District 115 Candidate Julie Johnson Taking Advantage of Farmers Branch Economic Incentive

Farmers Branch

There is a very nasty political battle going on for Texas House District 115 — which covers Addison, Coppell, Carrollton, Farmers Branch and Irving. And part of that battle involves real estate.

Matt Rinaldi, incumbent

Republican incumbent Matt Rinaldi has a Democratic challenger, Julie Johnson. The two are facing off in what is being called one of the most heated Texas House races in northwest Dallas County.

Aside from many issues, Johnson chiefly doesn’t like the way Rinaldi behaved on the last day of the 2017 session, when protesters carrying pro-immigrant posters demonstrated against the sanctuary cities ban passed by the legislature and highly favored by Rinaldi. She says he is divisive. According to some lawmakers, Rinaldi walked over to Ramon Romero of Fort Worth and Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass, both Democrats, and told them he had called ICE on the protesters. An altercation between Nevárez and Rinaldi followed. Rinaldi’s admits to calling immigration authorities on people who were protesting in the House gallery and to threatening a fellow House member, but said he did not in any way start the fracas and whatever he did was to defend himself and his then-pregnant wife, who was also at the Capitol.

Julie Johnson, challenger

Rinaldi is questioning Johnson’s legal residency in the district, and she, his. Johnson, a Democrat, is believed by political observers to have moved into the district chiefly to run against Rinaldi. She says in a TV political debate on WFAA-TV she is living in an apartment in Addison, which Rinaldi doesn’t buy:

“Nobody believes Ms. Johnson lives in her little apartment in Addison and not her $1.7 million [home] in Preston Hollow,” Rinaldi said.  On the campaign trail, Johnson has said she is living in Addison. But Rinaldi pointed to a homestead exemption on a $1.7 million home outside the district.

But Johnson has told The Dallas Morning News, who endorsed her over incumbent Rinaldi, the $1.7  homestead exemption was for 2017 property taxes.

She has since bought a home in Farmers Branch, which she has torn down, at 3441 Golfing Green Drive, a few homes down from Brookhaven Country Club. Ms. Johnson and her partner are in the process of building a new home on the now-razed property. And it’s all public record on DCAD.

But while I was researching a story on the Farmers Branch demo/rebuild program, whereby the city offers homeowners and builders a graduated cash grant and tax incentives to tear down old homes and build new higher valued real estate, I wondered if perhaps Ms. Johnson was participating in the city’s program.

I was able to confirm with the city that yes, she is. We are checking with her campaign for further comment.

There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s very smart and shows fiscal awareness: Ms. Johnson and her partner have a lot valued at $175,000 and will likely build a new home worth three times that amount. The lot is also right on the golf course. Her builder is Tom Cusick and if Ms. Johnson wins the election next month, this could be a huge plus for the Farmers Branch building incentive program.

But there is one thing that bothers me, maybe. (I’d love your opinion.) Does this mean Ms. Johnson is a hypocrite when it comes to Texas property taxes?

Johnson said funding public schools is her main legislative goal. To do that, she said, she would push the state to pay a bigger share of public school funding. But she’d work against any state-imposed caps on property taxes, saying local taxing authorities needed to retain local control.

“Cities are having rapid population growth at different rates and so their budgets are increasing by virtue of more people being there,” she said. “To put these arbitrary caps like this 2.6 percent that he wants to do is unreasonable, which is why I have so much support from the mayors of the cities in this district.”

By participating in the Farmers Branch incentive program, Johnson and her partner will get a building rebate and lower property taxes for at least several years on just the house improvement for only the city portion. 

Rinaldi supports giving voters the right to veto any property tax increase over 2.5 percent, which some claim will not leave local municipalities with enough resources to cover much-needed services. Others say it will force cities to cut down on corruption.

One thing is for sure: Ms. Johnson should have an interesting welcome to her new neighborhood: both the neighbor next door and the one directly across the street have Rinaldi signs in their front yards. So much for Welcome Wagon, eh?

One Comment

  • Dear Candy,
    I just checked with Charles Cox the city manager for the City of Farmers Branch.

    Apparently, the cities do not have the ability to determine how much school districts collect (or don’t collect) from property owners. Only school districts themselves determine the amount.

    Candy, please call Charles Cox and double check on this. 972.919.2515
    Thank you