percent for homeowners who claim homestead exemptions, that is, who live in their homes. If you have investment properties, you will pay through the nose and probably are. And you, like me, will likely raise the rent to cover.

Which means: this is the bottom rung in making housing ever more untouchable, unaffordable.

That is what Judge Jenkins told me this morning as we talked about tomorrow’s meeting:

“This tax burden is hitting people with the least amount of economic elasticity the hardest,” he said. “That is people with homes priced below $250,000.”

Which is where the highest increase in valuations have taken place: 11.2 percent in homes priced from $100,000 to $250,000.

“In the past, we saw marked increases only in certain neighborhoods, such as Preston Hollow or Oak Lawn,” said Judge Jenkins. “Now we are all seeing property value increases across the board and a shortage of affordable housing for middle-class families.”

A two-bedroom apartment that rented for, on average, $967 a month last year is $1,101 this year, he said, although he has been told that many people in Dallas are now paying nearly $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

“In Texas, only 37 percent lease, the rest are property owners. But in Dallas County 57 percent of our people rent,” said Jenkins. “That’s why keeping housing costs down in Dallas is so important.”

We now know that police officers, starting ones, earn about $44,000 a year. And teachers bring in not much more — about $46,000. Generally, 30 percent of your income is to be devoted to housing costs, so every increase in rent means wage earners have to sacrifice elsewhere in their budget to make the rent payment. So now a single mother making $19 an hour has to make $20 or $21 to keep up. 

There are two ways of getting a pay increase in the private sector, says Judge Jenkins: by performance review, or by growth and expansion in your company, if you own it.

“In the private sector, you’d never go to your boss and take an 8 percent tax increase just because, but that is exactly what is possible with government,” he said. “So at time when we are not seeing wages go up, it would be, I think, a mistake for elected officials to vote themselves a pay increase.”

(Can we clone this man?)

Not one dollar of this new flush tax value money will go to roads, schools, or police protection, he reminded me.

The difference between the effective rate and what the County will actually get will go to pay raises.

Explanation: The county set its budget based on growth in appraised property values thanks to our wild and crazy real estate market, figuring it would be 7.5 percent more revenue than last year’s. This from not just increased values on our real estate, but also from all the new construction we are enjoying in Dallas County — the condos, the apartments, the spec homes. Thank you, Museum Tower, Residences at the Ritz Carlton, and all new construction.

The actual numbers came in at 10.07 percent, 3.02 percentage points more than anticipated. Woo hoo!

That’s why Judge Jenkins wants to roll Dallas County’s tax rate back, down to 22.638 per $100 valuation from 24.31.

He does support a 3 percent pay raise for Dallas County workers.

I, myself, do not. I would suggest keeping it in a rainy day fund to protect against future tax rate increases. My fear is that once the County gets used to this extra money, should they ever lose it if our market values plummet, they will raise tax rates to cover. But that is just my conservative opinion.

“I say, why don’t we take what was needed on May 22, and then give some back?” says Jenkins.

One argument he hears is that if we are really concerned about the middle class, well, we have 5,800 middle class workers on Dallas County’s staff who deserve a raise

“But somebody has to pay for that raise,” says Judge Jenkins. “There are 2.6 million who live in our county who are not getting a raise.”

And I might add, the ones not getting raises are the ones funding all those salaries. So let’s ask them for a performance review before we start handing out raises.

Also, in looking at this 3 percent raise, which will be 8 percent if you don’t speak up, some folks who would benefit are making a lot more than average middle-class incomes. Dallas County Judges are raking in $171,367 a year, and County Commissioners are getting $145,474 annually just in salaries. Only Harris and Tarrant County employees make more, according to the Texas Association of Counties.

So what more can I say but speak up, sign up, sign Judge Jenkin’s petition, but ACT if you truly care about real estate in Dallas County! You have until 4 p.m. to call this number: 214-653-7165