“Candace, do they even care how property taxes affect small businesses? Property taxes are by far my biggest expense. I pay over $100,000 a year in property taxes. I would love to hire another $45,000 employee, but I am holding off until I know what our property taxes and other taxes will do.”
How many of you have ever been to a Dallas County Commissioner’s Court hearing? I have lived in Dallas for 36 years, and Tuesday morning was the first time I went. Glad I did. A) It’s a pretty nice court and B) our elected officials gave themselves a 6 percent pay raise, (county employees to get 3 percent).
It was very interesting.
It made me dislike even more the system by which we fund our counties and cities, schools and Parkland Hospital, through property taxes on our real estate. I came away convinced that every hardworking Dallas county employee thinks if you own property you are a rich land baron and can well afford to pay taxes and more taxes because it just means fewer dinners at Fearings. I’m sure not ALL feel that way, but that seemed to be what was in the air Tuesday morning at 411 Elm.
First of all, we noticed there were a lot of constables and Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies in the room from the get-go. I figured they were there to push for their raises. Can’t say I really blame them. I mean, there is extra money bubbling in the system from our wild real estate ride. They work hard, felt like they deserved a raise, “have been with us during the lean times,” and someone said they hadn’t had a raise since 2008 when everyone held off on raises due to the recession.
Fact check: County employees have received raises each of the last 4 years. According to the Dallas Morning News:
Staffers — both hired and elected — have received the following raises in the past years: 3 percent this year, 5 percent in fiscal year 2015, 2 percent in 2014, and 4 percent in 2013. They missed pay raises from 2010 through 2012.
Many of the county employees who spoke at the hearing lease their homes.
I would love to give them a crash course illustrating how this raise will likely be lost on the extra rent they will be paying their landlords to cover the higher property taxes, if they lease in Dallas County.
There was talk, mostly by John Wiley Price — who is, by the way, an excellent orator — that the county tax rate is the sixth lowest in Texas. But later I learned that doesn’t include Parkland Hospital.
The to-do list is exhaustive: We have cars to fix, buildings to improve, jails to clean up, roads to improve. The 8 percent raise (which was discussed) would help lower-level employees, and help in recruiting.
But the most striking point I came away with was that I, an ordinary taxpayer, don’t really matter. Speakers get all of 3 minutes, on County turf. The decks were stacked before anyone spoke; we might as well have gone to Starbucks.
Then there is the narrow vision. Dr. Theresa Daniel, a bright woman, former university professor, asked what Dallas County’s percentage is of the total tax property owners pay. She was told 9 percent. Immediately she was like, that’s peanuts.
Judge Jenkins tried to point out the big picture, that it wasn’t 9 percent but all the taxes adding up — if you include Parkland, now it’s 18 percent of the total — plus Dallas and school taxes that was hitting and hurting taxpayers, mostly the squeezed middle class. She didn’t hear him. Our job, she said, is to focus on that 9 percent and manage it well. Work for her turf.
When homeowner Lisa Marie Gala tried to explain the conundrum that we are creating for middle-class homeowners with increasing property taxes taking such a big chunk out of budgets that she actually had to lease her 1,300-square-foot M Streets home and live in an apartment to pay the property taxes, there were no sympathies from the crowd. All they heard was $600,000 value. They didn’t hear that her property tax bill eats 10 percent of her income.
“Sell your house” one woman screamed out. “Hashtag white privilege.”
It’s a tough job: look out for 5,800 county employees but also remember the 2.6 million who are footing the bill for all 5,800 salaries.
“All we’re asking is you do the right thing,” said Lt. Fonda Boyd. “There are single females that have children and they need to meet their children’s need.”
There are single females that have children in the private sector, too, who struggle to pay property taxes either on homes they own or through rent. In all, there were three speakers asking for tax rates to be lowered: me, Lisa Marie, and Peter Urrutia, Political Affairs Specialist at MetroTex.
Two spoke in favor of keeping the rate as it is and doling out raises, and the deputies stole the show.
Judge Jenkins wants to turn the tax rate down to help taxpayers, and says there will still be enough money left for a 3 percent raise for county employees. He and Dr. Elba Garcia wanted to keep the politicians to a zero pay raise. Commissioners Mike Cantrell, John Wiley Price, and Theresa Daniel voted in favor of giving themselves a 6 percent raise. Judge Jenkins says he is not taking it. Doubtful Dr. Garcia will.
I would prefer no pay raises at all, and rolling the tax rates back, to be conservative. Put any windfall away for rainy day. If raises had to be given, I would have preferred to see the employees get 6 percent, the elected officials nada.
While yesterday’s hearings yielded raises for 23 elected county officials (Constables, not their staff, the aforementioned Commissioners no judges; county judges are not considered elected) there will be another hearing on Sept. 6. Then the commissioners will vote on the 3 percent employee raises and set the tax rate for Dallas County on Sept. 20.
Recapping, the elected officials get a 6 percent salary increase, county employees get 3 percent, all coming right out of the increased property taxes you will pay by January 31st.
Still time to get your voice heard, three minutes or bust, and still time to respond to Judge Jenkin’s email. (Clay.Jenkins@dallascounty.org)